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Tempest fighter jet: Intelligent machines to play critical role in building futuristic jet

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The UK is playing a leading role in the ambitious project to build the sixth-generation fighter jet, which developers envisage will be equipped with laser and hypersonic weapons and accompanied into battle by a team of semi-autonomous drone-like “wingmen” when it is deployed in the mid-2030s. Experts have even suggested Tempest has the potential to be as iconic as legendary World War 2 fighter plane the Spitfire.

We’ve collaborated with the best of UK industry and academia to develop a cutting-edge facility that combines current and emerging technologies

David Holmes

Now BAE Systems – one of four partners in Team Tempest along with Leonardo, Rolls Royce and missile systems specialists MBDA – has unveiled details of a new “intelligent factory” which will increase productivity and revolutionise combat aircraft production in the UK.

Dave Holmes, Manufacturing Director for BAE Systems Air, said: “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.”

Tempest Fighter Jet

An CGI image of how the Tempest Fighter Jet might look (Image: BAE Systems)

Intelligent robots BAE Systems Tempest

Intelligent robots assist in deploying parts and consumables around the factory as required (Image: GETTY)

The ‘industry 4.0’ factory – in reference to the so-called fourth industrial revolution which seeks to combine traditional manufacturing methods with the latest smart technology – will apply the latest digital techniques.

The new facility, at BAE Systems’ site in Warton, Lancashire, is the result of a multi-million-pound investment and collaboration with more than 40 blue chip and SME companies, as well as various academic institutions.

A company spokeswoman said the factory would transform engineering processes, with automated robots, as well as virtual and augmented reality, increasing speed, precision and efficiencies, as well as reduce the costs associated with the manufacture of complex military aircraft structures.

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Factory BAE Systems

Information about BAE Systems’s factory (Image: BAE Systems)

The factory will also demonstrate a new approach to the way humans and machines can operate together, the spokeswoman said.

She explained: “Cobotics and other flexible robot 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 in some cases are less than a third the width of a human hair.”

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Tempest graphic

A graphic outlines Tempest’s schematics (Image: BAE Systems)

Tempest replica

A Tempest replica at least year’s New Scientist Live event (Image: Paul Baldwin)

Such technology will seek to drive greater productivity by permitting operators to focus on more highly-skilled and strategic tasks and production managers to oversee operations from a fully digitised, virtual office.

The new facility aims to underpin Team Tempest’s efforts to ensure the UK’s ambition remains at the forefront of the Combat Air sector by delivering more cost-effectively and in half the time of previous programmes.

Meanwhile, technologies inside the factory are already delivering benefits.

An 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 production line of Typhoon, also known as the Eurofighter.

Tempest timeline

Tempest timeline (Image: Express)

The workstation uses a system which recognises operators and automatically delivers tailored instructions using ‘pick by light’ technologies.

In addition, additive manufacturing technologies are being used in the production of Typhoon aircraft parts and assemblies.

BAE Systems and the UK’s aerospace, defence, security and space sectors are employing hundreds of thousands of people and supporting many more jobs through the supply chain across the country.

Together the sectors generate £79 billion in turnover, supporting the economy while underpinning national security.

Intelligent robots BAE Systems Tempest

The factory is an example of Industry 4.0 (Image: BAE Systems)

Speaking last year, Andrew Kennedy, strategic campaigns director at BAE Systems, told Express.co.uk: “We’re all hugely excited to be involved in Team Tempest.

“We want to make the Tempest as iconic as the Spitfire.

“This has the potential to be a revolutionary aircraft, a real game-changer.

“The plan is to introduce this ‘sixth generation’ combat aircraft into service in the mid-2030s, in time to replace the Eurofighter Typhoon fleet, which presently provides a fully manned capability for a number of air forces.”



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