Welcome to the Factory of the Future - a place where revolutionary technologies meet our adaptable and digitally minded engineering workforce to create incredible solutions to the problems of tomorrow. Working with a host of bright minds, from our strategic university research network to specialists in data, robotics, connectivity and 3D printing technology, our people have designed a first-of-its-kind, fully connected, digital factory. More than 40 blue chip and SME companies and academic institutions are collaborating with us on the project, driving the very best of UK innovation into the facility. Drawing on Industry 4.0 technologies, we’ve created a connected, intelligent hub at our site in Warton, in the North West of England, to demonstrate how military aircraft could be built in the future. It serves as an experimental hub equipped with state of the art technology to enable the brightest and boldest engineers to research, invest and test new technologies, build new capabilitiesand harness transformative ways of working.
A connected intelligent factory for military aircraft technologies
We envisage a future environment for tomorrow’s air forces which is complex and rapidly evolving. As that environment changes, we must change with it. We must develop the capability to reduce or grow our manufacturing capabilities quickly based on demand. We have to be affordable and we have to be flexible so that, if we need to, we can switch from building a new fighter aircraft one day, to small volume unmanned vehicles the next. The Factory has been designed to be more than just the sum of its parts. The connectivity between the machines, the robots and the human operators creates a new and revolutionary approach to manufacturing. A connected series of systems is enabled by the Internet of Things and propels our manufacturing capabilities into the next generation.
To help create the Factory of the Future, we are leveraging the best technologies and innovations from industry. We are working to benchmark, adapt and digitally integrate these in order to create new capabilities applicable for our sector and future products, exploiting commercially available technology to save development time and cost.
Off-the-shelf production robots tend to work to within half a millimetre of accuracy, yet we demand tolerances to less than a third the width of a human hair on some of our programmes. Working in partnership with academia and industry we are able to monitor and control robots to make tiny adjustments in position that we need. Partnering with the best in industry in this way ensures we can meet the needs of our customer requirements in a more efficient, cost effective and flexible way.
Flexibility by design
The Factory has been designed in such a way that it can flex to manufacture different products within the same area. Autonomous vehicles and intelligent systems provide the ability to accommodate changes quickly.
Vital to the Factory, the Internet of Things connects each asset and system inside the facility together. Data is gathered and analysed in real time to monitor, control and optimise performance.
Collaboration and Cobotics
Our Intelligent Work Station makes learning faster and more effective through the use of seamless, digital work benches and cutting edge cobotic techniques.
The latest manufacturing techniques
We have been using 3D printing for decades and additive manufactured parts are being flown on Hawk and Typhoon aircraft today. Inside the Factory, we are now beginning to build large structural components.
Pioneering in the UK to protect the UK
As we look to the future, our Factory of the Future will deliver affordable, advanced manufacturing capabilities, helping us make the UK's Tempest vision a reality.
We are part of a UK-wide consortium called Team Tempest, which is behind more than 60 technology demonstrations with the aim of designing and delivering the most capable, connected, flexible, affordable and upgradable UK-led combat air system ever devised. Due to enter service for 2035, the Tempest project is one of the most advanced and ambitious engineering and technology projects in the UK today.
To make this bold vision a reality, we need to develop the technologies, the tools, the skills, the intellectual property and the processes to show we can deliver a UK-led international collaborative future combat air programme. We need to demonstrate we are transforming the way we work to achieve all this. Put simply, the challenge is not only to break new ground in aviation but to do it in half the time and for less cost than ever before.
Our Factory of the Future is key to achieving that goal. Our manufacturing experts are committed to ensuring we deliver affordable, advanced manufacturing capabilities for decades to come, helping us make the Tempest vision of the future a reality and ensuring that the UK retains its world-leading critical manufacturing capability.
Critical skills for tomorrow
Our Combat Air business directly employs more than 12,000 people across the UK, many in highly-skilled and specialist roles, and our major programmes make a significant contribution to the UK economy, sustaining more than 48,000 roles more widely across the UK and sustaining a supply chain involving more than 3,000 companies.
Our investment in the Factory of the Future in the North West will help bring our vision of the future to life, ensuring we retain and further develop critical skills and capabilities, help the UK continue to operate at the forefront of technology in combat air and continue to make a vital contribution to national prosperity.