A new metallurgical research program aims to de-risk advanced manufacturing processes using specialised alloys to reduce waste and cut costs in the aerospace sector.

Professor Philip Prangnell of the University of Manchester will take up the role of Airbus / Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Metallurgical Excellence from September 2017. The five-year project builds capacity in a research area where new multi-scale imaging techniques are enabling engineers to develop a deeper understanding of alloy behaviour, which will drive the accelerated use of new materials and technologies in the manufacture of metallic components in airframes.

Lightweight composite materials are increasingly being used in aircraft design, but metal alloys remain extremely competitive in terms of both cost and performance. Future aircraft are likely to be multi-material designs that provide the best compromise between capital investment and operating costs. For example, metallic components are often cheaper where complex loads and higher temperatures are experienced.

Professor Prangnell’s research will focus on the interaction of advanced alloys with new manufacturing processes, such as additive manufacturing, to help companies developing new disruptive technologies for airframe manufacture in the future. Recent improvements in simulation and multi-scale, three dimensional, physical analysis of metallic materials will be applied to improve understanding of material behaviour during manufacture. This knowledge will lower the risks associated with development of components built using advanced manufacturing techniques. Additionally, it will help to lower component weight, cost and waste by enabling better tailoring of properties at different points within a single component

Professor Prangnell said: “Everyone wants to fly with safe, low-cost airlines with reduced environmental impact. Some of the questions facing airframe manufacturers are long-standing ones, but recent advances in very high resolution 3D imaging have improved our analysis of how materials interact with manufacturing processes and behave in service.

“By building a deep understanding of the metallurgy involved, we can de-risk the new manufacturing processes available for companies building the aircraft of the future, allowing them to accelerate innovation and reduce waste and cost. I’m looking forward to beginning work as a Research Chair in aerospace metallurgy and building much-needed capability in this area, enabling the aircraft of the future to fly with the right mix of higher performance metallic and composite materials to maximise their efficiency.”

Mark Howard, Airbus Head of R&T Business Development UK, said; “All Airbus aircraft depend on advanced metallic alloys; a fact that should not be forgotten with the rise of composites in the aerospace industry. Supporting this chair at the University of Manchester helps us to benefit from advances in metals imaging and manufacturing to meet the demands for the next generation of more efficient aircraft. It will allow Airbus to drive future metallic innovation with our material suppliers”.

Notes for editors

  1. Research Chairs and Senior Research Fellowships
    These senior research posts strengthen the links between industry and academia by supporting exceptional academics in UK universities to undertake use-inspired research that meets the needs of the industrial partners. The next deadline will be in March 2018.
    More information: Research Chairs and Senior Research Fellowships
  2. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

    We have four strategic challenges:
    - Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
    - Address the engineering skills crisis
    - Position engineering at the heart of society
    - Lead the profession
  3. Airbus is a global leader in aeronautics, space and related services. In 2016, it generated revenues of € 67 billion and employed a workforce of around 134,000. Airbus offers the most comprehensive range of passenger airliners from 100 to more than 600 seats. Airbus is also a European leader providing tanker, combat, transport and mission aircraft, and is one of the world’s leading space companies. In helicopters, Airbus provides the most efficient civil and military rotorcraft solutions worldwide.

For more information please contact:

Aaron Boardley at the Royal Academy of Engineering
T: 020 7766 0655
E: Aaron Boardley