Collaboration with industry has long been a hallmark of Loughborough University, and its partnership with Rolls-Royce is one of its most enduring.
The Loughborough UTC has grown considerably over the many years I have been working with them, reflecting the success of the partnership and the considerable impact that the team has had on our business.
Having begun in the early sixties, when Professor Stan Stevens joined Loughborough from Rolls-Royce, the relationship was firmly cemented within the decade when the company approached Professor Stevens to research diffuser flows in the RB211 engine, the forerunner to Rolls-Royce’s flagship Trent family of engines.
Establishing the Rolls Royce University Technology Centre (UTC)
This research laid the foundations for the establishment in 1991 of the Loughborough based University Technology Centre (UTC). UTCs grew out of an idea by several of the technology leaders at Rolls-Royce at the time, amongst them Dr Stewart Miller, who worked for Rolls-Royce for more than 40 years and rose to become Director of Engineering and Technology at the company.
“Stewart Miller and his peers were really quite visionary,” says Mark Jefferies, Chief of University Research Liaison at Rolls-Royce. “They saw the benefits that a close working relationship could have for both Rolls-Royce and universities, and supported a set-up that has transformed the way we research, design, test and ultimately deliver cutting-edge new technology.”
Loughborough’s UTC was one of the first wave that Rolls-Royce established. There are now 31 worldwide, with each addressing a distinct key technology; at Loughborough the focus is on the combustion system aerothermal process – ultimately the research being undertaken enables Rolls-Royce to develop new and improved technologies for gas turbine engines that will meet future environmental and economic targets.
The UTC model brings benefits to both the University and Rolls-Royce. “Working in true close collaboration with university partners such as Loughborough gives the company access to a wealth of talent, creativity, and diversity of thinking,” says Mark. “The Loughborough UTC has grown considerably over the many years I have been working with them, reflecting the success of the partnership and the considerable impact that the team has had on our business.”
By the same token the Centre allows the University to work hand-in-glove with one of the world’s leading aerospace companies, and enables it to undertake cutting-edge research that is driven by real-life industrial challenges and has a tangible impact.
Improving fuel efficiency
And there numerous examples that illustrate this. For instance the team has established ways to improve fuel efficiency whilst identifying novel test and numerical methods to study complex flow physics that now support Rolls-Royce engine design processes.
“The resulting technology has been used by Rolls-Royce to enhance the performance of their entire Trent engine family,” says Professor Jon Carrotte, who is Rolls-Royce and Royal Academy of Engineering Professor of Aerothermal Technology and Director of the Loughborough UTC.
“To date, five engine types – operating on more than 900 aircraft – have benefited. The Trent XWB – the world’s most efficient and fastest-selling wide-body aero-engine, which powers the Airbus A350 – uses the latest Loughborough development and it’s estimated that savings of 20,000kg of fuel per aircraft will be made each year.”
All in all it’s a really exciting time. We’ve come such a long way over the last 25 years. We’re certainly looking forward to the next!
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Loughborough’s UTC.
“When the UTC was established in 1991 it had just ten staff – three academics, five researchers and two technicians. Now there are 51 people,” Professor Carrotte says. “In our first year of operation we had seven projects running; this year we have more than forty. Our facilities have expanded significantly too, as you’d expect, to accommodate this growth.”
So what lies ahead for the Loughborough Rolls- Royce partnership?
The National Centre of Excellence in Gas Turbine Combustion System Aerodynamics
In February 2016 the Government announced £9.8 million of funding towards the establishment of a new facility – the National Centre of Excellence in Gas Turbine Combustion System Aerodynamics – that will position Loughborough as a primary UK hub for aerospace engineering and technology. With Rolls-Royce as a lead partner in the project, the Centre will focus on the development of future low emission aerospace combustion systems that will reduce the environmental impact of aircraft.
“The new Centre will allow our industrial partners to work even more closely with our academic researchers to ensure that new technologies are translated from theory to practice as quickly and as efficiently as possible,” explains Professor Carrotte. “The boundaries between research, design, development and manufacture are becoming increasingly blurred, so it makes absolute sense to bring the researchers and engineers together to ensure the fast pull through of technology to industry.
“The Centre will also be a training ground for current and future aerospace engineers in a critical skill area for the UK. If we’re to retain our position at the forefront of technological development, we have to make sure we have a pipeline of talent who are capable of driving innovation – and it’s absolutely right that Loughborough plays a big part in that.
“All in all it’s a really exciting time. We’ve come such a long way over the last 25 years. We’re certainly looking forward to the next!”