Rolls Royce has been on the cutting edge of quality and innovation for over 100 years, and now the company is looking at 3D printing to carry that tradition forward. They are still a few years away from using 3D printing to produce parts that go into service, but the technology is being tested as one of many potential innovations.

"3D printing opens up new design possibilities, it's a new space," said Joel Reuters, the head of communications for the company's North American division. "Through the 3D printing process, you're not constrained by having to get a tool in to create a shape. You can create any shape you like.

"The technology could be used to reduce the weight of parts, such as brackets," Reuters continued. "One can create better lightweight structures, because you just take the analogy of what nature does and how bones are built up – they're not solid material."

He added, "Also it's a lot faster, a means of speeding up production and would enable us to slash lead times. We would gain an inventory advantage with less need to store parts."

Additive manufacturing makes particular sense in Rolls Royce's aircraft engine division.

"Some of the parts that we make in the aerospace world have very long lead times because of the tooling process that's got to happen," Reuters said. "Then it takes potentially 18 months to get the first real part after placing an order – versus printing it, which could be done quite rapidly."

The company's not ready to reveal what parts in particular might be 3D printed in the future though.