Aerospace Suppliers Urged to join £15m programme

Suppliers to the UK aerospace industry are being urged to engage with a £15 million programme funded by Innovate UK and the Aerospace Technology Institute aimed at encouraging them to adopt additive manufacturing (3D printing).

The Manufacturing Technology Centre near Coventry is leading the DRAMA (Digital Reconfigurable Additive Manufacturing for Aerospace) programme, an industry-directed project to support the uptake of metal additive manufacturing in the UK aerospace industry.

The project also aims to build a digitally-enabled additive manufacturing learning factory at the MTC. Other members of the DRAMA project team include ATS Applied Tech Systems, Autodesk, Birmingham University, GRANTA Design, Midlands Aerospace Alliance, the National Physical Laboratory and Renishaw. Additive manufacturing is employed across many manufacturing sectors in a variety of materials, producing everything from simple tools to major parts for aero engines. The MTC houses the National Centre for Additive Manufacturing (NCAM) bringing together the most comprehensive combination of equipment and capability in the UK.

Dr Katy Milne, who leads the DRAMA project at the MTC said the importance of additive manufacturing to the UK aerospace industry couldn’t be overstated.

“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. We have spent the last few months speaking to suppliers and OEMs and we now have a much greater understanding of the requirements of the manufacturers”

The MTC and the MAA have consulted extensively with aerospace OEMs and suppliers to capture requirements for the project, shaping its direction. It was found that aerospace suppliers have a good awareness of additive manufacturing, but need adoption support and practical training and help, including identifying the business case for adoption, technology and skills requirements and where training can be sourced, and validation of the manufacturing process. OEMs with an established additive manufacturing capability are keen to exploit the digital capabilities that DRAMA will develop including component design, manufacturing process simulation and the connectivity of process chain equipment.

Chiefly, they are looking for DRAMA to focus on enabling capability within the supply chain, process validation, quality processes and traceability. Suppliers can learn more about DRAMA at an all-day event at the Manufacturing Training Centre on Ansty Park, Coventry on October 23. Organised by the Midlands Aerospace Alliance, the event will bring together suppliers, OEMs and technology providers. Attendees will be able to learn about world-class additive manufacturing test-bed facilities, and a digital-twin virtual environment being created for the aerospace industry and its suppliers. Selected suppliers will be sharing their experiences and lessons learnt on their own journeys with AM.

There will also be an opportunity to talk to project technology partners directly in an “ask the experts” area with topics including design, process modelling, facilities, health and safety, powder handling, post-processing, finishing and inspection, quality and supplier approval. More information and registration for the event is at DRAMA is developing an additive manufacturing knowledge base, training courses and technology support which will be accessible to existing suppliers, new market entrants and technology providers. Users will be able to access AM expertise to develop and plan manufacturing processes digitally, and physically print and process parts in the learning factory at the MTC and at Renishaw’s UK AM Solutions Centre at Stone, Staffordshire.

Paul Evans, head of manufacturing technologies and processes for Airbus said that the DRAMA project could have a huge impact in the UK.

“Airbus has a significant presence here but as an international company we have a global supply chain. Contracts for AM parts have so far been with international manufacturers rather than UK businesses. Personally I want to support more UK businesses, improving their development and take-up of AM so they can be more competitive globally. Our long-term view is to get momentum so it can be fully exploited in three to four years time,”

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