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Ulster Research Could Revolutionise Global Aerospace Industry

25 March 2013

Pioneering research at the University of Ulster’s School of Engineeringcould revolutionisetheglobalaerospace industry by helping make the next generation of aircraft quieter,more streamlinedand morefuel-efficient.

Mechanical engineersat Ulster’s Advanced Metal Forming Research Group (AMFOR) have perfected asheet metal manufacturingmethod thatreduces the drag on aircraftnacelles, which house the engines,by increasing the depth of thelipskin.

Thelipskinis the highly polished leading edge on the nacelles.The proposed systemis capable of formingboth the current andnext generation oflipskins, found on the 787dreamlinerand C-series aircraft.

Theresearchwill be presentedby Dr Alan Leacockin a keynote address toSheMet 2013, the 15th international biannual conference on sheet metal forminghostedby the AMFOR group attheRamadaPlazaHotel,Shaw’s Bridge, Belfastfrom March 25– March 29.

Dr Leacock,co-chairof SheMet 2013and AMFOR Group leader,said the event,which has attracted delegates from 23 different countries,is an important forum for both industry and academia alike to present their latest findings in the area of sheet metal forming.

"Harsh economic times necessitate innovation at all levels in the supply chain. The products from sheet metal forming industries feed in to all sectors,from consumer electronics through medical devices to transport."

He continued: "An essential underpinning of these future developments is the close collaboration of academia and industry at all levels in the international supply chains.”

Rising fuel costs mean thataircraftmanufacturers are constantly seeking new solutions to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency.Focusedapplied research activities in the area of aerospace sheet metal forming by the AMFOR group, has led to the development of a new forming technology.

Dr Leacock explained:"Although composites are now prevalent in aerospace production, thedemandingoperational requirements of elevated temperature and
damage tolerance necessitate the use of metallic materials in lipskin manufacture.

"Present production methods arelimitedin thedepth of thelipskinorprecluded by a convoluted and lengthyproduction cycle.

"This internationally patentedprocesswe have developed at the University of Ulster,enables the manufacture of next generation extendedlipskinsin a single stage processwith a cycle time of less than 5 minutes per skin.

"The development of this new forming technology, whichwas only possible through our focused applied research activities in the area of aerospace sheet metal forming, willenable the production of quieter,more efficient aircraft and presentsa significant market opportunity.

The conference wasopened byGavin Campbell, Director of Design Engineering & Technology DevelopmentAerospace forBombardier Aerospace.

His presentationhighlighted the challenges faced by the aerospace industry and showcased some of the solutions derived from joint research work conducted between the AMFOR Group and Bombardier working together in NIACE (Northern Ireland Advanced Composites and EngineeringCentre).

Earlier this month, theUKGovernmentpledged to invest2billionto create a UK Aerospace Technology Institute that will developlighter,quieter,fasterandmore fuel-efficient aircraft.

The Government will pump £1 billion into the centre, while eight aerospace companies including Bombardier,Rolls-Royce, GKN and Airbus have pledged the other half.

By 2030, there will beaglobal demand for an estimated 27,000 new passenger aircraft worth £2.5trillion.

Britain has the second-biggest aerospace industry after the US and a 17 per cent share of the global market.