Matthew Bailey • 03.04.24 •  2 mins

FutureForge unlocks new capability for UK aerospace manufacturing

Following the opening of Europe’s largest hot forging research and innovation platform in Renfrewshire, ATI Lead Technologist – Structures, Manufacturing & Materials, Matthew Bailey considers the opportunity for UK aerospace.

The launch of FutureForge at the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) last month marked a major step up in UK forging capability. As part of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland, FutureForge offers a fantastic open-access, digitally enabled capability to the UK aerospace sector. It is a real cross-cutting technology enabler that can support future aerostructures, propulsion and systems manufacture.

The development of this infrastructure capability has been supported by the ATI Programme through the HIVES (High Integrity, Validated Engineering Space) Forge project alongside additional funding through both the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and Scottish Enterprise.

Forging is an important manufacturing process in aerospace and forged parts with their high-performance mechanical properties are typically used in critical applications across the aircraft. As a result, forged aerospace parts are amongst some of the most expensive parts on the aircraft. Forged parts feature across the entire aircraft, in engine discs & shafts, in landing gear structures and in highly loaded aerostructures such the engine pylon.

While widely used in aerospace, forging is a relatively traditional manufacturing process. Therefore, the Industry 4.0-ready digital capabilities of FutureForge, capturing data throughout the process, can significantly enhance our understanding and ability to optimise. This will support greater performance from the components and minimise production scrap. The advanced industry 4.0 capabilities of the state-of-the-art FutureForge control room also mean companies from the other side of the world can collaborate in real-time with the team at the AFRC in Scotland.

As we take steps to decarbonise the aerospace sector, we need to consider the entire lifecycle of an aircraft. Beyond the tailpipe emissions we must also achieve Net Zero in the associated manufacturing emissions. Forging is an energy intensive manufacturing process and the advanced technologies in FutureForge will help to reduce energy consumption, alongside improving material utilisation, on our journey to Destination Zero.

Beyond the technical and environmental opportunities, forgings also face many geopolitical challenges. With significant disruptions to the current supply chain, opportunities to grow the UK capability in forgings will help increase the resilience of the UK aerospace supply chain in the future as the AFRC team work alongside some of the biggest forgings companies in the world to exploit this new capability.

Although competing with near-net-shape (NNS) manufacturing processes in future, which include additive manufacturing (AM) and powder metallurgy hot isostatic pressing (PM-HIP), there will still be a place for forgings in both the current and next generation of aircraft. The capabilities of FutureForge will be key to optimising and enabling improved manufacturing of these components. Through FutureForge companies can also access the wider capabilities of the NMIS Group and those of the AFRC to explore a multitude of manufacturing processes to identify which is best for their needs or to optimise existing processes.

FutureForge helps to deliver on the ATI’s Cross-Cutting Technologies Roadmap, enabling the manufacture of parts for applications across the breadth of the next generation of aircraft, both ultra-efficient and zero-carbon.