Article Source: IMechE
Britain’s position near the top of global aerospace manufacturing could be threatened without additive manufacturing (AM) prowess, an expert has claimed – but a new facility could develop that expertise.
Other countries are ahead of the UK in global AM rankings, said the Manufacturing Technology Centre’s Dr Katy Milne, chief engineer for the Drama (Digital Reconfigurable Additive Manufacturing facilities for Aerospace) project. The country’s high standing in the aerospace sector could fall if the technology is not fully exploited, she told Professional Engineering. “We need to be first or second in additive if we want to keep that aerospace manufacturing here.”
Thankfully, a new ‘innovation and knowledge hub’ at the MTC in Coventry aims to boost AM’s application in aerospace, especially amongst the supply chain. The facility, which closely relates to Dr Milne’s Drama project, was opened to industry yesterday (15 October).
The centre aims to lead research, development and collaboration on metal AM, developing and testing ideas for taking the technology forward. It includes a workshop and ‘design, research and test’ facilities for AM users and experts. It will also offer training and expert advice on AM suitability, business cases and implementation through face-to-face and online support.
The manufacturing technique is being explored by many aerospace companies, but its roll-out has so far been limited by certification and technology readiness. That could change with further development of AM technology at the new centre, Dr Milne told Professional Engineering.
“All aeroplanes have looked the same for 50 years,” she said. “There are a lot of new things appearing, or things that have been thought of before but are coming back in aerospace – so hybrid-electric, hypersonic flight, urban air mobility. All of these things have new challenges and they are a big opportunity for additive manufacturing because additive is really lightweight.”
It is “massively enabling for electrification,” she said. “It’s easy to validate, you get lighter weight, higher performance, it’s just tick, tick, tick, tick for those applications.”
Staff demonstrated printed aerospace parts at the launch yesterday, such as a sound dampener for jet engines that can be printed in one go – including moving parts that open and close.
The sector “is prime territory for this kind of process because aerospace is a low-volume industry generally, and that is ideally suited for a high-cost process like this that is capable of making extremely complex geometries,” said Dr Simon Weeks, chief technology officer at the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), to Professional Engineering.
The ATI funds the Drama project alongside Innovate UK, and other partners include Renishaw, the Midlands Aerospace Alliance, ATS Applied Tech Systems, Autodesk, Granta Design, the National Physical Laboratory and the University of Birmingham.