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.

Opportunities

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.

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.

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.

Aerospace is a great British success story. While the UK economy has struggled to achieve any productivity growth since the global financial crisis, this is not true for the UK aerospace sector.

Productivity per worker in the UK aerospace industry has increased by 50% between 2009 and 2016, while at the same time direct sector employment has grown by 14,000 people1. Productivity in the UK aerospace sector is now 40% higher than the wider UK manufacturing sector and is the highest in Europe – UK aerospace productivity is 20% higher than the aerospace sectors in both France and Germany2.

However, this story is not shared by all companies in the aerospace sector. Recent survey data from ONS covering all manufacturing sectors in the UK, highlighted by The Economist3, showed a strong correlation between a company’s ownership structure and its level of productivity. Family-owned and managed businesses perform worse than all other categories of business governance in terms of productivity, whereas non-family-owned and managed businesses and multinationals performed almost 50% better.

The question then is: what are the qualities of these ownership models that are driving the difference, and what can be done address them? Without further investigation it is difficult to be certain. One explanation is that family businesses are usually motivated by very different things – stability, lifestyle, continuity of family ownership etc. Many family owned business perform highly specialised roles and may lack the funding required, or the competitive or investor pressure to innovate and expand.

Another factor highlighted in the ONS data concerns scale. For all firms, irrespective of ownership and governance model, productivity increases with the size of the firm. This points to other potential root-causes of low productivity performance – economies of scale, ability to reinvest and undertake R&D, etc.

Unfortunately, data on company ownership and productivity cannot be isolated for aerospace. However, it is possible to contrast productivity by enterprise size within the UK aerospace sector. This shows that productivity at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is less than half of the sector average.

Some of this productivity gap could be explained by the dynamics of family ownership as above, but scale and nature of activity that goes with it will also have a major influence. This points back to a problem previously highlighted by the ATI, that UK industry including aerospace has a structural ‘missing middle’, a lack of mid-size companies that are expanding, competitive and challenging the innovation frontier4.

Sir Charlie Mayfield’s 2016 productivity review calls on businesses to strive to be better. It identifies leadership, management, measurement, innovation, digitalisation and governance as essential areas for improvement. For family owned and small businesses, these are challenging topics to embrace.

ATI is supporting small aerospace businesses to invest in technological innovation. In the past year, ATI has committed £8m of grant funding to the National Aerospace Technology and Exploitation Programme (NATEP). It is also funding over 100 SMEs through larger collaborative projects and plans are in place to launch more funding competitions targeting innovative small and medium companies.

However, other aerospace supply chain productivity improvement programmes focused on leadership and management capabilities are needed. Sharing in Growth (SiG) and 21st Century Supply Chains (SC21) aimed precisely at these issues but have now exhausted their funding commitments. The continuation of these initiatives is essential to the addressing the UK’s productivity challenges in advanced manufacturing.

Peter Willis, the ATI’s Senior Economist, said:

These statistics all highlight the importance of investing in supply chains to help improve productivity. The ATI will continue to encourage technical-innovative SMEs to participate in the UK Aerospace R&T Programme, whether as partners in strategic projects or in the NATEP programme.

1 ATI Analysis of ONS – Annual Business Survey and National Accounts Data 2016

2 ATI Analysis of Eurostat – Structural Business Statistics Data 2015

3 Economist – Family-owned firms hold part of the answer to the productivity puzzle – December 2017

4 ATI – Raising Ambition for UK Industrial Strategy Lessons from Innovation in Aerospace – November 2016