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Supporting the future of aerospace

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Tim Ward, NATEP Technology Manager, Farnborough Aerospace Consortium (FAC), explains how the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP), is helping to support 
companies to develop new aerospace technologies

Farnborough Aerospace Consortium (FAC) is a not-for-profit trade association acting as a facilitator of business between large global primes and the supply chain and as an enabler of business support to its members and partners. It is one of the largest and most established aerospace and defence associations in the UK, providing support to, and furthering the long-term strategic growth of the sector in the South East of England. FAC is also one of 4 aerospace alliances in the UK that help promote and manage the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP), which is a Government funded programme to stimulate innovation in the aerospace supply chain and thereby sustain and create jobs. 

The Aerospace Sector in the UK is the second largest in the world and the largest in Europe. To sustain and grow this position it is important that the UK supply chain is ready and able to support the manufacturing and servicing of the aeroplane of the future as well as maintaining and servicing the current fleets. The Government has pledged £23M funding over a three and a half year period. The aim is to support at least 100 projects and create or safeguard 1,200 jobs. 

NATEP supports the Aerospace Growth Partnership Strategy of developing new technology, increasing the manufacturing base and encouraging innovation in the supply chain. However, unlike the Aerospace Growth Partnership, NATEP covers defence projects as well as civil projects. 

The programme is managed by the national aerospace body ADS and funded by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) as part of the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative (AMSCI) which is managed by Birmingham Finance on behalf of Birmingham City Council as the accountable body . The NATEP programme is based on ATEP which was run by the Midlands Aerospace Alliance over 6 years and successfully funded 11 projects. One of the key components of this success is that the programme requires that each project includes an end user to pull through appropriate technology from the supply chain. The end user will provide a route to exploitation and therefore a high probability that the project will be successful. 

Successful NATEP projects

New capabilities spring into action in the aero-space supply chain
Springs play an integral role in today’s advanced aircraft systems, yet spring manufacturers have traditionally had no input into the design of those systems. This had led to sub-optimal systems design and systems that are larger and heavier than they need to be. 

G&O Springs took advantage of R&D funding offered through the Midlands Aerospace Alliance’s Aerospace Technology programme to collaboratively research more effective product solutions. They brought together Reliable Spring and Manufacturing Co (a fellow local spring maker), Alloy Wire (a material provider), the Institute of Spring Technology together with Aero Engine Controls and BAE Systems as customer advisors. Between 2009 and 2011, the team manufactured a large number of springs in ten different titanium and exotic alloy grades and tested them rigorously. The results were fed into computer models to predict how springs would perform. 

As a result, aircraft system makers can now be provided with data needed to design the optimal spring for their systems without compromising on performance and reliability. 

This has enabled G&O Springs and its supply chain to move up the value chain, now possessing differentiating intellectual property and design expertise.

New design methods for tyres 
Dunlop Aircraft Tyres has developed new Finite Element Modelling techniques with the University of Birmingham. Airbus, the customer, regularly provided input to validate the models on existing and new tyres. 

Manufacturing novel aluminium alloy 
The Aeromet-led project with SME partner Grainger & Worrall, the University of Birmingham, materials provider London & Scandinavian Metals and customer Aero Engine Controls developed manufacturing processes for a novel high-strength aluminium alloy, A20X.

To apply for NATEP funding you must have an innovative project of TRL 4 -6, supported by an end user that does not receive grant, and a consortium of at least two grant receiving SMEs. Grants are up to a maximum of 50% of spend and are typically between £50,000 and £150,000 with a duration of 18 months. Application is a two stage process. Initially you complete an outline proposal which is reviewed by a regional advisory panel. Then a full proposal is prepared which builds on the outline proposal. When the full proposal is reviewed by the regional advisory panel each consortium gets a chance to present their project followed by a question and answer session. The Regional Advisory panels are put together by the regional aerospace alliances and contain representatives from local industry, academia and high value manufacturing catapult centres.

One of the unique features of NATEP is that you are supported throughout this process by a Mentor from your local aerospace alliance. The mentor is also present at the regional advisory panel meetings and will feed back comments from those meetings. If a project gets through the full proposal stage it is then reviewed by the National Steering Board (NSB) which contains Government, Industry, Catapult Centre and Birmingham City Council Representatives. The ADS programme manager also sits on the NSB. 

The application process is deliberately kept as simple as possible because it is recognised that SMEs often do not have the time or resources to go through a long and complicated application process. To decide whether you have a suitable project it is worth thinking through the following questions. What are our products? What new ideas are we working on? What are our customers asking for that we are currently unable to supply? Which end users could we approach to support the project? Could we manage if the project is 50% funded – could we support the other 50% ourselves? Under State Aid Rules the Government can only provide 50% funding and this funding is paid quarterly in arrears based on actual spend. 

Over the three and a half years that the NATEP programme will run there are 5 calls for proposals. The current status is that the first call has run through its application process and resulted in 5 successful applications which are all about to start. The call for Outline Applications for the second call closed on the 20th March 2014. The second call elicited 50 Outline proposals, it is expected that about 25 of these will receive funding and start in August or September this year. The proposals came from consortia with companies from all over the UK. Outline Proposals for call 3 have to be in by  22nd August 2014 so if you are interested get in touch with your regional aerospace alliance now.

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