Prodrive shows how auto tech can transfer to aerospace, says GlobalData

The conventional view is that technology transfers from the aerospace industry to the automotive sector but James McGeachie, Director of Engineering at Prodrive Advanced Technology has seen an upsurge in opportunities for transfer in the opposite direction. In an exclusive interview, GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, spoke to McGeachie about some of his recent experiences:

McGeachie notes that the automotive industry has become very adept at delivering exhaustively validated products in record time. As the aerospace sector becomes increasingly competitive, they are investigating ways to speed up development in order to reduce costs. With typical automotive programme timing reduced to three years or less, while aerospace programmes still take 10-20 years, Prodrive says its aerospace clients are investigating the potential to close that gap – at least partially.

McGeachie says that simulation and predictive modelling is at the heart of engineering development in both industries. He comments: “There is an optimum level of modelling accuracy for a given stage in an engineering programme. It is one that will deliver the right design decisions as early as possible. Often, we can get 80% of the way in 20% of the time, but the last 20% will take 80% of the time.

“Ultimately, we must get the final product 100% right but during the design process, where important trade-offs are made and alternative solutions are ranked in order of merit, we don’t need the last 20% in order to make the right decisions and we haven’t got the time to wait for it. We need to confirm the design direction before major commitments are made to long lead items such as tooling and facilities. At Prodrive, we call this the principle of ‘optimum modelling accuracy’ and have been using it to good effect since the late 1990s.”

McGeachie also says that aerospace companies come to ProDrive for a wide range of services. He continues: “In some cases, we are directly transferring skills in areas such as high-quality composites or control systems and power electronics. Our experience in supplying sophisticated interior modules and mechanisms to Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo and others transfers straight across to commercial aircraft interiors, particularly for premium applications where refined operation and consistently high visual standards are required.

“Indeed a leading aircraft manufacturer saw our work on interior car modules and has asked us to use these same skills on their interior systems.”

There is also control and electronics technology that can be applied to aerospace applications.

McGeachie added: “We have worked with a major aerospace business on a number of projects; one being the development of a compact high powered inverter to drive a new generation of electric fuel pumps for commercial jet engines. We helped package the unit and carried out thermal analysis, which led to us designing the complex cooling galleries which were manufactured using 3D laser sintering. We also designed the busbar high powered printed circuit board, the internal and external wiring harnesses and developed the code for the motor control software and communications.  Once again this project came about after they had seen the work we had done creating a multiport DC-DC converter for electric and hybrid vehicles.”

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