3D Printing

£154m Investment in UK Aerospace Includes Money for GKN Aerospace for Industrial 3D Printing

At the Farnborough Airshow today, Nick Clegg, the UK’s deputy Prime Minister, will announce a new government funding initiative that will see £154 million invested in UK aerospace manufacturing research. The funding will be applied to four specific projects, one of which is definitely focused on industrial 3D printing processes.

Despite the political spin, the UK’s flagship aerospace sector really is leading the country and is globally dominant when it comes to researching and implementing additive manufacturing technologies. This current round of government funding is intended to help maintain this position and further the R&D into a new generation of more environmentally friendly planes, enabled by additively manufactured parts that will also save money for the airlines. To this end £49 million of the total investment announced today will be allocated to Engineering Group GKN, specifically GKN Aerospace, where Dan Johns, who has been quiet of late, is currently Chief Technologist. Dan’s history with developing and driving AM technology into aerospace manufacturing is a long one. He worked for Airbus and EADS, before applying his vast knowledge at Bloodhound (kind of auto/aero overlap!) for a time. Now GKN Aerospace is benefitting from his experience with the technology, and a quick call to confirm his involvement in this and to query the government statement that the money is to “research how 3D printing can help the UK produce the first ever lightweight aircraft metallic parts, keeping us at the forefront of the aerospace industry.” Dan is, of course, involved. He couldn’t go into much detail on the actual details of the project, only agreeing that obviously this wasn’t about the first lighter, 3D printed non-critical part to go on a plane. But what he did tell me is that “when things go quiet in this industry, it generally means that things are moving from innovation to qualification.” From that I think we can assume that this is about qualifying production techniques — for critical parts and for mass production techniques. That’s to say, things are scaling up — big time!

An Airbus-led project is also receiving a chunk of the money announced today, for research into designing, manufacturing and assembling wings. According to the government briefing, half the world’s advanced passenger jets are flying on wings made in Britain and they want to maintain that position. It wouldn’t surprise me if 3DP was involved in some capacity.

Another of the four projects centres around aero engines, led by Rolls-Royce “to explore new technologies and drive research keeping the UK competitive on the world stage by creating lighter, greener and more fuel efficient aircraft and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 75% by 2050 compared to levels in 2000.” It doesn’t say so, but I would bet my mortgage on the fact that AM will be involved in this too. R-R is another big user of many different industrial 3D printing processes.

The fourth project is focused on Radio and will receive £13 million of investment in Thales-led research to improve flights for passengers and allow them to stay connected in the air with better access to the internet and allow them to make phone calls. Thales uses 3D printing too, but I am not necessarily as confident in stating its involvement here. Although I wouldn’t be surprised.

The government brief states that part of the objective is to “help to secure more than 100,000 skilled jobs in aerospace and its supply chain in the long term in a market expected to be worth over £4 trillion over the next 30 years.”

And so to quote the Deputy Prime Minister directly, it’s a bit “blah, blah”:

“The UK’s aerospace industry is going from strength to strength and helping our economic recovery. We are the number one aerospace industry in Europe and second only to the United States globally.

I want to ensure the UK remains at the cutting edge of aerospace innovation, which is why I am pleased to announce that we are investing £154 million for research to explore new technologies like the 3D printing of plane parts and creating lighter, greener aircraft.”