Beene M'membe • 03.02.21 • 4 min read

Tooling developments for future aerostructures

Outlining the challenges facing the UK tooling supply chain – and how an ATI consortium building event on 21 April will help identify the opportunities.

Tooling manufacturing is one of the UK’s key enabling industries for the UK aerospace sector with an average annual revenue of £70m [1]. The UK tooling supply chain has vast experience in tooling design and manufacturing of metallic and composite tooling for aerospace components. However, advances in aerostructures mean that the industry must evolve to keep up with the needs of its customers. Advances on programmes like Airbus’ Wing of Tomorrow have seen a rise in demand for tooling for large scale structures often with complex geometries. Similarly, the current trend for resin infusion processes has also created a new set of challenges to which the tooling supply chain must respond. OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers such as BAE Systems and GKN have expressed a need for smart highly automated tooling for future aircraft platforms. As tooling becomes more complex, with sophisticated systems, the aerospace industry is looking for ambitious and novel solutions to existing tooling challenges.

The ATI is hosting a consortia building workshop bringing together members of the UK tooling supply chain and end users in the aerospace sector to work together on R&T projects to address the opportunities in tooling development for future aerostructures.

In 2020, the ATI convened a working group involving tooling designers, tooling manufacturers, and OEM and Tier 1 suppliers to discuss the requirements and challenges of the UK tooling supply chain. Some notable findings from the working group are that accurate simulation tools for spring-back continue to be a challenge throughout the industry and reconfigurable and low storage footprint tooling are essential for low volume production businesses.

OEM and Tier 1 end-users have identified the following topics as priority R&D topics to meet the requirements of the aerospace sector: smart self-heating tooling, additive manufactured tooling for large structures, novel low-cost tooling and wash out tooling for complex geometries. Other key technologies required are modifiable/adaptable tooling for new aircraft variants and modifications, tooling for hydrogen tanks and fast, accurate modelling and simulation tools. It is essential that future tooling technologies compatible with digital factories of the future able to meet the need for shorter lead times.

Equally, the wider UK R&D sector has significant modifications to make to support the UK tooling supply chain to enable it to compete fairly with competitors overseas. Some of the proposed changes include investment in capability for tooling in the UK R&D centres potentially linked to preferential procurement contracts for UK tooling suppliers and reduced tax on materials such as Invar to level the playing field with some international competitors. The challenges proposed are complex and require continued engagements between the UK tooling supply chain and end-users to find an auspicious path forward for the UK. The consortia building event is a great opportunity for members of the UK tooling supply chain to engage with end-users across the aerospace sector to develop their capability and position themselves to win future tooling contracts. The ATI will continue to support the UK tooling supply chain and end-users through the AGP Manufacturing and Supply Chain Working Group in 2021.

If you would like to know more or be involved in collaborative tooling projects, please email

[1] Counterpoint Market Intelligence, “Tooling & automated assembly for aerostructures”, Counterpoint, Oxford 2017.

The ATI is planning an online consortium building workshop on 21 April for UK tooling designers, manufacturers, integrators, technology suppliers, and end users to collaborate on future tooling technology R&D funded through the ATI Programme

The event will feature speakers from the ATI and key tooling end users, and will include presentations and breakout sessions. To confirm your interest in attending this free event, please provide some information about your company in our surveys before 15 March. Those who complete the survey will be contacted after it closes to confirm participation in the event.