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Opinion: Investment in the right technology vital for UK Aerospace
Paul Adams is head of aerospace at supply chain firm, Vendigital. He is speaking at Subcon on 8 June about Additive Manufacturing, Brexit and Aerospace Supply Chains’. Here he explains changes the UK supply chain needs to make to compete.
The UK aerospace industry is built on a proud heritage of pushing boundaries and introducing new technologies that have changed our everyday lives. Today the industry employs around 340,000 people and possesses a significant share of civil aircraft production programmes. In fact, the UK currently boasts the second-largest aerospace industry globally. But does this success hide an underlying lack of investment, which will eventually stifle growth and threaten the industry’s long-term future?
Due to the long lifecycle of civil aircraft, any loss of market position is only likely to become apparent over time as existing platforms with UK content are retired and those with less enter into service. This may seem like a dim and distant prospect as a new tranche of re-engined narrowbodies enter into service but in a market where it typically takes nearly 10 years to take an aircraft design through testing to first delivery, companies must take a long-term view. Indeed Boeing is widely reported to be reviewing the launch of a brand new narrowbody aircraft to enter service in 2025.
So how might the UK fare competing for a place on a major new aircraft launch? Many argue that retaining a design capability is key to securing high value packages of work. This is true to an extent, but Boeing has made a deliberate move away from sharing design responsibility on the 777-X and has even bought major systems such as wings, nacelles and pylons back in-house. Airbus has suffered high-profile supplier issues on the A350-XWB and is likely to think carefully about which systems to retain in house in the future.
This leaves the UK supply chain considering the best way to compete and investment decision making will become a critical success factor. UK firms do not have the capital to invest widely across multiple technologies in the way that government-subsidised, low-cost competitors can. Firms must therefore focus on their core capabilities and use their supply chain to support in complementary areas. This will require the rejection of ‘old fashioned’ ways of doing things, which are based on an ‘I win, you lose’ mentality, in favour of deep collaborations across technologies.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of additive manufacturing, where a true understanding of aspects such as design, machine capability, powder metallurgy and finishing processes is required to make the most of this exciting technology. Indeed, it is likely that those who collaborate successfully across their supply chains will reap significant rewards. The UK Government has a key role to play in this area, not just through funding but also by providing the support needed through organisations such as the technology catapult centres to foster collaboration.
By working in collaboration, the UK aerospace sector is still well positioned to make vital investments in advanced technologies and skills. This must be a priority, however, to avoid losing our position of industry strength and to preserve growth opportunities for the future.
Subcon is the UK’s premier subcontract manufacturing supply chain show taking place 6-8 June 2017 at the NEC. Register now for your free pass to Subcon, The Engineer Design & Innovation Show and Advanced Manufacturing Show at www.subconshow.co.uk