Like the medical sector, the aerospace sector was an early adopter of 3D printing technologies in their earliest forms for product development and prototyping.

These companies, typically working in partnership with academic and research institutes, have been at the sharp end in terms or pushing the boundaries of the technologies for manufacturing applications.

Because of the critical nature of aircraft development, the R&D is demanding and strenuous, standards are critical and industrial grade 3D printing systems are put through their paces. Process and materials development have seen a number of key applications developed for the aerospace sector — and some non-critical parts are all-ready flying on aircraft.

High profile users include GE / Morris Technologies, Airbus / EADS, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and Boeing. While most of these companies do take a realistic approach in terms of what they are doing now with the technologies, and most of it is R&D, some do get quite bullish about the future.