Bombardier wins engineering prize for eco-designed wing

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A Belfast team have won a prestigious engineering innovation award for developing a component to minimise an aircraft’s environmental impact.

The Royal Academy of Engineering said its MacRobert Award recognises engineering teams that demonstrate outstanding innovation, societal benefit and commercial success.

The winners, Bombardier, created a resin-infused advanced composite wing that minimises an aircraft’s environmental impact by reducing weight and fuel burn in flight, and waste during manufacture.

The factory floor at Bombardier’s Northern Ireland plant where the RTI is manufactured (Bombardier/PA)

The MacRobert Award – in its 50th anniversary year – honours the winning organisation with a gold medal, and the team members with a cash prize of £50,000.

Bombardier’s resin-infused advanced composite aircraft wing underpins the Airbus A220 and is the first certified commercial aircraft wing made using resin transfer infusion (RTI).

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.

Unlike other processes, it does not involve pre-impregnated carbon fibre requiring intensive refrigeration before manufacture.

RTI uses less energy, fewer parts and results in a lighter wing.

Compared to a conventional metal wing, Bombardier’s carbon composite wing is around 10% lighter helping to reduce fuel burn in flight, with an accompanying reduction of CO2 and NOx emissions.

One of Bombardier’s award-winning wings on the production line in Belfast (Bombardier/PA)

The £520 million investment in Bombardier’s aircraft wing programme is the largest ever single inward investment in Northern Ireland and around 200 suppliers across the UK are directly involved with the programme .

Dr Dame Sue Ion, who chairs judges for the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award, 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 world-wide recognition they deserve.”

Michael Ryan, chief operating officer of aerostructures at Bombardier Aviation, said: “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 winner was chosen from a shortlist of four finalists that included Darktrace, M Squared and OrganOx.

Chris Price
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