NPL to develop digital testing for aerospace manufacturing

By Georgia Wilson
The NPL in partnership with industry and higher education institutes has received funding to develop digital testing for aerospace manufacturing...

Working with industry and higher education institutes the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has secured £15mn in funding to develop a ‘smarter testing’ programme sponsored by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI).

“NPL is delighted to be working at the heart of this critical project to increase the trust and confidence in data driven design and development. For over 120 years, NPL has been the last word on accurate measurements and understanding how things work, so that industry can have the confidence to accelerate innovation. It is now applying that expertise to helping industry make the best use of data as it moves from a world where only physical test and validation is accepted to one where cyber-physical information is the norm,” said Gareth Edwards, Strategy Lead for Industrial Digitalisation, NPL.

Details of the programme

Over the next three years, NPL will work with Airbus Operations Ltd, CFMS Services, GOM UK Ltd, Dassault Systemes UK Ltd and The University of Liverpool, to use existing physical test programmes to explore the use of new inspection techniques for predicting product performance and identify failures early.

The data collected will be used to develop the expertise, algorithms and frameworks required to replace physical testing with simulations and modelling.

“The opportunity this project presents is huge. It will be a real step-change in the way we approach an extremely costly and time-consuming part of a vital aspect of aircraft manufacturing,” said Steve Raynes, Head of R&T Business Development at Airbus.

“Simply put, we’re going digital across a number of aerospace testing and certification processes. When you consider that to date, a lot of this work has been done on huge physical test rigs which have to be built and maintained, you can easily see how having a digital representation in place of some physical testing can help save time and money. This part of the aerospace industry is extremely specialist and we’re delighted we’ve been able to put together the best team possible to deliver the project aims,” added Raynes.

A historic universal change

Believing that the industry is entering into “another period of historic universal change” driven by advances in communications and connectivity in additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, and autonomous systems, NPL explains that the transition to an industrially digitised manufacturing landscape will change the volume of data used in manufacturing, as well as the reliance on data to inform decisions. 

“For a long time, designers and manufacturers have relied on data-driven modelling and simulations for product design but there is now an increasing drive for businesses to use data-driven simulations to replace physical tests,” says NPL.

By harnessing these new methods, manufacturers can benefit from time and cost savings, increased pace when it comes to innovation and unlocking complexities, and increased competitiveness. 

“The direct benefit of NPL’s work will be the creation and adoption of the technology, skills and understanding needed to innovate and compete within digitised product development supply chains. This will lead to the creation of new and higher skilled jobs that address the productivity challenge, a strengthening of supply chains within the UK and an increased competitiveness for businesses in the global market. ​We look forward to working with our partners to bring this to life,” added Edwards.

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