A £15 million programme aiming to encourage suppliers to the UK aerospace industry to adopt additive manufacturing will be led by The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) near Coventry. Additive manufacturing is employed across many manufacturing sectors in a variety of materials, producing everything from simple tools to major parts for aero engines.
Additive manufacturing technologies are increasingly being demanded by the country’s prime aerospace manufacturers. Suppliers will be able to test products and processes in a virtual additive facility at the MTC and then transfer the work to the latest physical machines. A full trial facility will open at the National Centre for Additive Manufacturing (NCAM), with proving facilities also available at Renishaw in Stone, Staffordshire.
At Renishaw, there will be a cutting-edge RenAM 500M laser additive manufacturing system available. The automated system includes the very latest optical laser monitoring processes and is designed for factory floor production of metal components, including titanium.
“The importance of additive manufacturing to the UK aerospace industry can’t be overstated,” said Dr Katy Milne, who leads the MTC-led Digital Reconfigurable Additive Manufacturing for Aerospace (DRAMA) project. “It has the potential to revolutionise design approaches and component manufacturing. There are more than 4,000 companies involved in the aerospace industry in the UK and additive manufacturing offers the biggest opportunity since the introduction of composites.”
John Dunstan, who heads the product and process development centre for BAE Systems, said an increasing number of their aircraft, including the Hawk and the Tornado, were flying with additive manufactured parts.
“In some components, we have seen 36% reductions in cost and 62% reductions in lead times. Additive is firmly on the agenda and the pace is starting to quicken,” he said.
Innovate UK is delivering the funding for the project, while the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) is supporting it. Other partners delivering DRAMA are Renishaw, the Midlands Aerospace Alliance, which is mobilising other UK aerospace groupings, ATS Applied Tech Systems, Autodesk, Granta Design, the National Physical Laboratory and the University of Birmingham.