Aerospace is a hugely important sector for UK engineering. Employing around 113,000 people directly, with another 276,000 in the supply chain, and with an annual income of around £20billion, it’s the second-largest aerospace sector in the world and an important source of export income.
It’s also a major component of Britain’s standing as a high-value advanced engineering country. Bringing together many of the UK’s high-tech strengths, such as in composite development and construction, control engineering, design and simulation and advanced metalworking (the UK is the acknowledged world leader in titanium machining), it brings together industry and academia in research projects, fosters partnerships between UK-based and overseas companies, and is a major employer of graduate engineers and highly skilled technicians across a whole spectrum of engineering disciplines.
In this supplement, we focus upon some of the strengths of the UK’s aviation sector. The Big Project feature looks at one of the most advanced airliners in the sky, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Comprising 50 per cent composites in its structure, the Dreamliner has an important, but little-known, UK proportion of its supply chain, including Rolls-Royce for the purpose-designed Trent 1000 turbofan engine and innovative landing gear from Messier-Dowty. The feature brings out the UK aspects of the project and discusses how Boeing encouraged its suppliers to think in terms of breaking new ground in materials, technologies and production techniques.
We’re also featuring an account of a recent roundtable discussion on the newest part of the aerospace sector, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The UK is an important centre for UAV development, but opportunities to test the systems in the sky are limited to a small area of segregated airspace in Wales. The roundtable brought together a number of UAV stakeholders, from BAE Systems, who sponsored and hosted the discussion, to developers such as Roke Manor, the Home Office, and UAV user BlueSky International, to talk about how regulations might evolve to allow the industry to investigate new, civilian uses for unmanned aircraft, and how they could become part of the everyday landscape of the skies.
Our interview with Ruth Mallors, director of the Knowledge Transfer Network for Aerospace and Defence, focuses on how the expertise and technologies developed by the aerospace sector can be disseminated throughout industry. Philosophies such as open innovation can play an important role here, she said, and sectors including automotive could learn much from the sector.
Those who want to learn more about what the sector has to offer would be well advised to visit the Aero Engineering 2012 exhibition, which we preview here. To be held at the NEC on 7-8 November, the show brings together the most important players in the sector, with over 500 exhibitors. It’s a solid indicator of the strength of the sector in the UK, and shows how its influence is spreading over the rest of industry.