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.