Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

Decision Analysis and Support Tools for the Aerospace Industry

Research carried out at the University of Southampton has enabled major players in the aerospace industry, including Rolls-Royce, Airbus, and Boeing, to produce more fuel efficient, longer lasting engines and aircraft at reduced cost. Southampton engineers have provided the aerospace industry with modelling tools and software to assist the companies in investigating complex new designs quickly while managing product risk in a competitive market. 

Research challenge

Recognising Southampton’s engineering expertise, world-leading aerospace provider Rolls-Royce relies on the University of Southampton’s University Technology Centre (UTC) for Computational Engineering; it is one of 28 UTCs worldwide funded by the company.

Research led by Andy Keane, Professor of Computational Engineering at the University and James Scanlan, Professor of Design, has resulted in the development of a range of new tools to support aerospace design teams. Before 2009, Professor Keane led the BAESystems/Rolls-Royce University Technology Partnership for Design (which includefd Airbus).

Over the years, the Southampton team has been supported by companies including Rolls-Royce, grants from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the European Union totalling more than £2million since 2008. Much of the work has involved the use of powerful and complex computer modelling to develop new engineering systems with sophisticated optimisation and cost management tools.


In an extremely aggressive civil and military aviation market, companies need to constantly push the known boundaries of materials, structures, aerodynamics and thermodynamics to remain competitive. New designs have to be developed in short timescales, yet there is a very fine balance between technology risk and product performance. At the heart of a company’s critical advantage is its ability to explore very complex new designs quickly while managing product risk.

Our solution

The sophisticated tools developed as a result of this research are now in daily use with Rolls-Royce and other aerospace companies including BAE Systems, Airbus and Boeing.

Among the many projects completed during the collaboration, Southampton engineers have employed probability of improvement theory from applied mathematics to tackle design issues and adapted geometry manipulation schemes from cinema film animation to allow designers to model turbine blade shapes. More recent work has involved new manufacturing technologies to reduce the number of parts needed while increasing their complexity. As a result of this research, the team built and flew the world’s first unmanned aircraft (SULSA; Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft) made in this way without any conventional screws or other fastening; a development that attracted considerable media attention.

Our impact

Research at Southampton has been crucial in enabling the aerospace industry to produce more fuel efficient, longer lasting engines and aircraft at reduced cost.

A university spin-out company, Plexus Planning Ltd was created from Professor Scanlan’s research in 2005, two other businesses have been set up to commercialise the modelling technologies and techniques developed at Southampton.

Producing more fuel efficient, longer lasting engines and aircraft at reduced cost
Decision Analysis and Support Tools

Key Publications

Share this case study Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings