At BAE Systems, a new intelligent smart factory is set to improve productivity and revolutionise the production of fighter aircraft in the UK. As a first-of-its-kind facility, the Lancashire-based factory is applying game-changing digital technologies to boost and advance manufacturing on Tempest, the UK’s next-generation combat aircraft system.
Dubbed the ‘Factory of the Future’, BAE Systems says its industry 4.0 facility is where revolutionary technologies meet a digitally-connected engineering workforce. This together, BAE claims, enables the creation of incredible solutions to the most pressing challenges of today and tomorrow.
‘Game-Changing’ Digital Technologies
Some of these so-called ‘game-changing’ digital technologies include cobots and other flexible robot technologies that BAE thinks will eliminate the need for heavy, fixed, long-lead tooling in the long term. These technologies can quickly switch from the manufacture of one item or platform to another, speeding up the manufacturing process and reducing downtime.
In a statement, the manufacturing director for BAE Systems Air, Dave Holmes, said: “We’ve collaborated with the best of UK industry and academia to develop a cutting-edge facility that combines current and emerging technologies, ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of combat air technology development”.
Two engineers stand at an intelligent workstation in use with Typhoon production at BAE’s facility. Image Credit: BAE Systems.
Holmes went on to add that the facility is poised to help BAE drive its manufacturing capabilities forward as they prepare for the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ and that it will sustain and help develop critical skill sets—ensuring BAE can continue to deliver military capability whilst improving productivity and delivering value for customers.
Aiding Britain’s Defence Efforts
According to BAE, by delivering aircraft more cost-effectively and in half the time of previous programmes, the new facility is aiding the UK-led Tempest programme’s efforts to meet Britain’s ambition to remain at the forefront of the combat air sector.
Technologies already at the factory include an intelligent workstation that is already in use on the Typhoon production line. BAE says that it uses a system that recognises operators and automatically delivers tailored instructions using ‘pick by light’ technologies. Additive manufacturing technologies are also being used in the production of Typhoon aircraft parts as well as on assemblies.
“Use of additive manufacturing across these applications is making production more flexible, faster and helping to reduce costs compared to traditional methods. We’re able to significantly reduce our lead times, often from a number of months to a number of weeks and can produce parts at a fraction of the cost,” said Gary Flanagan, BAE’s operations lead on additive manufacturing.
A new Stratasys F900 3D printer has also been added to the BAE factory’s fleet of printers. This will not only boost 3D printing capacity but also enable BAE to utilise new 3D printing materials for tooling applications. These include carbon-fibre-filled FDM Nylon 12CF, which is used to create tough, lightweight repair and development tools for the production line.