What’s next for UK aerospace manufacturing?
The MTA (The Manufacturing Technologies Association) is the UK’s trade association for companies who create, and supply technology utilised by manufacturers making the products we rely on. To celebrate this innovative sector, the association runs a yearly event, MACH, which is the UK’s premier event for engineering-based manufacturing technologies. We spoke with James Selka, CEO of MTA and Non-Executive Chairman at Reliance Precision Limited to find out more about their work alongside the aerospace sector.
As a Trade Association, how do you aid the aerospace manufacturing sector?
The MTA members actually enable UK manufacturing to be competitive through the supply of amazing manufacturing technologies. These include sophisticated machine tools, Additive Manufacturing, Metrology, advanced software, and robotics. In fact, this includes anything that goes into an engineering-based manufacturer. Since aerospace is a major part of UK manufacturing, the symbiotic relationship with our members is clear. Also, examples like Additive Manufacturing Technology, which was developed by and on behalf of future aerospace applications around lowering the cost of building and running an aircraft.
How is the aerospace sector moving towards its green agenda?
The sector has been conscious of the need to be more sustainable for many years. Developing the tech to be more lightweight in order to reduce fuel use has been a priority for many years. Much focus is now on sustainable fuels as an interim technology before other forms of propulsion become viable. The Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) in the UK established a programme called ‘FlyZero’ that provides a strategy for all aspects of aerospace to achieve net-zero carbon air travel by the end of the decade. A very ambitious target but this also recognises the criticality of manufacturing in its ultimate delivery.
How pinnacle is digitalisation and innovation to meeting future sustainability targets?
Digitalisation is a fundamental enabler for sustainability across the board, every productivity improvement applied from smart development and research through design, manufacture, delivery and operation enables a greener future. Digital twins, connected equipment, smart applications, visible supply clusters, you name it, digitisation is at the heart alongside disruptive innovation.
How do you think the UK compete in the global market?
I think we compete really well within disruptive technology. For example, if you consider aeroplanes, a huge proportion of their operating costs is fuel burn, often 35-50% of their cost dependant on the aircraft. However, Rolls-Royce utilised additive manufacturing to aid in the design of engines which run hotter than the melting point of fuel. The blades for this are made from a single crystal which makes them essentially faultless. It allows them to run in an atmosphere at the top of its melting point. This reduces fuel burn and reduces overall operating costs. It’s also led to a big drive to make the aircraft lighter, obviously the less weight you carry, the less fuel you burn.
Additive manufacturing has hugely accelerated in its development, primarily due to the aerospace industry. You can take a big block of expensive material and try to make it as lightweight as possible, and you could probably remove up to 90% of it. But this is expensive to do and not particularly environmentally friendly. But by using additive manufacturing processes, you’re automatically removing a large amount of the material out of the process straight away. It’s all very clever design and is consistently being utilised here in the UK.
What are your predictions for the UK aerospace manufacturing sector?
As the need for step improvements in sustainability, it will suit more parts to be made in the UK in support of the industry. This is why we are introducing a new show; The Engineering Supply Chain Show (ESC) alongside MACH2022 in April which will uniquely allow only UK companies to exhibit. Future aircraft developments will take even greater advantage of the digital technologies by enabling the whole supply chain to act as a true partner of the prime manufacturers ‘Extended Enterprise’.
I hope that UK aerospace manufacturing continues to be an incredibly strong industry and a way that UK engineering as a whole can be proud of what is achieved and an inspiration to the next generation of UK engineers.
Tell us a little more about MACH
MACH is the UK’s largest manufacturing technologies event. Our attendance figures are somewhere between 35 to 40,000. Of all the sectors we have joining us to view exhibitors, aerospace-centred businesses are the majority. Attendees come to look for new methods and opportunities and to see the latest developments in manufacturing technologies. We have a really good mix of exhibitors as well as a very vibrant seminar programme. It’s well worth a visit for anyone interested in or working in the sector.
MACH 2022 will be taking place between the 4-8th April and the NEC, Birmingham and is free to all attendees.
With the high level of innovation currently being deployed in the aerospace sector, associations like MTA will be vital to connecting businesses to ground-breaking technology.
If you are an innovator within the aerospace industry, get in touch as we would love to hear from you!