Rolling out plans for the future

4 min read

With more than 3000 companies, the aerospace sector employs more than 100,000 people and contributes £28billion to the UK’s economy, making it a significant and a successful player in UK plc.

After many years of restructuring, the industry has developed a large, efficient and well invested supply chain and companies are making further investments to support growth in a sector that is producing and developing leading edge technologies and creating hundreds of highly skilled jobs across the economy.

Companies operating in the aerospace industry often also work in the defence sector, but as budgets have been cut back, many have looked to diversify into new areas such as cyber security and communications.

While the current weakness in the defence market has impacted the sector as a whole, strong growth in the commercial and space sectors has helped to offset this. For example, Boeing and Airbus have a backlog of orders for more than 11,000 aircraft. For UK companies in these company's supply chains, that is believed to be sufficient work for the next nine years.

However, it is not just manufacturing and product development that is important; increasingly, contracts are being won based on long term support, upgrades and refits.

Procurement is now just part of a broader supply chain and companies have to take a longer term view, which requires them to better understand their customers and to embrace a more collaborative approach when it comes to delivering very complex projects.

Looking to support greater collaboration, the Farnborough Aerospace Consortium (FAC), a not for profit trade association, works as a facilitator for business between large global primes and SMEs operating in the supply chain.

The organisation's CEO David Barnes says: "We look to enable and help business between our members and partners and the FAC is now one of the largest and most established aerospace and defence associations in the UK. Our aim is to not only provide support, but also further the long-term strategic growth of the sector in the South of England.

"I like to think of us as the voice of SMEs in the supply chain and that is an important role in what is becoming an increasingly complex manufacturing landscape," Barnes explains. "While growth in commercial aviation and space has been running at more than 8% per annum, the defence sector has been in decline. That has been a real disappointment, especially for those companies that have been supplying complex electronics. Many have tried to move into the commercial space, but that is a tough and very competitive market."

By contrast, the space industry in the UK is booming, says Barnes, "There are many opportunities for SMEs and figures point to an industry worth well in excess of £10bn and which is represented strongly within London, the East of England and the South East."

According to research from independent economic consultancy London Economics, around 34,000 people are employed in the UK's space sector and exports are growing significantly. While UK customers still dominate, the industry is seeing increased sales to Asia, as well as growing demand from Europe and the Americas.

FAC membership brings with it a number of advantages, according to Barnes. "Opportunities to network with colleagues and other members at regular FAC events; site visits to prime contractors and OEMs; the promotion of capabilities through FAC's UKADCAP website, as well as hosting and promoting events and exhibitions such as the Farnborough Airshow; and training including help to become SC21 accredited," Barnes outlined.

The FAC is one of six regional aerospace alliances in the UK and, as a representative of companies operating in the South East, is heavily involved in promoting the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP).

NATEP, managed by A|D|S at the national level, is an Aerospace Growth Partnership (AGP) programme intended to encourage the development of products and manufacturing technologies at lower levels in the supply chain. It is also encouraging supply chain partnerships with customer participation, supporting R&D management in the supply chain and focusing on Technology Readiness Levels (TRL).

According to Barnes: "FAC members are heavily represented in the programme."

A £40million programme, NATEP is jointly funded by industry and government. Industry supporters include leading aerospace OEMs such as Rolls Royce, Airbus, Bombardier, GE, GKN and Finmeccanica, with government funding from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills as part of the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative. It is scheduled to run until 2017.

Based on the successful ATEP programme, which was run by the FAC's sister organisation, the Midland Aerospace Alliance over a six year period and which funded 11 projects, the programme is looking to support at least 100 projects and to create or safeguard more than 1200 jobs.

"We have a world leading aerospace sector which excels in areas like research and development," says Barnes. "It's this commitment to innovation that will be a crucial driver for longer term growth."

In order to apply for NATEP funding companies must have an innovative project of TRL4 to 6, supported by an end user. Grants are available up to a maximum of 50% of spend and have been typically anywhere between £50,000 and £150,000 running for up to 18 months.

The application involves two stages. An initial proposal is reviewed by a regional advisory panel, after which a full proposal is prepared and resubmitted. The panel is pulled together by the regional aerospace alliances and comprises of representatives from local industry, academia and High Value Manufacturing Catapult centres.

Companies are supported by a mentor from the local aerospace alliance and once a project gets through the full proposal stage, it is reviewed by a National Steering Board.

Phased over five six monthly competitive calls, the fourth call – which took place in November 2014 – is about to be concluded, with successful projects due to launch in May. The fifth and final call takes place in May 2015, with projects set to start in November.

Developed technologies are intended to be deployed in global aerospace platforms by 2020/25 and successful projects to date include an innovative heat transfer system that improves heat exchanger efficiency; the use of nanocoatings to improve the life of tools for forging; and an actuator gearbox housing made from composite materials.

According to Barnes, larger companies acting alone will not be able to make the product technology advances that are required if the UK is to sustain, let alone retain, its position in the global aerospace market.

The FAC has, together with other regional trade bodies, a crucial role in helping smaller companies to move up the value chain and to drive the development of innovative new product technologies.

"We're contributing to a step change in making available new technologies to prime and tier one companies that will be used in the next generation of aircraft and engine designs," says Barnes.