SEPTEMBER 2019 ADVANCED MANUFACTURING
The future of air travel has made the headlines recently, with
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing a £300 million ‘Future
Flight Challenge’ (see p7 and https://bit.ly/2KYxAoS). Again, the
West Midlands is at the forefront of research into this sector:
around 2,400 people are employed in
the region’s aerospace sector.
The local supply chain comprises
45 companies that support global industry
heavyweights such as Airbus, BAE Systems,
Boeing and Rolls Royce.
Business revenue growth in
the Midlands’ aerospace sector
increases at twice the rate of the
world’s industry, and is forecast to
be 50% higher by 2030 than it was in
2017, according to the Midlands Aerospace Alliance.
The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), based in
Coventry, is playing a major role in a ground-breaking project to
develop the world’s fi rst unmanned variable buoyancy-powered
ultra-long endurance aircraft.
Funded by Innovate UK, the autonomously controlled
Phoenix aircraft has undergone successful test fl ights and has the
potential to take the lead in the world development of pseudosatellites.
Pseudo-satellites are able to fl y, remotely controlled or
autonomously, at very high altitudes for long periods of time -
often months. They can fl y above commercial aircraft routes and
above turbulence and moisture. They complement conventional
satellites and can be used for earth-mapping, scientifi c
observation and intelligence gathering.
The 15-metre-long Phoenix (pictured, above) spends half its
time as a heavier-than-air aeroplane and the other as a lighterthan
air helium balloon. The repeated transition between these
two states provides its sole source of propulsion.
“The variable-buoyancy propulsion technology has been used
before for remote controlled underwater vehicles but has never
been used for the propulsion of a large aircraft,” explains MTC
technology director Ken Young. “The technology involved in this
project is truly cutting-edge and has the potential to take the UK
into the lead when it comes to this kind of innovation.”
The MTC’s airborne ambition doesn’t stop there, either.
The centre is developing a partnership with NASA as US space
scientists look to use MTC-developed technology in future space
missions. The link-up comes after work done by the MTC for the
European Space Agency (ESA). The MTC is currently home to the
ESA’s additive manufacturing benchmarking centre.
The West Midlands is the spiritual home of
the UK’s automotive industry. Home to more
than 430 specialist automotive fi rms and 29%
of the UK’s total sector employment, the West
Midlands is an internationally signifi cant industry hub.
An astonishing 40% of all cars exported from the UK are made in
the West Midlands.
Innovate UK and the Advanced Propulsion Centre recently
announced £20 million of funding for low-carbon automotive
projects (https://bit.ly/2Zhb57r) – something the West Midlands
has been at the heart of for some time. Companies such as
Coventry-based Aurrigo (see p7) and the London Electric Vehicle
Company, which builds the all-electric taxis that are becoming
increasingly common on the streets of the capital at its factory on
Ansty Park, are pushing the boundaries of zero-carbon, and even
The global Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) industry
is estimated to be worth over £50 billion by 2035, with the UK
comprising over £3 billion of this. The government’s Industrial
Strategy aims to bring fully autonomous cars without a human
operator on UK roads by 2021, which will make us one of the fi rst
countries to achieve this – indeed, last year, JLR achieved the
fi rst fully self-driven navigation of Coventry’s notorious ringroad
(main picture). Leading the way in the development of this
technology is the Centre for Vehicle Electrifi cation and Connected
& Autonomous Vehicles at WMG, part of the University of Warwick.
“The CAV vision being explored by WMG is motivated by the
potential societal benefi ts the technology o ers – increasing
safety, decreasing tra c congestion and driving lower emissions,”
says David Greenwood, professor of advanced propulsion systems
at WMG (inset). “Our involvement in research programmes like
the £25 million Midlands Future Mobility focuses on ‘smart miles’,
proving concepts and getting products to market. Led by WMG,
Midlands Future Mobility is an ‘on-road ecosystem’ comprising
nine partners with a shared objective – to launch the fi rst service
o ering of public road testing by mid-2020.”
In addition, Coventry is set to become home to the UK Battery
Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC). Part of the government’s Faraday
Challenge, the centre will help the UK become a world-leader in
the design and manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles.
“This project is innovative not only in terms of the technology
involved, but also in the partnership formed for its delivery,” says
Jonathan Browning, chair of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local
Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP). “It emphasises how aligned we are
in this area and what can be achieved when everyone is pulling in
the right direction.
“We’re providing a purpose-built, state-of-the-art facility which
will serve the entire UK automotive industry, and setting up a
world-class research technology organisation from scratch means
it is hugely signifi cant to the region and the UK. The ambition is
for the West Midlands to be at the global forefront of connected &
autonomous vehicles, electric Vehicles and prototyping, and the
UK centre for battery and motor manufacture.
Jaguar Land Rover