Decision Analysis and Support Tools for the Aerospace Industry
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Southampton
Unit of AssessmentGeneral Engineering
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Mathematical Sciences: Applied Mathematics, Numerical and Computational Mathematics
Summary of the impact
Research carried out at the University of Southampton has enabled major
players in the aerospace industry — among them Rolls-Royce, Airbus, and
Boeing — to produce more fuel efficient, longer lasting engines and
aircraft at reduced cost. The research has provided the aerospace industry
with modelling tools and software enabling companies to explore complex
new designs quickly whilst managing product risk in a competitive market.
The research team has also developed new design processes for unmanned
aircraft, which — as a result of strong media interest - improved public
understanding of such new technologies through worldwide coverage. A
spin-out company has achieved strong technological and economic impacts in
its own right.
In an extremely aggressive civil and military aviation market, companies
constantly need to push the known boundaries of materials, structures,
aerodynamics and thermodynamics to remain competitive. New designs have to
be developed in short timescales, yet there is a very fine balance between
technology risk and product performance. At the heart of a company's
critical advantage is its ability to explore very complex new designs
quickly whilst managing product risk.
It is in this area that world-leading aerospace provider Rolls-Royce
(R-R) relies on the University of Southampton's University Technology
Centre (UTC) for Computational Engineering, one of 28 UTCs worldwide
funded by R-R.
Research led by Andy Keane, Professor of Computational Engineering at the
University since 1996, and James Scanlan, Professor of Design since 2004,
has enabled the creation of a range of new tools to support design teams
working on complex aerospace products. Spanning the period from 2002 to
2010, the research was supported not only by R-R, but also through
grants from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
and the European Union totalling over £2 million since 2008. Prior to the
R-R UTC being established in 2009, Keane led the
BAESystems/Rolls-Royce University Technology Partnership for Design (which
included Airbus). This also aimed to apply modern design search and
optimization tools to problems in aerospace engineering.
The primary research activity has consisted of developing and exploiting
models of engineering systems using powerful computational facilities. The
outcomes have equipped R-R with sophisticated optimization and cost
In the DATUM project (Design Analysis Tool for Unit cost Modelling)
Keane, Scanlan et al provided Rolls-Royce's Integrated Project Teams with
unit cost information to enable them to make informed trade-off decisions
and to allow for the effects of uncertainty to be captured and understood
in an industrial setting. Costing of an entire gas turbine with many
thousands of parts is now accomplished in a few hours; prior to DATUM it
would have taken Rolls-Royce weeks.
As part of the research, Keane, Scanlan and their teams also investigated
a number of advanced stochastic analysis methods.
The tools resulting from this research are now in daily use not only with
Rolls-Royce, but also BAESystems, Airbus, Boeing and related aerospace
companies. Examples include new methods that allow rational trade-off
between competing objectives using probability of improvement theory (a
novel extension in this area of applied mathematics), its application to
design and then its deployment to tackle problems in robust design
approaches where trade-offs can be made between nominal performance and
variance in that performance caused by variations in operating conditions
or wear in a controlled way.
Similarly, the team have developed new ways of combining data from
factory inspection processes with geometry manipulation schemes coming
from the field of cinema film animation to allow designers to model
uncertainty in turbine blade shape and its consequences on blade life in
operation. The use of highly structured cost and manufacturing knowledge
tools has dramatically improved capabilities in the aerospace companies.
Rolls-Royce, for example, can now routinely undertake a very detailed cost
analysis of an entire three-shaft engine in less than a couple of days at
the concept design stage. This would have taken many weeks in the past.
More recent work, carried out between 2010 and 2012 has focused on the
impact of newly emerging manufacturing technologies such as laser
sintering of powders directly into finished components and the
consequences of such new methods on the freedoms available to designers.
These approaches allow the reduction of part count and an increase in part
complexity without associated cost rises, which leads to enhanced
industrial competitiveness. The team built and flew the world's first
unmanned aircraft (SULSA) manufactured wholly in this way, without any
conventional screws or other fasteners.
Another of Scanlan's research interests, designing aerospace systems
using "Value Driven Design" (VDD) principles, led to the development of
unmanned systems under the DECODE project (Decision Environment for
COmplex Designs, 2009-2012), among them an autopilot system for civilian
References to the research
(the best 3 are starred)
1. * A.J. Keane and J. P. Scanlan, "Design search and optimization in
aerospace engineering", Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. (ISSN0962-8428) 365(A)
pp. 2501-2529 (2007).
2. A.J. Keane, "Comparison of Several Optimisation Strategies for Robust
Turbine Blade Design", J. Propulsion and Power 25(5) pp. 1092-1099 (2009).
3. * A.I. J. Forrester and A. J. Keane, "Recent advances in
surrogate-based optimization," Prog. in Aerospace Sciences, 45 pp. 50-79,
4. * A.J. Keane, "Statistical Improvement Criteria for Use in
Multiobjective Design Optimization", AIAA Journal 44(4) pp. 879-891
5. EPSRC award for an investigation into Grid enabled optimisation and
design search for engineering - GEODISE - £2,872,450 (with Prof. S.J. Cox,
Prof. N. Shadbolt, Prof. M. Giles, Oxford and Prof. C. Goble, Manchester),
6. Rolls-Royce plc award for UTC in Computational Engineering -
7. EPSRC award for DECODE (Decision Environment for COmplex DEsigns ) -
8. EU FP7 Integrated Project award for Collaborative and Robust
Engineering using Simulation Capability Enabling Next Design Optimisation
(CRESCENDO) - €384,007, 2009-2012.
Details of the impact
The research described has been crucial in enabling the aerospace
industry to produce more fuel efficient, longer lasting engines and
aircraft at reduced cost.
The roll-out of the DATUM project results across all R-R businesses
worldwide began in 2008. As a direct result of the project, the use of
unit cost modelling tools applicable at different levels from whole engine
to feature, and from preliminary to detailed design, offers Rolls-Royce a
novel capability to facilitate the dialogue between design and
manufacture. The roll-out is on-going both in the United States and
Germany. In 2008, Professor Scanlan was given the Rolls-Royce R&T
Directors Award for Creativity in recognition of the under-pinning
research. In the last four years, the tool has been further developed and
integrated into design optimisation workflows [5.1].
Throughout the impact assessment period, Scanlan has been the Director
(and founder) of a spin-out business based on his academic research.
Plexus Planning Ltd, founded in 2003, now has a turnover of over £500,000,
with annual growth of over 20%. Plexus has developed a software toolkit
that enables massively complex problems to be simplified. For example,
Plexus was used by Boeing to help find high risk problems in a network of
over 500,000 suppliers. This enables the representation of a wide range of
management problems from project planning to supply chain management. In
2011, Plexus was chosen by Rolls-Royce as a strategic tool which has since
been rolled out across their global IT infrastructure. This ensures that
the widest possible community within Rolls-Royce is able to make use of
the research of the Southampton UTC following a £300k licence deal [5.1].
Plexus has now established a strong reputation within the aerospace
industry, with customers including Airbus (since 2005 [5.2]), Boeing
(2007), Bombardier (2004) and the UK Ministry of Defence (2009). In 2011,
the US Navy bought Plexus licences to model all concept design work.
Another tool developed as a direct result of the research is the Optimat
toolkit, a collection of optimization tools that plug into Rolls-Royce's
chosen integration framework (Isight). From 2009, this toolkit was made
available to Rolls-Royce staff worldwide for strategic design improvement
work on aero-engine components. It makes use of advanced surrogate
modelling methods that offer world leading capability for dealing with
problems with multiple goals and multiple levels of analysis fidelity. For
example, this toolkit was used in the improvement process for the fan in
the Trent 1000 engine used in the latest Boeing 787 airliner now entering
service. A study carried out by R-R engineers in December 2009 showed that
Optimat doubled the gains being made by computational studies of the fan
system as compared to the previously used approach. [5.1]
As a direct result of the research into stochastic analysis methods, in
2010 these methods were inserted into the Rolls-Royce production finite
element analysis system (SC03). This permits an assessment of the impact
of manufacturing and operational uncertainty on the lives of critical
engine components up to ten times more quickly than by conventional
approaches. The results of the research are now being used in the
development of the high pressure turbine assembly of the R-R Trent XWB
engine for the next generation Airbus mid-range airliner, for which R-R
has more than 500 orders worldwide.
In 2012, Scanlan and Keane facilitated the setting up of a new company,
Solair Aviation Ltd, in collaboration with a local company and local
investors, using the sophisticated computational engineering modelling
developed by their team. The company is developing a new piloted micro
light aircraft (The Swallow) under a licensing arrangement with the
university. The local entrepreneur [5.3] who is supporting this initiative
has estimated that there will be a market of over 100 Swallow aircraft per
annum with an eventual turnover of over £6 million.
Scanlan's work on unmanned systems under the DECODE project led to him
assisting an ex-Southampton PhD student to develop an autopilot for
unmanned air vehicles. This in turn led to the creation of a successful
spin-out business called SkyCircuits in 2010 (http://www.skycircuits.com/)
of which Scanlan is now a director, assisting its growth and development.
This company has a large number of customers to whom it has sold over
£100k worth of autopilot systems including the MET office and several
leading airborne surveying companies, including QuestUAV and CAllen Lenz.
In addition the systems have been bought by Bath, Cranfield and Reading
Some aspects of the research have attracted strong public interest,
leading to widespread international publicity. This is true in particular
of the team's work developing the world's first plane manufactured wholly
through 3D printing using laser sintering (SULSA). Publications that
reported this development in detail included BBC online (February 2011);
the New Scientist [5.4]; the Los Angeles Times; MSN India; the Irish Times
(all August 2011) and others. These articles, all written for
non-specialist audiences, enhanced understanding of the new technology and
its practical significance among the wider public. A YouTube video of the
SULSA project has now attracted over 200,000 viewings.
In November 2010, Scanlan - on the strength of his research activities
and excellent industry connections — was invited to organise a seminar on
Design Search for leading aerospace industry and academic experts, which
was held at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London.
Sources to corroborate the impact
5.1 Head of Design Systems Engineering,Rolls-Royce plc, Derby.
5.2 CAE Coordinator, Flight Physics Integration Methods, Airbus U.K.,
5.3 Managing Director, Solair Aviation Ltd, Formosa, Fordingbridge,
5.4 New Scientist coverage of 3D printed aircraft:
 "Generating a multifidelity model of a system", UK Patent number:
GB2399187A/GB2399187B, Publication dates: 2004-09-08 / 2005-06-15,
Inventors: Leary Stephen John; Bhaskar Atul; Keane Andrew John.
 "Optimisation of sequential combinatorial processes utilising a
surrogate model", UK Patent number: GB2405961A/GB2405961B, European Patent
Number 1665146, Publication dates: 2005-03-16/2005-08-17 , Inventors:
Olsen Tor-Morten Overby; Runnemalm Karl Henrik; Keane Andrew John;
Voutchkov Ivan; Bhaskar Atul.
 "Design by Space Transformation from high to low dimensions",
Inventors: C.M.E. Holden and A.J. Keane, UK patent no. GB1673732, European
patent no. 1673732, US patent application no. 12081788.
 "Agent-like discrete event modelling software architecture"
Inventors: Tai-Tuck Yu, James P. Scanlan and Gary B. Wills. March 2008. UK