Improving the efficiency of the aerospace industry

Turbine and engineer

As new technologies emerge, the global aerospace industry takes another leap forward. The University of Sheffield has a long-standing relationship with Rolls-Royce plc, the global provider of integrated power systems and services to the aerospace, marine and energy markets. Rolls-Royce adopted a policy of focusing on undertaking its academic research with selected university partners in the late 1980s. Since then, a global network of University Technology Centres keeps the company directly connected to cutting-edge academic research capability.

The Rolls-Royce University Technology Centre (UTC) in Control and Systems Engineering was established in 1993 in the University’s Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering; this is the largest academic department in the UK devoted to research in this field.

The UTC coordinates and directs programmes of systems and control research for Rolls-Royce and looks after the company’s technical interests in the fields of control and monitoring systems, and systems architecture. The team carries out both short-term and long-term research, supporting business aims through improving the product, improving productivity and reducing the cost of ownership.

Applications include gas turbine engines for fixed and rotary wing aircraft; industrial turbo-generator systems; and marine vessels. A number of work programmes are investigating strategic research topics in the fields of systems and control law definition, monitoring systems, system architecture optimisation and wireless technologies.

Recent successful projects include the PIMENTO design tool. This adopts a benefits driven strategy and evaluates costs associated with the prognosis of events within a product's architecture, associating a cost to the failure based upon Fleet Disruption Index data. The tool is a major improvement in risk assessment methods and will minimise any potential disruption to Rolls-Royce's Trent XWB fleet.

The development of a new gas turbine fuel flow controller in aircraft engines has also been successful. Researchers from the UTC collaborated closely with an industrial research team to demonstrate the feasibility of the concept for large civil engines. After approval by Rolls- Royce's chief engineer, the controller was swiftly implemented in the Trent fleet of engines and is in operation today, installed in the Boeing 787 and some Gulfstream and Airbus aircraft. "This was a remarkable achievement – the first new radical control law for 30 years" said Professor Visakan Kadirkamanathan, Director of the UTC.