Streamlining the Aerospace industry with the MTC’s AM digital learning factory and the DRAMA Project

According to the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), additive manufacturing faces three major challenges; ensuring that processes are accurate and repeatable, enabling a system level design specifically for AM and streamlining the route to certification for AM components.

As a result, the Manufacturing Technology Center (MTC) has commenced the DRAMA (Digital Reconfigurable Additive Manufacturing facilities for Aerospace) three-year research project which aims to improve the UK’s aerospace supply chain using a unique additive manufacturing digital learning factory.

By creating a digitally-twinned virtual environment for the aerospace industry’s additive manufacturing process chain, this project hopes to minimize the risk, cost and time to market for companies implementing AM technologies to design, build, and market higher performing parts. The test bed facilities will be located at the MTC’s National Centre for Additive Manufacturing (NCAM), Coventry and at the Renishaw AM Solutions Centre, Staffordshire.  

Established in 2010 by the University of Birmingham, Loughborough University, The University of Nottingham, and TWI, the MTC is an independent Research & Technology Organization (RTO) that provides integrated manufacturing system solutions across various sectors.

Launching the DRAMA project

With intentions to further grow the UK’s aerospace industry, the Government announced in November 2017 that it would inject £53 million of funding into several R&D projects that focus on increasing exports, high-value jobs, and overall growth; one of which includes the DRAMA project.

This project is receiving £14.3million as part of the ATI programme which also partners with ATS Applied Tech Systems, Autodesk, Granta Design, Midlands Aerospace Alliance, National Physical Laboratory, Renishaw and the University of Birmingham.

The main objectives of the DRAMA project are to further integrate and de-risk the adoption of AM technologies within the entire process chain to develop more commercial and efficient AM process chains.

Using a reconfigurable virtual environment, DRAMA will reduce the time and cost in the planning of AM processes, provide a knowledge base and digital tools for AM technologies and educate supply chain companies and OEMs in the end-to-end AM process.

Inside the National Centre for Additive Manufacturing. Photo via NCAM

Marc Summers, Head of Technology – Structures, Materials & Manufacturing at ATI stated:

“The world of manufacturing is revolutionising, we are seeing a significant shift in the aerospace sector through the adoption and development of novel technologies and improved processes. AM, to some extent, will re-invent manufacturing processes, enabling companies to de-risk and validate ideas in a virtual environment.”

Aerospace and additive manufacturing

Prior to this, the MTC has initiated an ongoing collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) to establish an Additive Manufacturing Benchmarking Center (AMBC).

3D Printing Industry also had the chance to view some of the development of Big Data solutions for additive manufacturing during a visit to the MTC’s UK Intelligent Engineering forum last year.

The DRAMA project now plans to establish use cases and demonstrate the ability to deliver parts required by the industry. The NCAM is expected to have an operational full trial facility by November 2019. The facility will be available for the supply chain in 2020.

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Featured image shows a depiction of the DRAMA project virtual facilities. Image via the MTC.