Mª Dolores Vázquez Navarro, Manufacturing Technology Specialist at Boeing Research & Technology-Europe.
“The introduction of new technologies has always had the goal of improving the efficiency of our aircraft throughout the product’s useful life.”
Boeing Research & Technology-Europe was the first research centre established by Boeing outside the United States, in 2002. Why was Spain the location chosen?
Spain has historically been very active in the field of aeronautics, which means that there was already a well-established industrial network and, even more importantly for Boeing, an ecosystem of research centres with proven experience in the sector. The centre also takes advantage of the high standards set by Spanish engineers, and its location offers an interesting opportunity for experts of other nationalities. From the outset we have had an international staff, and Boeing Research & Technology-Europe has now expanded its presence in Europe, with offices in Munich and Sheffield, and with the Madrid office as its European headquarters.
This technology centre develops projects related to composite materials, clean energies, systems integration, processes and manufacturing technologies, among other areas. Where are new technologies and manufacturing processes in aviation heading?
New technologies and manufacturing processes are aimed at improving efficiency, within the framework of what is now known as Industry 4.0, which is to say: a complete digitalisation of the production process; the use of systems engineering and tools that accelerate the execution of programmes and reduce development costs; increased process automation; and the development of advanced methods of materials processing and manufacturing technologies that allow vertical integration, along with improvements in the materials used to increase production rates and the reduction of manufacturing costs, weight and waste.
As a European example, the new Boeing Sheffield factory in the United Kingdom, with its fully digital infrastructure and state-of-the-art machinery, will become a benchmark in advanced manufacturing. The factory was conceived (in collaboration with Boeing Research & Technology-Europe) as a model of Industry 4.0 in the company, and it is designed to achieve production rates as high as those of the automotive industry. The factory will produce over 100 different components of flap drive systems from raw materials sourced from the UK, drawing on the region’s manufacturing expertise.
Composite materials, 3D printing, biomimetics and self-healing materials are already part of the future of aviation. How will our “way of flying” change over the next few decades?
The introduction of new technologies has always had the goal of improving the efficiency of our aircraft throughout the product’s useful life: from the manufacturing process, to the aircraft’s operation once delivered, and all the way to its decommissioning. In the coming decades our products will reduce their environmental impact by reducing their weight – and therefore emissions – and, for example, by reducing the number of parts used, meaning less waste will be produced when they are replaced. In addition, advances in communications between aircraft and ground services will enable more efficient and safer navigation. For example, pilots can now have access to real-time weather information, allowing them to react more quickly to adverse situations. Digital transformation, data access and the application of automatic learning techniques and artificial intelligence will lead to a new generation of “ad-hoc” solutions for airlines, which will allow them to plan, execute, analyse and optimise their operations while also reducing costs and emissions.
What other areas of research is BR&T-Europe currently working on?
BR&T-Europe is working on model-based systems engineering, optimising the steps prior to the system design phase. We also support the development of new materials and manufacturing processes with metallic and composite materials. Finally, we also work on projects focused on improving the efficiency of air transport, in both manned and unmanned aircraft.
BR&T-Europe collaborates with more than 47 universities, 20 research centres, 5 airlines and over 216 other members of the aerospace industry in 25 countries. What projects or research paths are currently being developed with the Spanish aerospace industry?
Our main project in Spain concern traffic management and safety and security in shared airspace. The project is called “Galician SkyWay”, and it was awarded to BR&T-E by the Regional Government of Galicia under the pre-commercial public procurement scheme. The project’s main objective is the development of technological solutions that allow advances in the operational and safety and security challenges involved in the deployment of unmanned systems in shared airspace.
Is the Spanish industry at the forefront in Europe with this project on unmanned aircraft deployment?
Spanish industry and Spanish organisations are both taking a very active role in the definition and introduction of the UTM concept (Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management), which is being carried out in Europe and which will allow the safe coexistence of manned and unmanned aircraft. We believe that the Spanish industry has a very significant role to play in this area. Important projects have been carried out in recent years, both for the design and manufacture of the systems needed to implement this UTM solution, and to test its usefulness and potential use, with very satisfactory results. The use of these unmanned aircraft in an integrated and controlled context, like that proposed by the UTM concept, has huge benefits for civil society, such as in search and rescue, surveillance, infrastructure control, research, etc. And Spain is undoubtedly playing a significant and fundamental role in the application of this type of technology in the European context.