In this edition, we shine the spotlight on Mark Howard, Head of R&T, Business Development & Partnerships, for Airbus in the UK, and hear about his early career working on the supersonic portfolio and predictions for aerospace.
What is your role?
I currently have two roles. I am Head of Research & Technology (R&T), Business Development & Partnerships for Airbus in the UK. A significant element of my role is developing collaborative research programs with key partners focused on Airbus priorities. For the UK, this is around wing design and manufacture, flight physics, landing gear, fuel technologies and the full end to end cycle. The partnerships element is important considering the influence and presence of Airbus, which employs around 10,000 people in commercial aircraft activities. Along with my wider team, we are responsible for managing the network partly through collaborative programmes but also ensuring the rest of the supply chain, partners, catapults, beyond our tier one suppliers are aware of Airbus priorities, and aligned for UK activities going forward.
My other role is where I act as a National Representative for R&T for Airbus Commercial in the UK. Both roles in terms of R&T require engagement with government leading and acting as a first point of contact, where the stakeholder map is very wide ranging.
Making the connections, making the network work, identifying new business opportunities and make something out of it all. I have an engineering background and throughout my career have developed products. I understand the process well and come from an informed perspective combining engineering knowledge with how we design and produce a product to how to keep it in service. It helps bring reality to identifying and creating those opportunities, and being in a position to articulate and explain to other stakeholders. It allows me to explain why different technologies are important and why they are good for the future of aerospace. It's the best job ever!
On the 19th May 2017 I will have worked for Airbus for 31 years! I have undertaken a variety of jobs throughout my career. I started doing wind tunnel work, mostly around structural dynamic models (aeroelastics), linking the physical world with capturing data. I then progressed into R&T management working with Jenny Body and Iain Gray, running two R&T portfolios, starting off with Supersonics. To gather product experience, I led the ATA 32 (Landing Gear Systems for the Aircraft called A340-600), taking it from early concept stages through design, test, flight test, certification and into service. I can certainly say that I have one full certification badge end to end for landing gear systems!
From here, I then went on to work on the A380, joining during the design phase leading the team responsible for the landing gear structure and wheels; tyres and brakes,. Every A380 has a set of kit (four landing gears, two wings, two body and gears, 16 wheels and brakes, four large wheels at the rear which are not braked, 20 tyres on the main gears and two tyres on those gears) which package weight wise is about 21 tonnes and the aircraft carries every flight!
After 11 years, I took a completely different route going back into flight physics, running the local Loads and Aeroelastics team which really helped understand the whole aircraft design process. I was responsible for the local team for 2 years before we became fully transnational following a reorganization. I was then appointed as Head of Aircraft Loads for all Airbus aircraft, managing teams in Filton, Hamburg and Toulouse.
Just over three years ago Airbus launched the development of the A330neo and I worked in the Chief Engineers team, managing the non-specific design of the wing. It was a big integration challenge and I spent two years focused on this to the point where it was mature enough that I didn't need to stay any longer. At this stage I moved into the role of Head of Research & Technology (R&T), Business Development & Partnerships.
I did a degree in Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Bath. I also did a diploma in Technology Management 13 years ago through the University of West of England.
I selected my degree because I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do! Engineering with Aerospace looked interesting, tangible and applied. I wanted to do something which was very tangible. My Father was in the RAF, we used to go to airshows, so that made a strong connection with aerospace for me.
In terms of the future, I think the aerospace industry is about to change dramatically which makes it very exciting. I think we are going to see lots of new innovations. There’s lots of talk today regarding urban air mobility. Linking this with the management of air space and new aircraft configurations, means we’re going to have to think differently about aircraft design. This will drive new integration which means you have to understand the engineering very well which will create some fantastic new challenges.
Equally the process that we design and build aircraft is changing, requiring new digital capabilities ranging from having a continuous digital thread from design through to in-service; the application of Model Based Systems Engineering; parallel design of aircraft and factory; the requirements for digital twins; application in the factory (Industry 4.0); data gathering in-service …. the list is endless!
Aerospace is a very broad ranging, radical industry and is continually in demand. It will continue to be an exciting industry to be involved in but it will change. My advice is don’t think about aircraft today, think about aircraft tomorrow.
One of the biggest research projects in Airbus at the moment is ‘The Wing of the Future’, where we are making some fantastic strides in pushing design, technologies and philosophy for high build rates , requiring new thinking, in terms of architecture for the wing. There are elementary demonstrators being built today and we’ll have some major demonstrators appearing in 2-3 years’ time, testing new designs at the Airbus Wing Integration Centre being built in Bristol. This is driving our current thinking and processes which will enable people to develop skills sets and grow. The focus here is on people and development.
I worked on the A330neo which is due to fly for the first time this year. I’ve got an invite for the first flight and it will be monumental for me, seeing something you have put your heart and soul into come together.
We incorporated some really different technologies into this project because one of the key challenges was how do we reduce a normal early design process down from 18 months to nine months. We took some of the technologies CFMS use today such as Uncertainty Quantification & Management (UQ&M), and applied it three years ago on this project. This was the foundation for achieving the dramatically reduced time scales. We used UQ&M to bring robustness to the early design phase..
The key challenges Airbus is encountering for next generation aircraft are performance, lower cost, higher rate. Aircraft are becoming a commodity and there is the question that in 20 years’ time, will people be buying aircraft or will they be buying flying hours? It becomes a service product rather than buying an asset. You can imagine this kind of thinking will change our view, but for the future you need the ability to develop and produce products very quickly (design lead times) and modify them quickly. Aircraft industry design lead times are typically very long these days and it is a huge industry challenge to make those times shorter.
This leads onto to the topic of High Value Design (HVD). We all recognise that the UK has some great strengths but in terms of making the best use of those strengths and in particular the ecosystem we have, we don’t have the same kind of support framework that other European countries offer. The High Value Manufacturing (HVM) catapults pull together HVM, but our strong HVD capability is very scattered and is not coordinated. If we come back to the lighter, future aircraft configurations, they are highly integrated design solutions and the UK has to try and find a way to ensure that it is match fit to design the next generation of aircraft. Airbus is part of the large global organisation that designs airplanes, however when you start looking at other high value products, there is a lack of coordination and we need to retain capabilities to develop integrated solutions and methods which employers in the UK will need, if we are going to address UK productivity and remain competitive. HVD is essential to help develop underlying UK capability and support the abiity to move technology from low TRL development to high TRL application. Don’t just focus on HVM. You have to get HVD right, which both works in tandem with HVM and feeds HVM with new challenges which will create move high value activities in the UK.
My final point is from a digital perspective. It is recognised that the UK is very good at integrating elements, however as you look around Europe there are a number of niche companies focusing on small, narrow channels offering digital solutions. When you pull these offerings together, it creates a digital thread. No one is currently doing this. In terms of investment, some kind of digital integration facility would be a perfect answer. There is an equivalent in the US which is the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII). We should be pushing for this in the UK and why not in Bristol given the strength of digital in the region. You can then connect HVD with Digital Integration and HVM, backed by a strong regional and national network. The whole ‘end to end digital thread’ is going to make a huge difference to how we produce and operate aircraft.