The Aerospace Growth Partnership (AGP) in association with Airbus, hosted a supply chain conference on 26th April in London, focusing on supply chain of the future; exploring and sharing visions and opportunities for the UK supply chain, and discussing what is it that UK suppliers need to do to gain a larger share of a developing market. The event was extremely well attended and there was lots of energy and positive conversations throughout the day. An impressive programme of speakers included Richard Harrington MP, Minister for Business and Industry, Airbus’ Chief Operating Officer Tom Williams, our Head of Technology for Advanced Systems & Propulsion Mark Scully, Professor Sam Turner, Chief Technology Officer of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, Andy Page Chief Executive Officer of Sharing in Growth, and others.

The event sent a clear message: if the UK aerospace sector is to continue enjoying the success and growth, then we really need to think about how we continue to develop competitiveness of the UK supply chain. As a community, what can we do to take the supply chain with us on this journey into aerospace of the future? There is lots still to be explored here, but what is apparent is if the UK is to thrive in a globally fierce and competitive market, then we need an ambitious, innovative and agile supply chain.

The Institute is encouraging and supporting supply chain companies to think globally and more innovatively. Technology development really is the key to exploiting this developing global market, and by boosting competitiveness of UK suppliers the sector can achieve its potential. Working in collaboration with some of our stakeholders, such as EPSRC and APC, the Institute is connecting supply chains across different sectors to accelerate innovation, enable sharing of knowledge and boost technological developments.

There are a number of support mechanisms available for companies through the ATI – organisations can contact the Institute via email info@ati.org.uk or visit the ATI’s website www.ati.org.uk to find out more about what’s available. We encourage the UK supply chain to engage with us to explore how technology developments can help to support competitiveness in product technology, design capability and manufacturing technology. We are also keen to engage with organisations that are not necessarily traditional aerospace supply chain companies but are looking to enter the aerospace sector and target future opportunities.

Last week the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) attended an event hosted by the Midlands Aerospace Alliance, at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry, which demonstrated the benefits of Additive Manufacturing (AM) and how AM can help supply chain companies develop their capabilities so that they’re set to supply next generation aircraft platforms. The event was insightful, and a great platform to introduce the supply chain to the benefits of AM and discuss the (AM) opportunities and challenges being faced by UK suppliers.

Our Head of Technology (Manufacturing, Materials, and Structures) Mark Summers, and Technologist Nour Eid attended and presented at the event: they provided a market view of the key future opportunities for AM and previewed the ATI’s forthcoming INSIGHT paper on Additive Manufacturing; sharing an ATI perspective of the benefits, opportunities and challenges associated with AM. The programme also included a number of other guest speakers who shared their thoughts around how they see AM in the future and the opportunities it will bring for UK suppliers.
Paul Evans, Head of Manufacturing Technologies and processes at Airbus said:

DRAMA* can boost and improve the AM ecosystem in the UK.

John Dunstan, Head of New Product and Process Development Centre at BAE Systems stated:

As an industry we’re not quite there yet with Additive Manufacturing, but we’re on a journey!

John also suggested that AM isn’t just about benefiting from cost improvements, but it could also lead to reduced tooling, improved performance and a reduction in a reduction in the number of parts.

The world of manufacturing is revolutionising, we are seeing a significant shift in the aerospace sector through the adoption and development of novel technologies and improved processes. AM, to some extent, will re-invent manufacturing processes, enabling companies to de-risk and validate ideas in a virtual environment, said Mark Summers.

Industry 4.0 (aka the 4th industrial revolution) is influencing the role of manufacturing. Traditional processes are being enhanced and, in some cases, totally revolutionised by new modern techniques, providing efficiencies and flexibility of production systems: AM is enabling the manufacturing sector to become more competitive and agile. So, what will be the key AM developments over the next 5, 10 or even 15 years? And how do we see AM supporting the UK aerospace sector supply chain in becoming more ambitious and competitive, enabling companies to become more confident and strive to achieve a larger share of the growing market. The fundamental shift AM is bringing is the efficiencies in processes and a reduction in costs and material wastage. Additive Manufacturing faces three major challenges; ensuring that processes are accurate and repeatable, enabling a system level design specifically for AM and streamlining the route to certification for AM components. Our forthcoming INSIGHT paper, due to be published shortly, will provide greater details around the ATI’s research and findings, along with some of the recommendations we are making to the sector.

The ATI is keen for supply chain companies to get involved in the DRAMA project along with any other projects which demonstrate how AM can be developed in Aerospace. The Horizon project is an example of ATI funding in additive manufacturing. The £13.4 million project is led by GKN Aerospace, partnering with AM Equipment OEM Renishaw Plc and Software OEM and machining specialists Autodesk. The team also includes two leading UK universities, Sheffield and Warwick. The ATI-approved project HORIZON consists of 11 work packages covering the key aspects of AM technology development and covering the whole manufacturing value chain.

*DRAMA (Digital Reconfigurable Additive Manufacturing facilities for Aerospace) is an ATI approved, three-year, collaborative research project that will help to build a stronger Additive Manufacturing (AM) supply chain for UK aerospace by developing a digital learning factory. The entire AM process chain will be digitally twinned, enabling the cost of process development to be de-risked by carrying it out in the virtual environment. The facility will be reconfigurable, so that it can be tailored to fit the requirements of different users and to allow different hardware and software options to be trialled. During the three years of the project an additive manufacturing Knowledge Base will also be created, to allow faster adoption and implementation of this transformative technology by UK businesses.

Last week the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) joined Composite UK for the UK Aerospace Sector Showcase at the AMRC in Rotherham. The event was specifically aimed at the UK aerospace supply chain and focused on exploring and sharing opportunities for fibre reinforced polymer composite materials in the aerospace sector. The programme also included a preview of the ATI’s forthcoming INSIGHT paper on composite technology, and the results from the ATI composite roadmapping.

The event demonstrated the composite related capability, activity and future priorities that the sector should be focusing on, and also the challenges and opportunities this presents UK suppliers with.

Mark Summers, our Head of Technology for Manufacturing, Materials and Structures was joined by Edward Andrews, ATI’s Technologist, and Balaji Srimoolanathan, Strategy Manager at the ATI, to share a preview of our forthcoming INSIGHT paper and meet with supply chain companies. Mark provided an overview of the Institute and previewed the ATI’s forthcoming INSIGHT paper on composite technology, whilst Edward discussed some of the Institute’s key initiatives that present opportunities for the composites industry, including hybrid electric aircraft, and some of the major challenges and opportunities around the wider airframe and propulsion technologies. And Balaji shared key market opportunities and insights across civil aerospace.

The ATI was invited to hold a number of one-to-one sessions with supply chain companies over the lunch break. These sessions were a great opportunity for organisations to ask the ATI questions and find out about how they can access and engage in research and technology programmes supported by the Institute.

Follow us on social media (Twitter and LinkedIn) to get a link to download the composite technology INSIGHT paper once it’s published.

Construction of the new National Centre for Combustion and Aerothermal Technology (NCCAT) is now well underway on the Loughborough University campus. The multi million-pound development, approved for funding by the Aerospace Technology Institute, and supported by Rolls-Royce plc and Loughborough University is set to open its doors in early 2019.

NCCAT will act as the UK’s primary hub for research and development of future low-emission aero gas turbine combustion technologies, strengthening the UK’s ability to benefit from the predicted growth in the civil aerospace market, and will not only provide access to state-of-the-art facilities and leading research expertise for UK industrial partners, but will act as a training ground for current and future aerospace engineers in a critical skill area for the UK. Beyond aerospace applications NCCAT will also provide wider exploitation potential in the automotive and energy sectors, as well as areas such as power generation, marine propulsion and thermal management applications.

As the boundaries between research, design and development become increasingly blurred, NCCAT will support activities over a range of Technology Readiness Levels (TRL 1-6) through the alignment of early research activities with future commercial goals. This will promote multi-disciplinary and integrated design methodologies which will ensure the fast and efficient pull through of new technologies.

NCCAT builds on the experience of a large, well-established research group whose activities span more than a quarter of a century, with its original roots traced back to the 1960s. NCCAT will allow industrial problem-owners to visit and work closely with world-class academic researchers, and when coupled with state-of-the-art facilities, offers a truly unique environment in which to support commercial research and development needs to boost productivity.

The development includes; a new 850m2 purpose-built laboratory incorporating eight new test cells, specialist plant and equipment which provides the infrastructure to support single-phase and two-phase, non-reacting and reacting flow experiments over a range of condition, access to a range of instrumentation of various levels of fidelity, a 100m2 state-of-the-art workshop to support the new laboratory, and 700m2 of top specification office space. NCCAT will be located on the Loughborough University Science and Enterprise Park, one of the UK’s largest science parks host to 70+ companies on a 53-hectare site.
Enquiries about the National Centre in Combustion and Aerothermal Technology should be directed to nccat@lboro.ac.uk.

By Kathryn Magnay and Jacqui Murray, Co-Interim Directors, Faraday Battery Challenge

Kathryn and I first met last August in our first team meeting.  We had both been given the title of Co-Interim Director. On paper, the arrangement sounded a hindrance, but from that first meeting, we inspired each other, played to our strengths, delivered content as individuals and worked together to deliver outcomes. We have helped each other to remain true to our values in the midst of difficult decisions or pressured moments, in short, we fell head first into a collaborative leadership approach.

The opportunity for electrification of vehicles is now

From the beginning it just clicked. We knew ‘why’ Faraday was so important to the UK and just as important, we knew ‘how’ we wanted to lead as the temporary custodians of the challenge. The Faraday Battery Challenge has to achieve something monumental for the UK. There is a paradigm shift with the electrification of vehicles coming, now is the opportunity for the UK, but now is also the most complex time for technology – so it isn’t as simple as one person knowing the answers, we needed to stay responsive, open and deliver strategically.

Carving out a competitive advantage for the UK

Those that have heard us speak about Faraday, know we always start with the productivity puzzle, the gap in the UK that means we work longer hours to produce less than the rest of the UK.  You’ll have heard us explain how 163,000 jobs are in Automotive; that per person, Automotive produces twice the value for the UK; that the EV shift is coming due to air quality and climate change regulations and that the time to act is now.  Speaking about why was a joint decision, joint content.  We wanted to communicate the vision so that it empowered urgent action to be taken by our stakeholders – transformation is needed right now for the UK to carve out competitive advantage.

Seeking collaboration inspiration from the British Olympic team

Step back for a moment and consider the programme alongside the level of complexity in the 21st Century.  We know with complexity that collaboration is king and that the programme must deliver across the UK as well as springboard success for individuals. Kathryn and I talk regularly about the coaching approach that the British Olympic team have, how we need this programme to emulate their success.

Collaboration requires trust and participation

Jacqui and I are both aware that collaborative leadership requires building trust and participation. This trust is built upon conveying the vision with passion and conviction and delivering that vision in a fair, transparent and open manner, drawing in the necessary stakeholders to help us realise that vision. We will only acquire the necessary trust if we can demonstrate we are prepared to listen and translate what we hear into delivery, this brings differing views and potential for conflict which we seek to explore and learn from to the benefit of the programme.

No one person has all the answers

As Jacqui has mentioned no one person has the answer and we know we don’t have all the answers so constant checking and revising our plans allows the perspectives of stakeholders to have a continual role shaping the programme.

A value driven programme

Placing these values at the heart of the programme and remaining true to them will take the programme a long way down the path of the transformational change that is required. These are values that are supported by the structures around the programme – a UKRI-based Executive Programme Board and a strong, experienced and keen Advisory Group.

The role of the programme board in collaboration

Our programme board are essentially problem owners ensuring optimal solutions come forward and using a series of designed in audits allow us not just to check progress and achievement of vision but check the route we use to achieve that progress – have we remained true too the values of collaborative leadership and required by open, transparent and fair governance? The Advisory Group is our powerful coalition of actors in the battery space in the UK. It is their role to challenge and advise and to do that well they we must enable a shared vision. This group represents the actors who can capitalise on the success of the programme, we look to them to set the tone and targets to ensure the Faraday Battery Challenge is providing the correct solution for the UK so they can build on it and achieve the last important strand of industrialisation.

7 months of progress

There is a long way to go before we truly deliver world class battery technology in the UK, but in less than 7 months we have:

  • Set up the Faraday Institution and £20 million of application-led, industry-sponsored Fast Track research projects
  • Sponsored collaborative research & development in 27 UK projects with 66 companies using £40 million of funding in the space
  • Opened another £25 million round of collaborative research & development competition, which closed on 28 March 2018.
  • The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP announced the £80 million award for the open access UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (Coventry City Council, Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, and WMG, at the University of Warwick), and this is now underway.
  • We passed the Gateway 0 audit for the programme and have used the recommendations to improve the programme structure.

Enter Tony Harper

On the 9th April, Tony Harper joins this team. His timing is perfect. The operational aspects of getting the Faraday Institution, CR&D Competitions, UK BIC are well underway and we have Communications and International workstreams underway and about to launch another for Skills. This is the perfect opportunity to welcome Tony.  He joins as we start to build in earnest on the quick wins and deepen analysis of the portfolio, the UK battery sector, progress in key technologies worldwide and are starting identify the business case for the next phase of the Faraday Battery Challenge.  With Tony at the helm, we can continue to sharpen the programme into the springboard that UK Industry needs to become world class in battery technology.

The ATI would like to thank Kathryn and Jacqui for their contribution of this guest blog.

Dr Kathryn Magnay is Head of Energy at EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) and as such heads the RCUK (Research Councils UK) Energy Programme. Kathryn has spent 15 years at the Research Councils managing investments in engineering and manufacturing and supporting EPSRC’s strategic relationships with its 23 largest University partners.

Jacqui Murray is Head of Advanced Materials at Innovate UK. She is a specialist in automotive steels, regulation and transformational change. Her advanced materials background comes from the UK steel industry and degrees in Materials Engineering. Following an MBA, Jacqui moved into industrial environmental regulation policy for the Environment Agency and Welsh Government.

 

The UK Aerospace Research and Technology (R&T) Programme has been undergoing a process of transformation to improve the transparency, effectiveness and efficiency of the application process. The aim is to reduce project application and funding timescales to just 6 months.

Now, the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and Innovate UK are pleased to announce that the next phase of transformation.  A public Expression of Interest (EOI) competition will be launched for the UK R&T programme on 3rd April 2018.

The New Stage 1 Process

The EOI will be created, assessed and managed on the new Innovate UK digital platform, the Innovation Funding System (IFS). This platform is being introduced across all Innovate UK funding competitions to allow more efficient application and application management.  The first EOI call will open on 3rd April 2018.

The EOI stage is replacing the Strategic Review 1 (SR1), as the first stage of an application for UK Aerospace R&T grant funding. To be considered, an EOI will need to be prepared and submitted whilst the competition window is open. There will be regular EOI competition windows throughout the year.

The EOI has similar, but fewer, questions to a Full Application. The EOI is designed to be as succinct as possible, explaining the business benefits, target application, specific technologies to be developed, approach to delivering and how it will impact the UK. Each answer will be word limited and an applicant will be given the opportunity to upload supporting charts or graphics where appropriate. Applicants successful at the EOI stage will be sent an access link for the IFS system to complete a Full Application.

Key Dates for Applicants

Further EOI competition windows will be published on both the ATI and Innovate UK websites.

Application process overview

 

For all other enquiries, please refer to the information below.

  • Questions about the new process can be sent to: info@ati.org.uk
  • Questions about IFS specifically should be directed to the IUK IFS team: support@innovateuk.gov.uk / 03003214357

On 7th March 2018, the ATI and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) hosted a seminar on the electrification of aviation.

Senior representatives from the aerospace and automotive industries joined Government and academic attendees to share their views on the disruptive potential of electrification. The discussion was wide-ranging and there was a broad consensus on the top-level themes that UK aerospace needs to consider.

The case for electrification is strong. Electric aircraft could provide a number of important benefits and have the potential to solve a range of problems that the aerospace industry is working hard to tackle.

All-electric aircraft could revolutionise short-range air transport, creating new markets for urban air transport and short-range regional services. They would have far fewer parts making them cheaper to design, manufacture and maintain. Being electrically powered, they could be charged entirely from renewable electricity, minimising impact on the global climate. Their lower overall carbon, NOx and particulate emissions and potentially low noise would enable operation in and around urban areas. In some markets, it could mean that the development of new rail infrastructure is displaced by aviation.

Similarly, hybrid-electric aircraft could transform medium- and long-range commercial aviation, bringing step-change improvements in fuel efficiency, environmental impact and noise to achieve future sustainability targets while allowing continued expansion of air travel.

These future electric aircraft will integrate data, embed artificial intelligence, and operate with greater degrees of autonomy – and importantly their size and shape will be reinvented too to capitalise on the benefits of electrification.

Aerospace is about to see the third big shake-up in its history. What is meant by “aerospace” is already starting to blur, as airframe manufacturers are now invited to address the Geneva Motor Show.

Red-faced over green issues? The environmental driver for electrification is particularly strong. The sector’s environmental challenge is growing. As a proportion of CO2 emissions from transport, aviation is relatively low. But as other transport systems significantly improve their emissions, aviation will come under more scrutiny.

Many aircraft are flying much less than they were designed for, particularly over short distances, and changing these aircraft to electric or hybrid-electric could make a significant difference to CO2 emissions.

Mighty A380s from little drones grow. Or at least, when it comes to electrification, we can expect to see something like that.

Full electrification is likely to be seen first in urban mobility aircraft; there are prototypes today that are already carrying one or two people.

We are then likely to see it utilised by intercity/regional aircraft; within seven to ten years for short-range hybrid-electric aircraft. Hybrid turboprops could be a market game changer in this timeframe.

Within 15 years, we could see short-range all-electric aircraft and medium-range hybrid-electric single crew aircraft. And by the 2040s a mix of electric, hybrid-electric and more-electric aircraft systems. Aircraft in the future will look very different, sound very different and operate differently.

While it is true that the first aircraft types to be electric will be small and short-range, we are on a journey that someday will deliver a much more electric long-range widebody aircraft. The sector as a whole needs to be bold, collaborative and ambitious to shape and deliver these innovative aircraft.

And these timescales are not fixed: the interest in electrification is intense and developments could happen far sooner than many predict.

The market expects. Our current markets are already demanding electric aircraft. Airlines understand the benefits, and they’re committing to an electric future. Today, customers are asking to take electrical energy off their aircraft engines. Do we need to involve airlines in this discussion?

Automotive has been the driving force. What can aerospace learn from the automotive sector? It is automotive that has revolutionised power electronics. Many of the sector’s manufacturers have already set a date by which all cars sold will be electric.

For automotive, the steps in the argument have fallen into place: the UK has the right technology; the industry is a big employer in the UK and so the Government is listening; and the goals are all achievable, backed by accurate modelling.

Automotive has a clear and well-structured vision that can be shared by multiple Government departments, enabling them to work together to provide effective support.

The challenge for aerospace is the difference in lifecycles. For automotive, the threats are short-term and pressing. For aerospace the impact is long-term… but equally irreversible.

Keep it simple. UK aerospace needs to present a clear picture of the sector view. It needs a strategy that strikes a balance between the realistic and the inspirational. The big picture may be complicated, but we must create a simple vision that is focused on the top messages. The ATI and EPSRC are working across the sector to bring cohesion to the requirements and articulate a UK vision.

Flying is believing. There is no more effective way of communicating the art of the possible than to develop a major demonstrator programme. As well as a demonstrator the UK will need (access to) appropriate testing facilities and simulator platforms. But we must build things that fly if we want to inspire.

As the skies become populated with new technologies and increased levels of autonomy, it is imperative to work hand-in-hand with the regulatory bodies and the broader aviation community. Electrification will bring airlines, manufacturers, infrastructure and regulators together like never before.

Global competition is fierce. Every country wants to be the birthplace of the first electric aircraft; every aerospace industry wants to be the pioneer of electrification.

And everyone is looking at the market stats: passenger numbers growing at 4.8% per year; regional air traffic growing even faster. Which aerospace industry wouldn’t want a part of that?

Primes and OEMs are being welcomed by countries with open arms and investments ready to go. The UK may be the 2nd largest aerospace industry but, for companies choosing where in the world to locate their R&D into electrification, it’s a flyer’s market.

The electric aircraft is coming. If the technology is not developed in the UK, it will be developed elsewhere.

We are not alone. Aerospace is a global industry that is well practised in collaborating across borders. The development of novel electric aircraft is no exception. The UK should look to international partnerships; we will not be able to do this on our own.

Coordination across the research infrastructure. The research base in the UK is world-class, spanning the length and breadth of the country. But like the integrated and connected systems of an aircraft, these centres now need to integrate their research to meet challenges in technology developments and aircraft design. More collaboration by academics across electrification research themes will offer better support for industry, from OEMs to start-ups. New initiatives, such as the Future Propulsion Research Centre, are already running across several Universities.

A very particular set of skills. Electrical engineers will be needed, and lots of them – just as they are in very many sectors, leading to severe skills shortages. The challenge for UK aerospace is to help Government to see the holistic view: the looming skills crisis and the need for action across the board, from school children to PhDs and the diversity agenda.

UK aerospace can take the lead on providing a compelling proposition. Tell the story well, and be ambitious enough, and the Grand Challenge of electrification will attract the next-generation of electrical engineers.

If our minds can conceive it, and our hearts can believe it, then we can achieve it. The UK is a leader in conventional aircraft; we know what it takes to build an aircraft. It was the UK that led the Second Revolution in aerospace: the jet age. We are now about to see the Third Revolution: the electric age. As with the jet engine, the UK needs to be at the vanguard of this development if it is to maintain a strong and world-leading aerospace industry.

What next? There is work to be done on articulating the UK aerospace vision of electrification: to seek support from UK funding mechanisms; to ensure that UK Research and Innovation, with its new role in coordinating research in the UK, is well briefed on the sector’s views and ambitions; and to engage with Ministers and ensure it features within the Government’s Industrial Strategy.

The ATI and EPSRC would like to thank the organisations who contributed to the discussion: Advanced Propulsion Centre; Airbus; Bombardier; Cranfield University; Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy; Department for Transport; GKN Aerospace; Innovate UK; Rolls-Royce; University of Newcastle; University of Nottingham; University of Southampton; University of Strathclyde; and Yasa Motors.

Following this discussion, the ATI and EPSRC will continue to engage with the wider community, convene stakeholders, share information, connect with researchers internationally and promote the UK aerospace vision of electric aircraft.

Graphene has become quite the topic since it was first isolated in 2004, and the subsequent Nobel Prize in Physics that was awarded to two Manchester scientists in 2010, has the potential to positively impact aircraft performance, cost and fuel efficiency. The wonder material has been jointly explored by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and the National Graphene Institute (NGI) to help better understand potential market opportunities available to UK aerospace companies.
Working in close partnership with the NGI, the University of Central Lancashire, the Centre for Process Innovation, QinetiQ, Morson Projects Limited, and Haydale Limited with input from Ekosgen, we have brought together a sector perspective of where there are potential opportunities for organisations to benefit from investing in graphene. The findings and recommendations have been published in the form of an ATI INSIGHT paper which can be downloaded here.

Mark Summers, our Head of Technology for Manufacturing, Materials and Structures said:
“The UK has pioneered the research and development of graphene. The material has the potential to bring exciting applications and efficiencies into the sector. Although its exploitation into the aerospace sector is still in its infancy, it is anticipated that the scope of potential applications will continue to expand.

“We will seek to accelerate the maturation of graphene technology opportunities through the UK’s R&T programme, in a bid for the UK to remain ahead of the challenge and continue leading on the research and exploitation of the material in aerospace”.
Graphene has much potential to enhance the performance of aircraft. By incorporating the atomically-thin material into existing materials used to build planes, the safety and performance properties could be significantly improved, as well as reducing the environmental impact and improving fuel efficiency through light-weighting.

James Baker, CEO of Graphene@Manchester, at The University of Manchester said:
“Major generational improvements in the aerospace sector have been associated with embracing new materials. Aluminium and carbon fibre have seen planes become faster, greener, cheaper and safer, now graphene and related two-dimensional materials can mark the next step-change.

“By incorporating graphene into existing materials used to manufacture planes performance properties could be improved across number of key areas. By collaborating with scientific expertise and embracing the opportunities offered by embracing graphene the sector can accelerate the next-generation of aerospace technologies.”

In an exclusive introduction to the INSIGHT paper, Sir Richard Branson said:
“The potential for graphene to solve enduring challenges within the aerospace sector presents real opportunities for the material to become disruptive, and a key enabler in future aircraft technology. We need to accelerate the opportunity for the UK to realise the benefits from graphene by creating a portfolio of graphene-related research and technology projects which if undertaken would lead to real impact in our aerospace industry.”

Will graphene have a major impact on aerospace?

As well as its vast potential and opportunities, the wonder material comes with some challenges. Despite the pioneering research and development, one of the key challenges identified is around taking the properties of graphene and translating them into a real component. There has been much work undertaken by the graphene community to overcome challenges faced by the material: the production of scale of graphene materials have increased year-on year. Early work on graphene applied to the aerospace sector has shown its potential to reduce weight while increasing the strength of materials, which could contribute towards reduced emissions, resulting in cleaner, greener and more efficient aircraft.

Next steps…

It is critical that the UK is able to accelerate the technology development cycle of graphene if we are to transfer its application into the aerospace sector. The ATI has identified four key activities that it will champion to ensure that the sector embodies the benefits of 2D materials for aircraft applications and manufacturing process support. This includes to:

  • Identify initial opportunities within the secure, exploit and position timeframes that could be incorporated into a forthcoming collaborative R&D programme
  • Ensure the sector is able to adopt 2D materials into high value design concepts for future architectures, through the development of product case studies within the ATI specialist advisory groups
  • Progress the benefits of 2D material usage in manufacturing processes realised by demonstration platforms within the research community
  • Lead the development of consortia programmes where direct action is required to realise 2D material solutions in emerging market spaces.

We will continue to share further insights and developments around the topic in due course.

Earlier this month, WMG and the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) jointly hosted an event discussing the future of electrification in aerospace. The event was attended by a good mix of delegates from both the aerospace and automotive sectors, with senior representatives from industry and academia.

The morning featured a keynote presentation from one of the leaders in the field, Prof David Greenwood, Professor of Advanced Propulsion Systems at WMG, who outlined the electrification landscape in automotive and what lessons could be transferred to the aerospace sector. This was followed by the main panel session, chaired by Mark Scully (ATI’s Head of Technology for Advanced Systems and Propulsion) and made up of experts from both sectors, providing their views and perspectives on the topic as well as taking questions from the floor.  The session was a series of lively discussions ranging from battery technology and the integration of electrical systems, to the challenges of electrification for aerospace, future opportunities, cross-sector collaboration, certification, standards and safety considerations.

There was a real spark throughout the day, with lots of energy generated through discussions and networking. There was clearly a common theme emerging, with key discussion topics including:

  • Short-term priorities to increase electric aircraft systems, particularly in short-range applications, with a view to developing more electric propulsion, hybrid-electric and/or electrically assisted propulsion in the medium-term
  • Understanding of the highly coupled aerodynamic systems and the need for whole-system level engineering integration to achieve the benefits of electrification, alongside current considerations such as boundary layer ingestion
  • Safety considerations and the need to ensure that electrical management systems can operate at extremes of temperature and at altitude
  • A need for enabling common standards, regulatory frameworks and infrastructure
  • The need to promote increasing collaboration across the industry to achieve the new technology requirements
  • The need to create technology roadmaps for future strategic direction to signpost the electrification vision for the sector, with considerations across all technology readiness levels (TRLs)
  • Industrial opportunity is a key driver, and better understanding of how the economic picture and associated supply chains will progress will be a critical factor
  • Significant improvements needed to enhance skills development across the board
  • The importance of bringing the aerospace industry together to present a coherent, compelling vision to Government in order to influence policy around electrification
  • The understanding that this is a cross-modal issue, with today’s transport evolving rapidly, and the need for urgent action

During the event there was wide consensus that the topic of electrification is an important one for the sector, but that much more needs to be done to develop the technologies, skills and capabilities needed to support this.

WMG was one of the primary organisations that helped create some of the opportunities seen today with the Faraday Battery Challenge, which demonstrates the Government’s commitment to positioning the UK as a global leader in battery innovation and electrification with £246m funding over four years. WMG is part of both the newly formed Faraday Institute (alongside seven other universities) and has also been awarded £80m to create a new national facility, the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC), building the crucial new strategic link between the research, development and full-scale industrialisation for battery technologies across the UK. WMG’s own state-of-the-art £60m facility is now virtually unique in Europe, and the tour provided after the session was a highlight in demonstrating that capability.

One of the ways in which the ATI is already addressing these topics is through its presence and collaboration with Faraday, acting as a voice for UK aerospace. Our Chief Operating Officer Dr Ruth Mallors-Ray OBE is a member of the Faraday Challenge Advisory Group, and Mark Scully, our Head of Technology for Advanced Systems and Propulsion, is a member of the Technical Advisory Group. Through this collaboration, we are ensuring that the technology challenges identified for aerospace electrification are integrated into the Faraday Challenge research programme – enabling the development of technologies that can be transferred into the aerospace sector. For example, some of the key challenges in terms of aerospace to be considered through the Faraday Challenge, are the development of safety critical battery management systems, and improved gravimetric and volumetric density of energy storage systems, to enable usable aircraft range for commercial transport markets.

The UK benefits from a world-class ecosystem made up of aerospace organisations from industry, academia and research bodies. Our highly capable supply chain and leading academic capabilities provide the ability for the UK to deliver leadership in this area and disrupt the global market. The ATI, through partnerships such as that with cutting-edge research institution WMG, is working on identifying the technology gaps that will challenge the UK industry to truly deliver disruptive and game changing opportunities.

 

Next steps

The Institute is continuing its dialogue and engagement with WMG, the APC and other stakeholders to develop a roadmap of key technologies that will support this journey. We are keen to encourage greater supply chain engagement as we progress through the journey, harnessing the talent and expertise that exist within these organisations. Following the success of this event, we are planning on hosting further joint WMG-ATI events that will engage the industry as a whole, share expertise, consider the overarching central strategies, and consider plans for developing specific technologies needed for various aerospace system applications.

The Institute will also be publishing an INSIGHT paper on electrification later this year, which will outline the ATI’s electrical power systems strategy.

The Institute is currently studying how we can inspire more disruptive innovation in UK aerospace (see our CEO’s blog here).

There is no doubt that it will shake up the sector and completely change the way aerospace operates. For disruption to have a positive impact on the sector, we must plan for it. If we understand what it will mean for us, we can use it to our advantage.

There are a number of start-ups and new entrants coming into the sector, and potentially this is where some of the disruption will come from. A lot of positive impact could be extracted from these organisations, as they bring with them a different perspective, new skills, and a desire to challenge the sector’s established ways.

And so the Institute is casting the net widely in research on how to better support disruptive innovation, and how to attract the best of it into the UK.

We are looking at how other countries are addressing and accelerating innovation, analysing innovation support mechanisms, the role of academia, and successful disruptive ecosystems. For this, we are seeking insights from a range of industry participants, and the outcome of this activity will help us better understand how we inspire disruptive innovation in the UK aerospace sector.

We would like your views, which we are gathering via a short survey here.