Why is additive manufacturing important for aerospace?

Additive Manufacturing (AM) has the potential to revolutionise the way aerospace components are manufactured and re-invent supply chains. This technology can assist the aerospace sector to produce lightweight parts, which will lead to a reduction in emissions and fuel consumption. The AM process will also maximise the buy-to-fly ratio, with significantly less waste than using traditional subtractive methods.

To enable the UK’s established aerospace OEMs and the supporting supply chain to take a leading position in the exploitation of AM, a mechanism for production system development is required to effectively deliver new and enhanced end-use components, ensuring cost and quality targets are achieved.

The UK currently has a strong R&D base in AM and a number of businesses developing its commercial industrialisation. 

The UK has a powerful aerospace manufacturing sector - second in the global rankings with over 4,000 companies employing about 230,000 people. 

The UK aerospace sector has the largest number of small and medium sized enterprise (SME) companies in Europe.

The economic forecast indicates that by 2025 AM could deliver £410m GVA to the UK economy.

Currently there are high costs and risks associated with setting up AM processes, buying equipment and developing AM process chains for UK aerospace supply chain companies.

Aims of the DRAMA project

DRAMA (Digital Reconfigurable Additive Manufacturing facilities for Aerospace) is a three year, £14.3m collaborative research project and part of the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute’s (ATIs) programme, which started in November 2017. 

The consortium is led by the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) – home to the National Centre for Additive Manufacturing and includes ATS, Autodesk, Granta Material Intelligence, Midlands Aerospace Alliance, NPL, Renishaw and the University of Birmingham. 

The project will help build a stronger AM supply chain for UK aerospace by developing a digital learning factory. The entire AM process chain will be digitally twinned, enabling the cost of process development to be de-risked by carrying it out in virtual environment. The facility will be reconfigurable, so that it can be tailored to fit the requirements of different users and to allow different hardware and software options to be trialled. During the three years of the project an additive manufacturing Knowledge Base will also be created, to allow faster adoption and implementation of this transformative technology by UK businesses. 

Reduce the cost and risk of set-up

  • De-risk deployment of AM processes and equipment for the UK aerospace sector, by building reconfigurable pre-production facilities, where supply chain companies and OEMs can come to learn, model and validate end-to-end AM process chains. 

Reduce the time and cost of planning and validation

  • Digital twin of the facilities, manufacturing processes and plant
  • Digital toolsets for process and plant simulation 
  • Data analytics and optimisation
  • A knowledge base

Develop capability across the UK aerospace supply chain

  • This world-first, digitally twinned reconfigurable AM facility, will be at the forefront of AM technology and can be used by UK companies across the aerospace supply chain. 
Video to explain the DRAMA project, for companies in the UK Aerospace supply chain that are interested in developing their Additive Manufacturing (AM) capability.