Working with a host of bright minds, from university professors to specialists in 3D printing technology, our people have designed a first-of-its-kind, fully connected, digital factory.
Shining a light
Drawing on Industry 4.0 technologies, we’ve created a connected, intelligent hub at our site in Warton, in the North West of the UK, to demonstrate how military aircraft could be built in the future. It serves as both a showroom to promote the most advanced manufacturing capabilities we have ever envisaged and an experimental sandpit for the brightest and boldest engineers to research, invest and test new technologies and transformative ways of working.
Take a look inside:
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 Industrial Revolution - Industry 4.0.
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Flexibility by design
The Factory has been designed in such a way that it can flex to manufacture different products within the same area. Robotic assembly capabilities negate the need for fixed and often costly tooling. Fixed cells for fixed operations are replaced by flexible robots which can be reprogrammed to perform different tasks, on different aircraft as required.
Partnering for success
To help create the Factory of the Future, we leverage the best technologies and innovations from industry. For example, the robotic assembly capabilities inside are frequently used in the automotive industry so we set to work to test and adapt these for use in the defence sector, exploiting commercially available technology to save time and cost.
Collaboration and expertise was the key to making them work for the incredibly detailed and intricate work needed in the combat air sector. Off-the-shelf, the robots work to within half a millimetre of accuracy, which is not a tight enough tolerance to work on military aircraft. We’re working to tighter tolerances less than a third the width of a human hair on some of our programmes. So, working in partnership with academia we adapted the technology by introducing a precision system which monitors the feedback from the robots and makes the 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.
The Internet of Things connects each asset and system in the Factory together. Data is gathered and analysed in real time to monitor Factory performance. Vital to our smart factory is the ability to capture manufacturing data from the start of the process right the way through to completion. It allows us to spot any inefficiencies and manage resources effectively. Operational performance and quality data can be fed back into the design process to constantly evolve and improve the way we do things.
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Collaboration and Cobotics
The use of an Intelligent Work Station, which helps people build sub-assemblies reduces learning time from day one. The digital work benches feature light-assisted assembly, with ‘pick by light’ technology prompting the user towards the correct components or consumables during the manufacturing process. It also features a sensor-enabled cobotic arm, to work safely and seamlessly alongside manufacturers building high-tech systems for cutting-edge combat aircraft. And, because the work station knows what job you’re working on the intelligent tools know the torque settings you need.
They are an example of using digitally connected technologies that are already mature but bringing them together in a smart way. They work so well that the first phase of Intelligent Work Stations were installed on the Typhoon production line in 2019.
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The latest manufacturing techniques including 3D printing
As a company we’ve been using Additive Manufacture (or 3D printing as it’s commonly known) for decades and we have additive manufactured parts being flown on Hawk and Typhoon aircraft today. In the Factory, we’re looking at the introduction of large structural additive manufactured components to build large structural pieces like the front fuse in once piece.
QUOTE – University of Cranfield – remark from largest structural component research piece and pic
Pioneering in the UK to protect the UK
We’re 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.