AMRC helps propel air travel to a sustainable destination

2 min read

A £20 million project to develop lightweight propeller blades that will help the UK aviation sector reduce its carbon footprint and noise emissions at airports, is being carried out by composite researchers at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) as part of an industry-led consortium with two other members of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. The AMRC, along with the National Composites Centre (NCC) in Bristol and the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry, is supporting private sector partner Dowty Propellers in the Digital Propulsion project, which is funded by Innovate UK.

The consortium is tasked with growing the UK’s aerospace propeller manufacturing base by harnessing composite technology with industrial digitalisation to cut production costs and increase the performance of future propulsion systems in Europe’s €200 billion aviation sector.

Elaine Arnold, automation technical lead for the AMRC Composite Centre, says: “In a world of increasing passenger numbers, the demand for cleaner, cheaper and yet more comfortable air travel has never been greater. To meet this demand, it is vital that the UK maintains and extends its capability in sustainable UK aviation propulsion technologies.”

She adds: “The Digital Propulsion project aims to evolve technologies within a new digital infrastructure to realise innovations in propulsion performance and cost. Part of the AMRC’s role is to explore innovative ways to design and manufacture various types of propeller blades, including the load bearing structure, cores, blade roots and relevant hub connections. This work is being carried out alongside the NCC, who will be exploring the use of their specific manufacturing and design technologies.

“The other side to it, is that both the AMRC and NCC are collaborating to form a new braid that fits these new shapes.”

Arnold says the work being performed by engineers at the AMRC draws on the north’s textile heritage and the capabilities offered by a collection of advanced manufacturing technologies recently purchased by the AMRC – with funding from the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) – that will enable the development of novel braiding designs.

She says: “Our portfolio of cutting-edge equipment allows us to undertake FEA, braiding, tailored fibre placement, resin transfer moulding and press forming, for example. The next steps will be to look at braiding multiple blade parts, and then thermoforming the foam that sits on the inside of the blade.

“Dowty has flown the flag for the British aerospace industry across the world for many years, and this project will ensure it continues to do so into the future,” adds Arnold. “For the AMRC, the outputs of the programme will be a proven, cost-effective route to manufacturing composite blades, and a springboard for further research and development.”

Jonathan Chestney, Dowty Propellers’ engineering leader, says: “This programme paves the way for new business opportunities within Dowty. The technology development led by the Catapults is allowing us to explore both current and emerging markets, and create offerings for prospective customers which are both innovative and cost effective. The cross-Catapult collaborative effort is enabling detailed technology development to occur at a fast pace due to the sharing of resource and expertise, all of which benefits Dowty and, ultimately, its customers.”