Over coming days and weeks I will be looking at some specific project examples of UK based aerospace and defence engineering and manufacturing companies investing in their own future. Staying one step ahead of competition requires many things but top of the list is surely a combination of investing in research and development, technology, people and both engineering and manufacturing efficiency.
Achieving growth in the UK economy in the years ahead will, to a great extent, depend on how UK based companies invest in their own future and of how government supports them. Thus, the importance of research and development investment, maintaining of sovereign manufacturing capability – an issue of huge relevance to UK defence – of engineering and manufacturing skills retention, training and technology innovation and the benefit that aerospace and defence companies provide to the wider national economy are hugely relevant.
While UK manufacturing may have declined significantly over the past forty years, we can at least take satisfaction that in respect of defence and aerospace technology, design, engineering and manufacturing, UK companies remain leaders in their respective fields.
A Government that fails to understand the importance and relevance of maintaining and supporting a strong and vibrant engineering and manufacturing industry base is, in my view, not worth its salt.
It is true that successive UK governments have been behind the curve supporting our manufacturing and export base in recent times and particularly when compared to some of our international competitors but more recently there have been positive signals emerging and evidence too that the UK government is at last getting the message that the economy of the future cannot be supported by service and retail based jobs alone. It is only through understanding the value of having a combination a strong and vibrant engineering, and manufacturing, technology sector combined with strong service based sector industries together with better understanding the importance manufacturing more of what we consume and of exporting more, that will allow for consistent economic growth – growth not built on sand – to be achieved.
There are literally thousands of UK based companies large and small engaged in aerospace and defence and we continue to be regarded as significant players internationally. I will do my best to highlight both small and large companies – all equally important and dependent on each other within the supply chain – over coming months.
The UK is in the process of going through a period of considerable change significant political change but it is good to see that not only are our defence and commercial aerospace industry leaders investing in their own future but also that government is slowly but surely getting the message of the importance that these industries paly and have on our economy.
The future is about investing and supporting technology innovation, engineering, manufacturing, training and people. Rolls-Royce is an extremely good example of a company that, despite facing huge difficulties over the past few years, understands the importance of investing in its own future. Rolls-Royce has today formally opened a significant £90 million investment in a new state of the art test facility at Derby and I will concentrate on this today.
Following this I will provide commentary, hopefully next week, on ‘Team Tempest’ – a programme that combines the expertise of the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK and Rolls-Royce and that, working in collaboration with international partners, is investing in the UK-led ‘Future Combat Air System’ FCAS project development.
Rolls-Royce – Looking Forward – Testbed 80 – Another Example of Investing in Its Future.
With customers in more than 150 countries worldwide comprising over 400 individual commercial airlines and leasing customers, 160 armed forces and navies and over 5,000 power and nuclear customers, Rolls-Royce not only remains one of the most important UK based engineering and manufacturing companies but also one that despite having been forced to adapt to significant change following the impact of C-19 on the global aviation industry, continues to invest in its future.
The £90 million ‘Testbed 80’ investment which was formally opening this morning is without doubt the world’s largest and smartest indoor testbed facility. Built in Derby, this investment by Rolls-Royce marks a significant milestone for a company – one that despite being forced to adapt to significant change following the impact of C-19 on the global aviation industry – is a perfect example in my view of this fine and important company not only investing in the future but demonstrating confidence.
Completion of ‘Testbed 80’ following a three-year construction phase is also a clear demonstration that Rolls-Royce is determined to remain the global leader in aero-engine technology and at the forefront of industry innovation.
The civil aviation industry will recover and while we cannot easily judge the speed of that recovery there are now some positive signals emerging.
Speaking in Derby this morning Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East said ““Testbed 80 is the largest facility of its type in the world. However, it is not only big, it is also smart and features the most advanced testing technology we have ever used. As the new global hub of our testing capability, it will support the next stage of our UltraFan programme as we begin ground testing the first demonstrator in 2022. This incredible piece of infrastructure is a very visible sign of our commitment to this site and secures the future of Derby as the home of large engine development, continuing a history that began in the late 1960s with the RB211.”
In the accompanying statement to the formal opening of the new facility, Rolls-Royce said:
“Testbed 80 will support all three pillars of our sustainability strategy:
Firstly, continuing to improve the efficiency of the gas turbine. The facility has been designed to test a range of today’s engines, including the Trent XWB and the Trent 1000, but will also have the capability to test the UltraFan® demonstrator, the blueprint for our next generation of engines. UltraFan will be 25% more efficient than the first Trent engine, and we will begin ground testing the demonstrator at the testbed in 2022.
Secondly, we are committed to promoting the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs), which can already be used as “drop-in” fuels in our existing engines. Testbed 80 has been designed to support this commitment – it is equipped with a 140,000-litre fuel tank (you could fill your car up almost 3,000 times with this amount of fuel) for different fuel types, including SAFs. Next year, we also plan to run our first UltraFan demonstrator test using 100% SAF.
Finally, in line with our ambition to pioneer novel, more sustainable technologies, the testbed is designed to have the capability to test the hybrid or all-electric flight systems of the future.
So, there you are – one important example of a company investing in its own future – many more hopefully to come.
CHW (London – 27th May 2021)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785