The Belfast team behind the resin-infused advanced composite aircraft wing used on the Airbus A220 has been named the winner of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2019 MacRobert Award.
The innovative wing, designed and built by engineers at Bombardier, is the first certified commercial aircraft wing made using resin transfer infusion (RTI) and has been hailed for its ability to reduce the environmental impact of aviation.
The RTI process sees a complex structure created by placing dry fabric into moulds before impregnating it with liquid resin, which then sets into shape under heat and pressure. While other processes involve pre-impregnated carbon fibre requiring intensive refrigeration before manufacture, the RTI process uses less energy, fewer parts and results in a lighter wing. Compared to a conventional metal wing, it is approximately 10 per cent lighter helping to reduce fuel burn in flight, with an accompanying reduction of CO2 and NOx emissions.
Following the shock announcement earlier this year (May, 2019) that Bombardier plans to sell its Belfast facility, the award provides some welcome recognition of the expertise at the site.
Commenting on this year’s winners, the chair of the judging panel Dr Dame Sue Ion said: “Bombardier’s composite wing reflects how excellence in aeronautical engineering benefits both society and the environment. At a time of uncertainty for Belfast’s engineering community, we hope this award helps them achieve the worldwide recognition they deserve.”
Michael Ryan CBE FREng, Chief Operating Officer, Aerostructures, Bombardier Aviation, commented: “It’s a fantastic recognition of our highly skilled workforce, who have created a unique, cutting-edge technology to produce composite wings in Belfast which fly on commercial aircraft around the world. I’m extremely proud of our employees’ engineering innovation, the significant support of our supply chain, and of Northern Ireland as a global leader in aerospace technology.
The other shortlisted finalists were Darktrace for Antigena, an AI-powered ‘self-healing’ cybersecurity system; M Squared, whose SolsTiS Titanium:Sapphire laser produces the world’s purest light; and OrganOx, developer of the world’s first device for keeping a human donor liver functioning outside the body for up to 24 hours prior to transplant.
Now in its 50th year the award, which comes with a gold medal and a £50,000 prize, was presented to the team by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal.
Previous winning innovations include the Pegasus engine used in the Harrier jump jet, the CT scanner, and the Raspberry Pi.