A composites innovation project is flying high

An ambitious £20m project to develop next-generation propeller blades is underway thanks to a number of organisations coming together in collaboration. Simon Edmonds profiles this exciting composites project, along with a round-up of funding opportunities for manufacturers.

Engineers from the High Value Manufacturing Catapult have supported private sector partner Dowty Propellers with an ambitious £20m project to develop next-generation propeller blades for cleaner, cheaper air travel.

The four-year project was supported and funded by Innovate UK and the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI). The Digital Propulsion (DigiProp) research and development programme sought to innovate every aspect of the design, manufacture and testing of its propeller systems.

Composites research engineers worked together from three of the HVM Catapult centres – the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, the National Composites Centre and the Manufacturing Technology Centre.


 The AMRC’s Herzog Radial Braiding Cell with triaxial capability and dual robot part manipulation
The AMRC’s Herzog Radial Braiding Cell with triaxial capability and dual robot part manipulation

The project will help to transform R&D for propellers and the manufacturing innovation has been deployed into the company’s new facility in Gloucester.

Dowty Propellers said the subject matter expertise offered by the three HVM Catapult centres on both established and emerging technologies has allowed it to unlock some of the best, next-generation capabilities and innovations that the UK has to offer.

Composites materials are used to deliver performance and strength, while maximising the benefits of lightweight properties
Composites materials are used to deliver performance and strength, while maximising the benefits of lightweight properties

For example, their composites and manufacturing expertise has transferred the complex technology of triaxial braiding into industrial reality, leveraging the directional properties of composites to deliver performance and strength, while maximising the benefits of lightweight properties to enable an overall blade weight reduction.

Dowty Propellers is now beginning to use the next-generation technologies realised in the project for evolving aircraft applications and to target next-generation platforms.

Potential customers are benefiting from its ability to support customer attribute trade studies with short turnaround time on performance analysis.

UKRI encourages innovators to apply for Horizon Europe funding

Applications are now open for UK businesses, innovators and researchers to access billions of pounds of funding through the EU’s Horizon Europe programme.

UKRI is urging businesses, innovators and researchers to apply for access to new markets, capabilities and technologies as well as billions of pounds of funding through the Horizon Europe scheme. Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation with a budget of €95.5bn. Horizon Europe funding is available for a wide variety of research and innovation areas including medical science and cancer treatment, adaptation to climate change, ocean health and agriculture.

 Dowty Propellers is using next gen technologies for evolving aircraft applications at its Gloucester factory
Dowty Propellers is using next gen technologies for evolving aircraft applications at its Gloucester factory

Funding is also available to all sectors through the European Innovation Council (EIC) which supports the commercialisation of high-risk, high-impact technologies and will be fully implemented as part of Horizon Europe. In addition, businesses will gain access to cross-border networks, supply chains and talent. Prospective UK funding recipients are eligible to participate in the first calls for proposals for Horizon Europe and can learn more about Horizon Europe by visiting UKRI’s Horizon Europe information page. The UK National Contact Points for Horizon Europe, who are European Commission recognised experts, can provide free specialist advice and support to UK applicants. In addition, the UKRI-funded Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) and Innovate UK EDGE can help with identifying potential partners and collaborators and interested businesses can sign up for newsletters and webinars to hear about future opportunities to apply.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

Applications are open for the next round of the successful Knowledge Transfer Partnerships scheme that helps businesses in the UK to innovate and grow. It does this by linking them with an academic or research organisation and a graduate.

Simon Edmonds, Innovate UK’s Deputy Executive Chair and Chief Business Officer
Simon Edmonds, Innovate UK’s

Deputy Executive Chair and

Chief Business Officer

A KTP enables a business to bring in new skills and the latest academic thinking to deliver a specific, strategic innovation project through a knowledge-based partnership. The academic partner (known as the Knowledge Base) will help to develop the project, provide academic input and recruit a suitable graduate, known as an associate. They will act as the employer of the associate, who then works at the business for the majority of the project. The scheme can last between 12 and 36 months, depending on what the project is and the needs of the business.


For other articles on innovation visit The Manufacturer 

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