Advanced manufacturing will be a key focus for the U.K.'s new Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), which is being planned to guide more than £2 billion ($3 billion) in government and industry investment in research and development intended to maintain the country's position near the top of the aerospace league table.
Announced in March, it is not clear yet whether the institute will take physical or virtual form, but expectations for its effectiveness are high. In return for its half of the seven-year investment, the government expects industry to select R&D projects and develop technologies that will yield up to 115,000 high-value jobs.
The investment will be focused on four areas—civil aircraft wings, aeroengines, aerostructures and advanced systems—areas where the country already is a leader, through the specialist wing plants ofin England and in Belfast, Northern Ireland; aeroengine developer ; airframe and engine component manufacturers such as GKN Aerospace and Spirit AeroSystems; and equipment suppliers such as Systems and Aerospace Systems.
The initiative is aimed at developing the “substantially different technologies” expected to be required for the next generation of single-aisle and regional aircraft, according to the U.K.'s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
The U.K. government is committing more than £1.6 billion over 10 years to back its industrial strategy across several sectors. This includes more than £1 billion in new money from the U.K. Treasury and more than £500 million from the BIS budget. The largest part of the government's investment will go to the aerospace sector with funding for the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) to reach £150 million a year by 2014-15.
“The U.K. aerospace industry probably has not enjoyed this much support from the government since the 1970s,” says Marcus Bryson, CEO of GKN Aerospace and Land Systems and co-chair of the Aerospace Growth Partnership, which developed the investment program. “Industry is at a critical phase and we cannot afford to take the foot of the gas in research and technology, especially when Airbus andare looking at what probably will be the next-generation single aisle,” he says.
“In the early days, it is a mix of committed and new money, but as we go forward an increasing amount of new money will be directed to aerospace from other sectors,” says an industry official familiar with the new initiative. “Aerospace has come out as a winner, and sits at the top [of the U.K. government's industrial] priorities,” he says, arguing that other industrial sectors were not able to make such a compelling case for government investment.
“In partnership with the government, we looked at the market data, saw the potential in single-aisle and regional aircraft was enormous and that the U.K. was well placed to win significant packages,” he says. “So we got the band back together, circled the wagons around “U.K. Aerospace,” and came up with a strategy that lays out a game plan to bring 30 years of work to the industry.” Having secured the government's funding commitment, “we are now putting shape to what we are trying to create,” he says.
The ATI is to consist of a core team of 30-50 staff mainly borrowed from industry and academia. According to the BIS, the institute's role will be to provide better alignment between early research, such as that supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and larger-scale R&D projects managed by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and conducted by collaborative groups from industry and academia.
Some projects will be carried out by the High Value Manufacturing Catapult center, which opened in 2011 and brings together seven institutions to support the commercialization of new technologies in the U.K. The center focuses on R&D in areas such as advanced composites and metallics manufacturing for transport systems and satellite applications. Member institutions include the National Composites Center (NCC) at the University of Bristol.
The NCC was set up in 2009 with £25 million in government investment from the BIS/TSB and U.K. and European regional development funds. Ongoing operations are funded through a mix of industrial membership subscriptions, commercial contract work and U.K. and European R&D projects. The NCC is working on composites design and structural analysis, modeling and simulation, as well as automation and robotics.
The ATI is a national effort, and will be in addition to U.K. industry participation in European Commission-funded R&D such as Clean Sky and its planned follow-on, Clean Sky 2. Aimed at reducing the environmental impact of civil aviation, Clean Sky is a €1.6 billion ($2.1 billion) program funded 50:50 by the EC and industry, running from 2008 to 2017. Clean Sky 2 is planned to start in 2014 and run to 2020, with a proposed budget of €3.6 billion.
Like the European programs, the ATI initiative aims to meet Vision 2020 environmental goals set by the Advisory Council for Aviation Research and Innovation in Europe. These include reducing emissions by 50% for carbon dioxide and 80% for nitrogen oxides, and noise by 50%, relative to 2000 levels. The longer-term Flightpath 2050 goals call for reductions of 75% in CO2, 90% in NOx and 65% in noise.