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19 December, 2006 - 11:23 By Staff Reporter

TWI chosen to partner £34m programme

The Welding Institute in Cambridge (TWI) has been selected to partner on a £34 million research programme aimed at putting the UK at the forefront of next generation aircraft wing design and construction.Led by Airbus UK, the Integrated Wing Aerospace Programme is a collaboration between the UK government and industry and will focus on designs that will reduce fuel burn, noise greenhouse emissions.

TWI’s role will be to apply its state-of-the-art laser deposition technique for component construction on the landing gear, part of a £4 million work package led by French specialist, Messier-Dowty, an industry leader with landing gear in service on more than 19,000 aircraft making over 30,000 landings every day.

Laser deposition uses powdered material and an automated laser beam to build a component layer by layer, eliminating many of the logistical and waste issues associated with regular component manufacture. TWI will trial the procedure on a number of unspecified components for the landing gear.

TWI’s Dr Phil Carroll, said: “We’re using laser deposition to develop new ways of manufacturing landing gear, which has the capability to benefit Messier-Dowty and a range of other companies.

“If you make the component from powder, you do not have a lead time where you have to wait for the materials to come through before you can build them. Wasted material is less of an issue and the process is able to quickly accommodate any design changes that may take place during the programme.”

TWI’s laser direct metal deposition systems use lasers supplying beams which can be focused to a spot from 0.2mm to 2.5mm plus in diameter.

This makes the process suitable for depositing both fine detail and bulk material alike.

The lasers are used because of their accuracy and low heat input, allowing fully dense, defect free deposits to be made. The process provides rapid, accurate placement of material at low heat input allowing the use of crack-sensitive alloys such as nickel-based alloys.

Typical applications for the technology include: Build of medical implants; repair of mould tool surfaces; repair of high value parts such as aero engine components and military vehicles; tipping of turbine blades with protective coatings; and surfacing of oil and gas drilling components.

The £34m funding is for Phase 1 of the programme and is designed to back three years of investigative work which will uncover the most promising combination of technologies related to development of wings, wing systems, landing gear and fuel systems.

After completing Phase 1, the intention is to bring all the elements together and develop a large-scale physical demonstrator for phase 2, also a three-year programme.

The very best solutions would then be put forward for exploitation by 2020 and beyond.

Head of the Integrated Wing project for Airbus, Mike Smith, said: “Laser deposition has the potential to be very efficient because you are not taking a block of metal and throwing it away. If the technology proves to be useful, then there’s potential for follow-on work.

“It has a lot of potential but there is a large development risk, which is why we do this kind of initial work. Essentially we are looking to meet the targets set by the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE) in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and to reduce the weight of the airplane.”

Integrated Wing’s funding is split between industry and the UK government, each supplying £17m.

Speaking at the programme’s launch at Airbus UK’s North Wales factory, Trade and Industry secretary, Alistair Darling, said: “British excellence in aerospace design, development and delivery is world renowned. We have great strengths.

“This project looks to the future of aircraft design and brings together our best from the drawing board to the factory floor. By being smart and working as one – from wings to landing gear; fuel systems to electronics – we can lead.

“Innovation and creativity like this are crucial if we are to win in the global economy. It means Britain leading the drive for greener aerospace technology.

“More efficient, less emissions. That is what this project aims to deliver. Strengthening the economy, kinder to the environment. That is why we are backing it.”

As well as the support from the DTI, four regional development agencies and the Universities of Aston, Bath, Sheffield, and Queens Belfast, participation will come from industry partners QinetiQ, BAE Systems, Bombardier Aerospace, GKN Aerospace, Ultra Electronics, Smiths Aerospace, Aerostructures Hamble, AMRC, FR Hi-Temp and ETCE.

Two thirds of the government funding is from the DTI and one third from the RDAs in the South West and South East of England, Invest Northern Ireland and the Welsh Assembly Government.

According to the DTI, the UK has the second highest turnover aerospace industry after the US with R & D spend up 31 per cent year on year and now at £2.7bn and accounting for 10 per cent of all R & D in the UK. In 2005 the number of jobs in UK aerospace rose by nine per cent to 124,000.

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