Rolls-Royce to print its parts. Really!

Reposted from Airline Fleet Management Thursday, 21 November 2013 11:30 Written by Justin Burns

It sounds too sci-fi to imagine but engine manufacturer, Rolls-Royce, will soon print many of its parts in 3D, workable form.
Rolls Royce
The use of 3D printing technology is slowly but surely entering the manufacturing world, but this is the first time it will be used to create engines components.

The technology dates back to the 1980s, when 3D printers used plastics. Now, the technology is capable of building complex shapes from ceramics and metal, creating highly intricate and accurate designs.

But what are the benefits of Rolls-Royce using 3D printers? And what positive impact could the technology have for the business?

Well, 3D printing is faster, cheaper, easier, and it allows manufacturers to reduce both the weight and the cost of parts.

However, there can be no margin for even the slightest of errors, as successful 3D printing requires 100 per cent accuracy. If it works, it will be revolutionary – but Rolls-Royce must ensure that it does indeed work.

Rolls-Royce says it will first use it to create brackets and fuel nozzles. These can be made lighter through the process off 3D printing, which builds up construction layer by layer.

The technology would also allow Rolls-Royce to reduce lead times, and enable it to cut down its inventory as it would not have to store as many small, lightweight parts.

Currently, some engine parts can take up to 18 months to produce, but 3D printing would mean the end of such delays as 3D parts could take as little as a week to make.

General Electric recently revealed plans to expand the use of 3D printing, to create fuel nozzles for aircraft engines, while GE Aviation last year acquired two private companies based in Cincinnati, which specialise in 3D printing.

Henner Wapenhans, Rolls-Royce’s head of technology strategy, revealed the plans at a technical developments media briefing last week.

He said Rolls-Royce is still a few years away from using 3D technology to produce parts that go into service. However, 3D printers are now beginning to move into the mass market with UK retailer Maplin, now selling the first high street version for £1,600 ($2,475).

Indeed, 3D printing is set to transform manufacturing across a multitude of different industries, not least in aviation where it could play an integral role in the development of components.