A key partner of Strathclyde has launched a state-of-the-art purpose-built global centre for the design and digital manufacturing of next generation aerostructures.

The Spirit AeroSystems Aerospace Innovation Centre (AIC) has been established as a centre of excellence for the research and development of advanced materials, digital manufacturing technologies and processes, where Spirit will collaborate with industry and academic partners to innovate, train and develop skills for today and tomorrow.

The 90,000-square-foot innovation centre on the Spirit campus in Prestwick is capable of manufacturing components of up to 20 metres in length and features 55,000 square feet of manufacturing space and a materials lab.

Spirit Europe’s investment of around £25m, together with almost £5m grant funding from Scottish Enterprise, will help advance technologies and capabilities to develop next-generation aerostructures.

The centre was launched in the presence of Scotland’s First Minister, government, customers, and industrial and academic partners, including Strathclyde, who showcased some of the collaborative work between the aerospace manufacturer, the University and the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), which is operated by Strathclyde and Spirit.

Drive innovation

Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Strathclyde, Professor Sir Jim McDonald, said: “As a leading international technological university, we recognise the value of building strong links and connectivity with industry. We are proud of our long-standing collaboration with Spirit AeroSystems, and have been working in partnership at their Prestwick location, as well as through our Advanced Forming Research Centre and our Glasgow campus, to help drive innovation in the global aerospace sector.

“This new innovation centre will strengthen our collaborations and ensure we continue to co-create world-class, cutting edge technologies.”

Scott McLarty, Senior Vice-President Airbus Programs and Business Jets, Spirit AeroSystems, said: “For true innovation to occur, we need a diverse range of ideas and collaboration from a number of areas across the spectrum of research and development.

“As one of the UK’s leading Aerospace companies, Spirit Europe is proud to establish a collaborative space where we, with our partners in industry and education, will work together to develop new technologies that are competitive and sustainable for aerospace platforms of the future.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This investment from Spirit AeroSystems, at a time of considerable challenge for the aerospace sector globally, is an endorsement of Scotland’s engineering and manufacturing capability and it will complement existing facilities, such as the National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland.

“As well as improving the efficiency of aircraft parts, and the way they are manufactured, this facility has the potential to enable growth for industry-leading aerospace innovations and create more high-value manufacturing jobs over the next decade.”

Long history

Spirit AeroSystems and Strathclyde have a long history of successful collaboration, and in recognition of the growing importance of academic-industrial relationships, the relationship was formalised with a letter of cooperation between the partners signed in 2020.

The move built on work including with Strathclyde’s Centre for Ultrasonic Engineering and Design Manufacturing & Engineering Management department on projects to develop innovative manufacturing technologies to help shape the future of aircraft design, manufacture and performance.

The work has been carried out both on the University campus and at the Strathclyde-operated NMIS facilities, the Advanced Forming Research Centre and the Lightweight Manufacturing Centre.

Spirit and Strathclyde are also collaborating through a new purpose-built facility in the heart of the campus, a £2.5 million Robotically Enabled Sensing Hub, which is set to be completed later this year in the Royal College Building.

Along with the Royal Academy of Engineering, Spirit also sponsors a five-year Research Chair at Strathclyde, which was awarded to Professor Gareth Pierce. His pioneering work detecting and evaluating flaws in materials used in aerospace could help make air travel safer.