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BAE Systems Unveils Factory of the Future

Intelligent Industry 4.0 Facility for TEMPEST

A first-of-its-kind industry 4.0 factory is applying game-changing digital technologies to advance manufacturing on the UK’s next-generation combat aircraft system, TEMPEST, BAE Systems announced on 9 July.

The new facility, at the company’s site in Warton, Lancashire, is the result of a multi-million pound investment and collaboration with over 40 companies, large and small, along with academic institutions. Harnessing the best of UK innovation, the company has developed a digitally connected, intelligent factory for future military aircraft production.

Bringing together advanced manufacturing technologies, the factory will transform engineering processes. Automated robots, virtual and augmented reality will increase speed, precision and efficiencies, as well as reduce the costs associated with manufacturing complex military aircraft structures.

The factory also demonstrates a new approach to the way humans and machines can operate together. Cobotic and flexible robotic technologies remove the need for heavy, fixed, long-lead tooling and can quickly switch from the manufacture of one item or platform to another. Intelligent machines and off-the-shelf robotic technology from the automotive industry have been modified to operate at the precise tolerances required for military aircraft, which are less than a third the width of a human hair in some instances. 

Such technology drives greater productivity by allowing operators to focus on more highly-skilled and strategic tasks and freeing production managers to oversee operations from a fully digitised virtual office. 

The new facility underpins efforts by the UK-led TEMPEST programme to meet the UK’s ambition to remain at the forefront of the combat air sector, by delivering more cost-effectively and in half the time of previous programmes.

“We’ve collaborated with the best of UK industry and academia to develop a cutting-edge facility that combines current and emerging technologies, ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of combat air technology development […] Driving our manufacturing capabilities forward as we prepare for the fourth Industrial Revolution, will sustain and develop critical skillsets and ensure we can continue to deliver military capability to address future threats, whilst improving productivity and delivering value for money for our customers,” explained Manufacturing Director at BAE Systems Air, Dave Holmes.

Technologies inside the factory are already delivering benefits. The intelligent workstation, developed in collaboration with the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Fairfield Control Systems, is in use on the TYPHOON production line. It uses a system which recognises operators and automatically delivers tailored instructions using ‘pick by light’ technologies. In addition, additive manufacturing technologies (also known as 3D printing) are being used in the production of TYPHOON aircraft parts and assemblies.

BAE Systems and the UK’s aerospace, defence and security sector is world-leading, employing hundreds of thousands of people and supporting many more jobs through the supply chain across the country. Together, the sector generates £79 billion (€88 billion) in turnover, supporting the economy while underpinning national security.

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