Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit: Building next-generation combat aircraft

Posted on 2 Dec 2019 by Jonny Williamson

The manufacturing challenges facing next-generation aircraft are numerous. The application of new methods of production, collaboration, flexibility and technology play a vital role in addressing them.

Andrew Schofield – Manufacturing & Materials Technology Director, BAE Systems  – took to the main stage at Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit 2019 to reveal the huge contribution BAE makes to the UK economy, the manufacturing challenges of next-generation aircraft, and how the Made Smarter initiative is helping.

BAE Systems – Air 54% | Maritime 25% | Land 16% | Cyber 5%

  • £9.3bn contribution to UK GDP
  • GVA multiplier of 3.3 – for every £100 contributed by BAE Systems’ operation, £330 is contributed to the wider economy
  • £3bn of exports – representing nearly 1% of total UK international trade
  • 124,000 full time equivalent jobs – more than 34,000 at BAE Systems, nearly 50,000 through the supply chain, and over 40,000 supported by workforce spend
  • £3.7bn spent with 6,000 UK suppliers
  • £1.2bn value of R&D work, including for customers and partners
  • £244m capital investment in manufacturing equipment and buildings, including a new training academy for submarine design and build
  • £83,000 value added productivity per employee – 27% more productive than the national average

Future Air Combat System

“The future operating environment will be contested, congested and complex,” noted Schofield.  “A Future Combat Air System (FCAS) will be need to be configurable to dominate the known and unknown demand of this operating environment. It must be scalable and co-operative.

“It must be connected and interoperable. It must be capable, flexible and upgradeable. It must be available. Ready for mission success 24/7.”

The FCAS is a futuristic fighter aircraft concept being delivered by Team Tempest and the partner companies.

Team Tempest future combat air system concept - infographic courtesy of BAE Systems.

Team Tempest brings together the UK’s world-leading industry and sovereign capabilities across future combat air’s four key technology areas:

  • Advanced combat air systems and integration (BAE Systems)
  • Advanced power nad propublsion systems (Rolls-Royce)
  • Advanced sensors, electronics and avionics (Leonardo)
  • Advanced weapon systems (MBDA)

There are, however, manufacturing challenges associated with producing such a step-change in design engineering, talent and cutting-edge of combat air technology.

Future Air Combat System - manufacturing challenges - image courtesy of BAE Systems.

BAE Systems is developing a ‘smart supply chain’ overseen by a digital enterprise that is agile, reconfigurable and more efficient thanks to disruptive technologies such as additive manufacturing, collaborative robotics and ‘intelligent workstations’.

These developments aren’t happening in isolation, said Schofield. “Improving our productivity, our products and our performance starts with developing our people.”

Industrial digitalisation is also key to overcoming these challenges, continued Schofield. Which is what makes Made Smarter – the government-backed, industry-led programme designed to boost the country’s productivity and economic growth through the adoption of digital technology – so important.

Andrea Thompson is the chair of the Made Smarter Commission’s North West Pilot – Andrea also happens to be the managing director for Europe & International Programmes at BAE Systems.

The Manufacturer’s Nick Peters spoke to Andrea shortly after being appointed in April 2019. 

Click here to learn more

Made Smarter North West Pilot

The £20m, 30-month North West Made Smarter Adoption Pilot, delivered through NW growth hubs, is helping to increase the adoption of Industrial Digital Technologies (IDTs) by manufacturing SMEs and realise a benefit of £115m GVA over four years.

£20m North West Made Smarter Adoption Pilot - image courtesy of BAE Systems.

The first tranche of firms to grasp the opportunity offered by the pilot scheme have already been named, with the pilot aiming to engage with more than 3,000 manufacturing SMEs in the North West.

Up to 600 North West firms will also qualify for more in-depth support including mentoring from senior industry figures, a leadership & management programme specifically designed to support leaders to implement digital change and grants towards the cost of new equipment.

One business already reaping significant benefits from new tech is Abbey Group, a small, owner directed and managed company offering a broad range of engineering capabilities from traditional metal fabrication to precision engineering.

Made Smarter is relevant for any North West SMEs employing less than 250 staff who make, create, manufacture or engineer.

Want to know how Made Smarter could help you with a technology investment plan and 50% match funding for investment?


*All images courtesy of BAE Systems.