PARIS, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- The European Space Agency says it plans to take 3-D printing into the metal age by building parts for jets, spacecraft and nuclear fusion projects.
The agency said its Amaze project is bringing together 28 institutions to develop new metal components that are lighter, stronger and cheaper than conventional parts.
3-D printing, or "additive manufacturing," has already been used to quickly and inexpensively create plastic products, and researchers are working to adapt the technology to metal parts.
Printing metal parts for rockets and planes would cut waste and save money, the researchers said, and the "layered printing" method also allows the creation of intricate designs featuring geometries impossible to achieve with conventional metal casting.
"We want to build the best quality metal products ever made," David Jarvis, ESA's head of new materials and energy research, told the BBC. "Objects you can't possibly manufacture any other way."
Several countries are investigating additive manufacturing with metal; in July, NASA announced it had successfully tested a 3-D printed metal rocket engine part.
Additive manufacturing has an added benefit of not wasting precious source material such as titanium and vanadium, a problem with traditional casting techniques.
3-D printing produces almost "zero waste," researchers said.
"To produce one kilo of metal, you use one kilo of metal -- not 20 kilos," ESA scientist Franco Ongaro said.