A focus on future technology: innovation at BAE Systems
Julia Sutcliffe, chief technology officer at BAE Systems’ Air business, tells us about the company’s approach to innovation in an era of rapid technological progress.
Across the Air business, our company has generated some of the most successful aerospace defence goods and services in operation around the world today. Renowned for our ability to design, build, support and assure technologically advanced systems, we now enter an era in which the pace of technological change and the demand for agile products and services across the air, space, cyber and information domains create new challenges and new opportunities, and demand new approaches.
The recent surge in artificial intelligence (AI) development has highlighted the potential of data to conquer some of the greatest challenges in healthcare, but has also raised questions about what role this wave will play across oncology indications. Oncologists have historically struggled in trying to define small subsets of patients that may benefit from a specific treatment, as seen with immunotherapies. As such, developers require better tools to help combat this need.
As customers seek increasingly affordable, resilient products, we strive to quickly draw together the latest technology developments and process improvements from across defence, commerce and academia, creating partnerships that drive innovation and deliver the competitive edge our customers need.
In today’s challenging climate, we have to be innovative. We are plugging into universities, working with consultancies and tapping into our various networks to gather information, thoughts, ideas and concepts. Our thinking extends beyond the five-year planning phase to a more distant horizon. We look decades into the future. Unmanned combat air vehicle programmes, partnerships with leading technology companies like Williams F1 and investment in adjacent markets such as space and hypersonics are just some of the ways we are pulling those innovative ideas together with pace.
Our Training & Simulation Integration Facility in Lancashire is an example of how that collaborative and innovative approach can deliver, and has delivered, transformational results."
Take our Training & Simulation Integration Facility (TSIF) in Lancashire as an example of how that collaborative and innovative approach can deliver, and has delivered, transformational results. TSIF is a £2.3m investment, designed in collaboration with Williams Advanced Engineering, and represents an entirely fresh approach to how we design and develop simulation and training devices and future technologies.
Step inside the facility and you step inside our vision for the future. Smart glass walls become large interactive screens, allowing users to become immersed in their environment. A Virtual Reality Cave allows you to use the latest interactive technologies to see around and inside an aircraft. By using VR, open software architectures, and automated reasoning techniques, we aim to create a reconfigurable mixed reality cockpit environment, complete with virtual displays and haptic controls that augments human performance and can be updated at low cost. It’s a vision of the future that you can touch.
We like to see the company as part of a nationwide technology, engineering and manufacturing eco-system."
That same innovative approach can be seen all the way through our organisation, not least in the way we make things. Our manufacturing facilities are home to some ground-breaking technologies.
Our site in Samlesbury, Lancashire is brimming with the latest manufacturing technologies in aerospace: From automated systems where humans and robots work together to operate a complex automatic machine for countersinking thousands of holes in F-35 airframe parts, to a dedicated manufacturing research centre where our experts are creating designs for a digital factory of the future and pushing the boundaries on revolutionary manufacturing techniques like additive layer manufacturing.
We don’t do this work in isolation, either. We like to see the company as part of a nationwide technology, engineering and manufacturing eco-system. The work we do with our partners and suppliers is vital to the economy and helps to maintain the UK’s competitive advantage and skills-base.
Something that is really important as part of our technology strategy is working with SMEs to rapidly develop new technologies."
If you were to look at our impact and involvement across the UK alone, you would see us in many places, working with many organisations. Something that is really important as part of our technology strategy is working with SMEs to rapidly develop new technologies. This is happening more and more frequently across our business.
Here’s an example: In May this year we signed an agreement with a small technology SME based in Farnborough, Hampshire called Prismatic. Prismatic specialises in the design and development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and small satellites. Together we quickly set about revealing an ambitious programme to design and fly a new concept: a solar electric UAV with the potential to fly for up to a year at a time, known as PHASA-35™. It’s a technology that would offer a year-round, low cost persistent service for a wide range of needs including surveillance and vital communications to remote areas, using only the sun to power the aircraft during the day and recharge the batteries for overnight operation.
We recognised this exciting technology as something that was well placed as part of our long-term strategy to explore new technologies and solutions in air and space. It’s a programme with impressive pace. This 35-metre wing span high altitude, long endurance (HALE) UAV is due to be ready for flight trials in 2019.
These are just some examples of how we are taking a partnered approach to the development of technology and driving innovation. By embracing AI/machine learning, digital twin and Industry 4.0 technologies across the lifecycle from design, through to manufacture, training and support, we will, with our partners, create the environment for British industry to innovate and deliver competitive products for the global aerospace defence market for years to come.