The UK’s next-generation fighter plane is set to be built in a digitally connected Factory of the Future at BAE Systems’ site in Warton, Lancs.
Claimed to be the first facility of its kind, the industry 4.0 factory is gearing up to produce the proposed Tempest fighter and other aircraft with ‘game-changing’ digital technologies.
These include cobots and other flexible robot technologies that BAE believe will remove the need for heavy, fixed, long-lead tooling and can quickly switch from the manufacture of one item or platform to another.
In a statement, Dave Holmes, Manufacturing Director for BAE Systems Air, said: “We’ve collaborated with the best of UK industry and academia to develop a cutting-edge facility that combines current and emerging technologies, ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of combat air technology development.
“Driving our manufacturing capabilities forward as we prepare for the fourth Industrial Revolution, will sustain and develop critical skillsets and ensure we can continue to deliver military capability to address future threats, whilst improving productivity and delivering value for money for our customers.”
According to BAE, the new facility at Warton underpins efforts of the UK-led Tempest programme to meet Britain’s ambition to remain at the forefront of the combat air sector by delivering more cost-effectively and in half the time of previous programmes.
Technologies already active in the factory include an intelligent workstation, developed in collaboration with The University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Fairfield Control Systems, which is in use on the Typhoon production line. According to BAE, it uses a system which recognises operators and automatically delivers tailored instructions using ‘pick by light’ technologies. In addition, additive manufacturing technologies are being used in the production of Typhoon aircraft parts and assemblies.
BAE’s Samlesbury site forms part of the company’s Factory of the Future plans and has taken delivery of a new Stratasys F900 to add to its fleet of 3D printers.
As well as increasing 3D printing capacity, the F900 will allow BAE to utilise new 3D printing materials for tooling applications including carbon-fibre-filled FDM Nylon 12CF material, which is used to create tough, lightweight repair and development tools for the production line.
“The Stratasys machines are used for a wide range of applications including design prototypes, manufacturing tools such as jigs and fixtures, and final end-use parts,” said Greg Flanagan, Additive Manufacturing Operations Lead, BAE Systems Air. “Use of additive manufacturing across these applications is making production more flexible, faster and helping to reduce costs compared to traditional methods. We’re able to significantly reduce our leadtimes, often from a number of months to a number of weeks and can produce parts at a fraction of the cost. “
He added that the company is using generative design toolsets to develop a range of optimised components.
“Fundamental to the design is consideration of the AM process to be used, we refer to this as DFAM (Design for Additive Manufacturing),” he said. “Development parts have demonstrated that generative design has the potential to enhance functional performance, reduce the manufacturing costs as well as achieving significant weight savings compared with a conventional design and manufacture. This whole lifecycle approach to product design and manufacture is key to achieving the full benefits associated with generative design and additive manufacturing.”