A new aerospace research partnership set up to improve the effectiveness of the design process could point the way for future industry/university collaborations.
The first University Technology Partnership (UTP), announced last week, brings together Rolls-Royce, British Aerospace and three universities. The research will embrace disciplines ranging from engineering and computer science to psychology.
Under a five-year rolling contract, the companies will invest £1.5m with Sheffield University’s Institute of Work Psychology, Cambridge University’s Department of Engineering, and Southampton University’s computation engineering and design centre. The research will aim to optimise the human and technical aspects of the design process.
Rolls-Royce director of engineering and technology Phil Ruffles said design capability was the key to the companies’ future competitiveness.
‘An aircraft contains over a million components,’ he said. ‘Because of tight timescales, designs are often far from fully optimised. Knowledge from previous designs is rarely fully used because it remains in the head of the engineer.’
The UTP is seen as a logical extension of Rolls-Royce’s University Technology Centres (UTCs).
There are 16 UTCs around the country in which the university programme is fully integrated with Rolls-Royce’s research and technology.
Dr Geraldine Kenney-Wallace, vice-chancellor of British Aerospace’s Virtual University launched earlier this year, said results from the research programme were expected to help shorten timescales, reduce costs, and foster innovation and simplicity.
Sir Alec Broers, vice- chancellor of Cambridge University, said that because of the pace of technological change and the cost, ‘it is becoming increasingly difficult for universities to contribute at the frontiers of technology’.
The UTP provides a new way for industry and academia to work together, he added, with industry fully involved rather than awarding a research contract and monitoring it.
The long-term nature of the partnership would allow research groups to be kept together in a way that contract research does not.
The UTP is also expected to provide a model for Defence and Aerospace Research Partnerships, proposed by the Defence and Aerospace Foresight panel.