Radical changes are coming to the aerospace sector – we will see the sector more closely integrated into the wider transportation sector, enabling highly efficient, environmentally friendly, quiet and seamless multi-modal transport and mobility. The UK has the ambition, technological innovation and world-class research capabilities to lead this revolution, making history once again. We pioneered the jet engine to change the face of air travel internationally, and once again we will be central to transforming urban and regional air transport.

To achieve this ambition, the UK needs a strong partnership between aircraft manufacturers and designers, airline businesses, airport and airspace providers, research organisations, academia and Government. The Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) has taken the initiative to build that partnership and lead it on behalf of the aviation sector to develop the expression of interest for the Amy Johnson Challenge of ‘Advancing Mobility Through Flight’. The Amy Johnson Challenge aims to enable the development of technologies, systems, infrastructures, operations, policies and regulations that will provide the foundation of a more electric, highly autonomous integrated aviation system for the future of mobility.


The combination of electrification and autonomy will enable new mobility concepts, such as autonomous electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) for application in areas such as urban air transport. These vehicles would compete with traditional taxis and other urban transport; all-electric propulsion would be much cheaper than conventional means of powering aircraft and offer zero emissions for low urban impact; autonomy would enable operation in crowded urban environments for accessibility. Small all-electric sub-regional fixed-wing aircraft, exploiting small regional airports, could transport up to 20 people cleanly, efficiently and cost effectively against land-based transport modes. Larger aircraft could adopt hybrid turbo-electric power and propulsion systems for higher fuel efficiency. These examples illustrate how the electrification of aircraft systems combined with autonomy have the potential to create new aerospace market segments, as well as enabling significant efficiency improvements in established segments – they all create significant supply chain opportunities in the UK.

Looking ahead

The Institute is publishing an INSIGHT paper on Electrical Power Systems – the ATI’s seventh paper in the series. The document will discuss the increasing importance of electrical power systems in current and future commercial aircraft, and identify new market sectors that are dependent on enhanced technologies for such systems. The paper will enable wider consultation on electrical power systems in support of future updates to the ATI’s technology strategy, Raising Ambition.

Copies of the INSIGHT paper will be available on the ATI’s stand at the Farnborough Airshow later this month (16th – 22nd July)- come and find us in Hall 3, in the Innovation, at stand 3694.

Mark Scully, ATI’s Head of Technology for Advanced Systems and Propulsion said:

Electrification and the development of more electrical aircraft are a key focus for the ATI. We are seeing developments being accelerated in this area across the sector. The UK industry is well placed to take advantage of the more electric, or all electric aircraft and novel electric propulsion systems, supported by investment in technology development.

Electric and autonomous aircraft have tremendous opportunity to impact the future of mobility and the productivity of the UK, particularly in urban and regional transportation. The ATI is specifically looking at developments and technologies that will support more autonomous or fully autonomous, and electric and hybrid-electric aircraft of the future.

The Institute will continue to convene industry, research technology organisations and academia to develop and deliver electrical power systems technology to maximise UK economic value.

As we have heard, the North West has one of the most important clusters of aerospace activity in the UK – over 20 per cent of the overall industry. That is a remarkable achievement.
But the question I want to pose today is how we make sure that the North West, and the UK as a whole, retains its position in the global industry.

A snapshot today reveals plenty to be cheerful about – the UK has the second largest aerospace industry in the world, after the US; order books are full, and the market is expected to continue growing at around 4.5 per cent every year.
Of course, this creates challenges of scaling up; it reveals skills shortages and production bottlenecks. And puts a strain on the supply chain. But the solid market fundamentals are very important.

Not that everything is rosy. The obvious challenges are Brexit, increased competition from China and other countries, and environmental pressures.

Apart from these external pressures, there is also the $64,000 question about what the next moves within the industry will be. As you know better than I, when the product mix changes the entire industry responds, and there are winners and losers in that process, locked in or out, often for long periods of time.

We all therefore await with interest the possible launch of a new middle of the market aircraft and the effect that may have on the industry. And looking further ahead, the possibility of radical new aircraft designs, hybrid-electric propulsion, autonomous or nearly autonomous flight, and disruptive concepts such as urban air taxis. All accompanied by a raft of transformative events in the worlds of engineering and manufacturing.

What is the ATI’s role in preparing and positioning the UK for this future? I know that many of you already know this, so I won’t dwell on it too long. Fundamentally, we have two roles:
• Firstly, to create a technology strategy for UK civil aerospace; and
• Secondly, to develop a portfolio of R&D activity that will make the strategy come true.

The strategy is market-led; it aims to anticipate market needs in the short, medium and long terms, and to translate those into technology requirements. We focus on areas of UK strength, such as propulsion, structures, and systems.

We also devote time and resource to the whole aircraft, even though we no longer make large civil aircraft in the UK.

We do this because we believe that if we are to continue producing large and critical components and systems, we need to understand how they integrate into whole aircraft physically, and what effect they have on the whole aircraft performance.

Do look at the strategy, called Raising Ambition. It is available on our website, and – I would say this – it is packed full of insight and information. Some of you here helped us write it, which is of course why it is so good.

We have bolstered the overall strategy in recent months with some more focused publications on digital technologies, through-life engineering, product verification, emerging systems technologies, and emerging propulsion technologies.

Moving onto the technology portfolio, so far, we have launched almost £2bn worth of research and development projects. The concept of committing a large sum of money for the long term is proving its worth.
Major companies are responding to the certainty it provides by committing to large, ambitious and strategic projects which should create the building blocks for future success, at least for the medium term.

Rolls-Royce’s UltraFan programme marks a step change in gas turbine performance. Airbus’ wing of tomorrow is exploring a series of design possibilities enabled, or driven by, new materials, different engine configurations, manufacturing demands, and the constant search for improved aerodynamics. GE and BAE Systems are working up new cockpit concepts for the future flight deck, and GKN is driving forward new approaches to structures and manufacturing, mainly in composites and additive manufacturing.

So far so positive. After just over three years of operation, however, we can see what is working well and where some tweaks to the ATI model may be in order.

This is not just a matter of comparing our progress against the mission we were given at the outset, although that is clearly part of it. In addition, we have to take stock of changes in the sector and in the outlook for the future.
To take one example, when we started out in 2014, it was expected that a new single aisle aircraft was fairly imminent. But that has moved to the right. Other things have happened in the single aisle world, with upgrades rather than replacements. There is the focus on the middle of the market, as I mentioned earlier, but that is a different proposition from the new single aisle envisaged five years ago.

Similarly, nobody took aerial air taxis particularly seriously in 2014. Now they do. Indeed, the two major technology areas of electrification and autonomy have recently taken much more prominent roles in the thinking about the future.
What does this mean for the ATI? We have seen that whilst interest in developing technologies for the short and medium terms is very strong, there has so far been much less interest in developing technology for the longer term – the more disruptive and speculative technologies which could be connected to the moves towards electrification and autonomy, that I mentioned a moment ago, or could be other things.

We are keen to do something about this. Nobody knows when the next major shift in aircraft technology will take place, but if we assume that it happens in the 2030s, the UK needs to start preparing itself now. There is a lot to do. In basic science, in safety, in aircraft configurations, and in manufacturing.
We are therefore casting the net widely on how to better support disruptive innovation, and how to attract the best of it into the UK.
We are looking at what other countries are doing, analysing innovation support mechanisms, the role of academia, and successful disruptive ecosystems.

A lot of our work on disruption will be with other people and organisations. Universities and other institutes are the main specialists in early stage research. But the ATI expects to play an important role in catalysing activity that would not otherwise take place, coordinating groups of interest – or even competitors – and ensuring alignment between technology and the market.

We will also not forget the need to advance with more immediate priorities. Whilst we all want to succeed in the markets of the further future, we need to address the issues of the present and the near future in order to tackle the long term at all.
More work on longer-term technology is therefore one important area for us, and as you may be aware, the ATI has recently fronted two expressions of interest into the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund – one on high value design, called the Brunel challenge; and one on electrification in air transport. [more on these?]

A related but separate issue is the supply chain. You will have noticed when I gave examples of ATI-supported research earlier that I focused on big building-block projects led by companies at top of the supply chain – Airbus UK, Rolls-Royce, GE, GKN etc.
I make no apology for that – it is important to anchor major, complex systems and components in the UK and to provide a firm footing for the rest of the industry here.

But there are many reasons to want the whole supply chain engaged in innovation, not just the top tiers.
Firstly, the top tier companies want an innovative and competitive supply chain, to maximise day to day operational performance.

Secondly, I mentioned earlier that dramatic changes in engineering and manufacturing are on their way – new materials, additive layer manufacturing etc; the entire supply chain needs to be able to respond to those changes to remain competitive.

Thirdly, it is becoming apparent that some of the newest, most disruptive technologies are likely to come from the supply chain, not from Primes.

Fourthly, there is a general economic point about spreading innovation as far as possible throughout the economy – innovation accounts for around 40 per cent of economic growth, so promoting it further in a sector like yours where productivity is so high relative to the rest of the economy has clear advantages.

You may wonder how much supply chain engagement there is in the ATI portfolio. It is a difficult question to answer, since strictly speaking the entire UK aerospace sector is in the supply chain – in the absence of a UK Prime. However, to take an imperfect approximation, the number of SMEs, there are around 120 involved in our projects, out of a total number of 217 organisations.

And there will be more who are active as subcontractors but may be unknown to us.
However, it is also the case that many of those SMEs are involved with us not because they are consortium members of our strategic projects, but because they applied for support in one of the open R&D calls that we have run.
For whatever reason, we see few applications from the supply chain outside of bespoke initiatives aimed at them. This is a pity.

There is nothing to stop supply chain companies, or groups of companies, from pitching propositions to us, and I hope more will do so.
The ATI is already fully engaged in working with the supply chain through NATEP – known to many of you, I know, but if you are not familiar with it, it stands for the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme. We have just closed a second NATEP call under the ATI, the eighth call for NATEP overall, and the applications will now go into the scrutiny process in the regions before a final decision is taken on the successful projects in the summer.

ATI took on NATEP for a trial period of two years and with a budget of £8m. One clear signal we have received from NATEP is that demand for it is high. This has resulted in our using the budget faster, and we are therefore already beginning to consider whether and how to roll the programme forward into a further phase.
NATEP, it is worth stressing, is designed to help companies that are new to R&D. Projects are small – up to £150,000; companies are supported by technology managers, they receive significant amounts of feedback from industry peers in the regional advisory panels, and they are supported by an end user company which is interested in exploiting the resulting technology.

Once companies know the R&D ropes, however, NATEP is inappropriate. We are therefore thinking about how best to encourage companies that start off down the R&D route to continue to innovate.
I think it is well known that the ATI is considering a further open collaborative R&D call in 2018. We have in mind a call for projects that are larger than NATEP – above £300,000, but below £2m gross. We want to make it quite focused, concentrating on stimulating particular outcomes for the sector and the UK economy.

That is partly about the technologies it should cover, and we are consulting on those with a wide range of industry advisors. It is also partly about the time period for the technology. At one end of the spectrum, we want to encourage industry leaders to clarify the technologies they want the supply chain to develop – primarily perhaps ideas that improve products and operations and reduce costs.

At the other end of the spectrum, we want to encourage companies to come forward with ideas for disruptive technologies. I mentioned before that we are trying to encourage more R&D activity in that space. We also want to test the proposition that much disruptive technology is likely to come from the supply chain.
And we want to give supply chain companies with radical ideas a way of bringing those ideas on.
So that is a brief glimpse into the plans we are working up at the moment. I hope we will be able to bring these to fruition later this year.

In conclusion, therefore, the ATI programme has been operating for almost five years. It has established a set of large ambitious programmes in the UK’s main areas of strength to position the industry for the anticipated next stage of progress. It is turning its attention more to disruption and to stimulating more innovation in the supply chain. NATEP has demonstrated a high level of interest and helped a number of companies and impressive technologies get off the ground. We are discussing another round of NATEP calls. We are also working up a plan for an open collaborative call later this year that could cover both the near term and/or future-looking disruptive technologies. But don’t feel you have to wait for this. The ATI programme is open to all. If you have an idea, please come and talk to us.

We would like to thank Geraldina Iraheta, Director, Business Development at Digital Catapult for writing a guest blog for the Institute.

Look to the skies in the UK and if you can see an unobstructed blue canvas for more than five minutes, without an aircraft passing overhead, buy a lottery ticket. The UK aerospace industry is booming. In fact, it’s the largest in Europe and second only to the US, with its trade association, ADS Group, reporting sales in the sector of £31.8bn last year – up 8% on the previous 12-month period1.

Why the boom?
The worldwide economy is growing and there are now more economically empowered people travelling more frequently. This scenario of course places massive pressure on Airlines and their supply chain to continue expanding and upgrading fleets to cope with this burgeoning demand. Testimony of this is the fact that Boeing is predicting growth to $5.2tn of aircraft orders over the next 20 years.

Sounds simple enough but it’s not, because, as always, such exponential growth doesn’t come without its associated growing pains. Aerospace OEMs are scrambling to meet this dramatically rising global demand head on – but they are having to do this unsafe in the knowledge that their supply chains are most certainly not equipped to take the strain. In fact, there are so many associated challenges facing UK aerospace and defence industries at present that it’s becoming harder for manufacturers to see the wood for the trees.

The challenge landscape is looking ever broader
With a need to reduce time to market by ~40% to keep up with demand, deep supply chains, and a decades-long after-market, aerospace organisations are most certainly facing a wide variety of challenges ranging from multi-level supply chain visibility to supply authentication, certification of people and components, and beyond.

China is doing things faster, cheaper and seemingly better than the rest of the world, forcing others to play catch up, in a hurry. But how can those organisations really do it quicker when they have to keep a constant eye on stringent certification standards to ensure that their products are safe and reliable, yet still cost-effective? And that’s just for starters. Probably the biggest issue is not being able to keep a finger on the pulse of their supply chains when so many OEMs have outsourced elements in the manufacturing process.

A more distributed manufacturing environment has created a supply chain that is far more complex than ever before in multiple dimensions – cross-company, cross-industry, cross-border, cross-culture, etc., leaving some suppliers with more questions than answers.

Making molehills out of mountains
However, as proven by the Wright brothers in 1903, with the right technology and a large degree of brainpower, these challenges can be easily overcome. Aircraft OEMs and tier one suppliers need to follow the trail blazed by the automotive industry and lay down a robust base to meet rising demand by developing closer and more collaborative relationships throughout the supply chain, encompassing all tiers of supplier.

This means sharing tools and techniques, and taking a more proactive, open and common approach to risks. Easier said than done as there remains a cultural barrier and as such a legacy in the aerospace industry where most manufacturers would rather keep their cards close to their chest than share low risk data that would be mutually beneficial to all parties involved. Okay it’s often easy to blame OEMs and tier ones for this, but the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) is perfectly placed to convene the industry to identify low risk opportunities for collaboration that will start to change the culture of the industry.

As a starter for ten, there are a number of innovators developing solutions that can provide supply chain visibility, allowing prediction of supply and demand that would help all tiers of the aerospace supply chain. One of these is Valuechain who provide smart manufacturing software that helps organisations to improve productivity, streamline collaboration and generate intelligence.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is making for a connected supply chain
IoT allows for the analysis, cross-referencing, and application of collected data faster than ever thought possible. In the aerospace industry it is being used to offer better operation and control, material management, staff and passenger information management, data analytics, and more importantly in this instance; inventory and operations planning, manufacturing and supply chain optimisation. IoT technologies are a logical enabling technology, assuming we change the attitude about collaboration. Using IoT devices, aerospace manufacturers can connect products and assets together to enable dynamic scheduling and flexible factory automation, where multiple products can be managed through the same factory, or across the entire supply chain.

New levels of connectivity such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), 5G and Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) offer the breadth of solutions from real-time, low latency data transactions between machines, to wide ranging asset tracking and condition monitoring solutions. Looking through this new lens, it’s not too difficult to see how easy it is to gather data for just about any application and there are many IoT analytics platforms that exist to drive value out of it.

Through our Just in Time project, Digital Catapult is working with Airbus and DFKI to deploy IoT solutions that provide workers with personalised workplace support using AI-based services. It supports on-the-spot problem solving through smart step-by-step instructions that react to the workers’ actions. Microlearning is provided just-in-time fitting to a situation. The system uses sensor data collected during the work processes through advanced future networks to detect potential problems and skill gaps.

Taking a leaf out of the book of Bitcoin
Aside from finance, Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is starting to really gain traction in major industries such as music, energy and gaming, and now aerospace. Today it is already seen as the great enabler to address specific aerospace and defence industry challenges by supporting secure collaboration, and process coordination across OEMs, suppliers, and operators.

With the widespread application of parts pooling both within an airline’s own fleet and as part of wider pooling programmes, DLT would ease the back-office burdens of maintaining compliance with reporting requirements for lessors and owners in respect of the temporary and permanent replacement of parts. It may also simplify the management of a wider parts pool and provide users with a shared validated point of information on availability and timings.

Use of the words ‘would’ and ‘may’ above would probably lead many to believe that the use of DLT in the aerospace industry is a bit of a pipe dream at present, but it most certainly is not. There are already many use cases for using DLT in its digital transformation efforts and range from creating a hardened and traceable supply chain that supports secure collaboration and process coordination across OEMs, to optimising maintenance, certifying personnel, monitoring training logs, licensing of IP, and beyond.

According to Aviation Today, James Kornberg, director of innovation of Air France KLM said of Distributed Ledger Technology uptake, “In the aviation industry we still have a lot of our data that is not digitised, still a lot of analogue data, the first step, and that’s what we’re doing at the moment is going to a fully digital solution on all the supply chain and all the aviation data that we get.”

It’s a case of adapt or die
Transforming a diverse, highly competitive and bureaucratic industry like aerospace will not be easy, but we now have the digital transformation technologies to hand to begin to build this future. Our hope is that multiple industry players can pull together to produce collaborative small scale experimental deployments of idealised systems and use this vision to alleviate corporate inertia.

The ATI (last year) published an INSIGHT paper on Digital Transformation; exploring the potential for digital transformation in aerospace and examining the maturity of the UK aerospace sector’s digital capability. The paper has been informed by surveys of, and interviews with, industry leaders (both internal and external to the sector) conducted by the ATI. The paper also includes a digital framework representing the possibilities of digital technologies. The framework enables companies to assess where they are on the digital journey and their direction of travel.

In fact, underlining the relevance and impact of the ATI’s research and the growing necessity for end-to-end digital transformation of the aerospace industry, Digital Catapult has already begun discussions with major aerospace suppliers to help them explore digitisation of their internal processes through the use of IoT, Distributed Ledger Technologies, Virtual Reality, and Machine Learning. Results of that engagement will be forthcoming at a later stage.


Please note that a guest blog provides an external independent perspective, and does not necessarily represent the views of the ATI.

Source: 1Telegraph: How big is the UK Aerospace Industry

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.

Innovate UK is hosting a webinar for prospective applicants on how to apply for funding through the UK Aerospace R&T Programme. The first stage of an application for funding is made by submitting an Expression of Interest (EOI) – the May EOI call is currently open and closes at 1200 on Wednesday 16th May. To join the webinar please use the details below:

Time & Date: 0900 – 1000, Thursday 3rd May 2018
WebEx link: Here
Access code: 845 412 449
Join by phone (UK): 0203 478 5289
Join by phone (global): Numbers here

If you have difficulty joining, please try the Innovate UK support here and click support on the left-hand navigation bar click support.

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.

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.