Cornerstone: Mechanical Engineering Science to Enable Aero Propulsion Futures

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering


This partnership between the University of Nottingham, Rolls-Royce, Imperial College London and the University of Oxford will undertake research in order to advance six key areas of mechanical engineering science which will enable Rolls-Royce in particular (and the UK more generally) to remain at the forefront of aircraft propulsion throughout the transition to all-electric flight.

Across all modes of transport, the twin challenges of climate change and decreasing fossil fuel reserves has resulted in a concerted effort to find alternatives to traditional internal combustion engine technology. In transport sectors such as rail and automotive these challenges are increasingly being addressed through the introduction of new electric vehicle technologies which is revolutionising the market through new technologies, new market entries and new business models. Several estimates indicate that within 15 years the majority of new cars will be either all-electric or electric-hybrids with range extenders. The aerospace sector faces much greater challenges in moving towards low carbon propulsion, due in large part to the greater distances that must be covered between refuelling opportunities and the fact that battery technology has not yet developed significantly enough to address the challenges of long range travel. There is however a clear recognition across the aerospace industry that a transition to all-electric flight is both desirable and essential to the future of human mobility.

Rolls-Royce recently announced their commitment to a long-term future business model underpinned by hybrid-electric and all-electric flight and this partnership will undertake some of the critical, underpinning research which will enable this step-change. In order to meet the roadmaps set out by the Aerospace Growth Partnership and the Advisory Council for Aviation Research and Innovation in Europe dramatic progress must be made in a number of technology areas in order to achieve a transition to all-electric flight.

CornerStone will advance six areas of mechanical engineering science:
1. High power-density contacts
2. Impact and Intelligent Failure Management
3. Advanced Static & Dynamic Load Management
4. Exploiting Aero-structural Interactions
5. Innovations in Thermal Management
6. Electro-Mechanical Interactions

The underpinning scientific developments and their integration into aerospace engine applications will equip Rolls-Royce to lead the global aerospace industry in the journey up to and including all-electric flight. Cornerstone will enable Rolls-Royce and subsequently other UK machine manufacturers to achieve a step-change increase in the value of their products and to shift the proportion of added-value away from pure manufacturing towards intelligent design.

Planned Impact

Cornerstone will benefit the aerospace industry by developing the underpinning mechanical engineering science which will retain the UK's leading position in aerospace propulsion throughout the transition to all-electric flight. The project will fundamentally change the architecture of engines resulting in:
1) Increased power density
2) Increased efficiency and reduced carbon emissions
3) Improved sustainability
4) Increased machine lifespans with decreased maintenance effort
5) Improved safety

These benefits will be realised primarily through Rolls-Royce. Technological advances made by the project will be embedded within the company at early stages ensuring rapid adoption of new technologies and a swift transition to market readiness.

The scientific breakthroughs that Cornerstone enables will also have a profound impact on Rolls-Royce's supply chain. Manufacturers of engines will be able to grow their market share nationally and internationally by offering a superior product. This will ultimately increase the competitiveness of the UK as manufacturer and exporter of high value goods.

Developments within this programme will be relevant across a number of sectors outside the immediate application area of Aerospace, including oil and gas exploration, energy, automotive, marine and submarine transport. All four project partners have extensive networks across multiple industry sectors which will be exploited to ensure knowledge transfer between sectors.

The project will also have extensive environmental benefits which will be realised across all application sectors through the reduction of carbon emissions and the use of less material to deliver more sustainability mobility and efficient use of resources

The Project's Operational Board will oversee the programme and ensure that opportunities are being maximised for achieving both academic and non-academic impact. The Project Governance Board will be responsible for overseeing all exploitation opportunities, supported by technology transfer specialists at all three universities who will assist in the identification and commercialisation of exploitable technologies.

Mechanisms for generating impact will include:
1. An annual showcase event and conference which will share scientific advances from the project as well as highlights of successes from collaborative working
2. Presenting project progress and outputs at industry exhibitions, such as the Farnborough and Paris Air Shows, and at academic and industry conferences such as the International Modal Analysis Conference, International Conference on Noise and Vibration Engineering and ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers
3. Publishing project findings in internationally-recognised journals in order to reach the wider scientific community.
4. Delivering a programme of secondments to facilitate the exchange of knowledge between industry and academia
5. Leveraging international industrial and governmental links to promote the take up of technologies and standards developed by the programme
6. Undertaking foresight and mapping exercises in order to identify a number of short, medium and longer term priority sectors and formulate engagement plans which build upon the established links of the partner institutions
7. In the latter half of the programme the project will also seek to develop policy and position papers in order to influence policymaking at national and international levels

The university partners will ensure that the outputs and learning from the project are accessible to the next generation of engineers and scientists through teaching, student projects and outreach activities at undergraduate and postgraduate level. In addition, the project will undertake a programme of public engagement as well as delivering a programme of external communications


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Description WP6 on electromechanical interactions has contributed to understanding of potential forthcoming issue with an important electrical propulsion demonstrator programme. The issue arises in connection with parallel paths potentially causing an instability.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Description Collaboration with "A*Star" in Singapore. Imperial College expertise on AeroElasticity complements expertise present at "A*Star". The collaboration involves high order schemes for unstructured meshes. 
Organisation Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
Country Singapore 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Jointly developing new methods in aero-elasticity
Collaborator Contribution Significant experience in meshless methods.
Impact d. S. Stapelfeldt, C. Brandstetter, Non-synchronous vibration in axial compressors: Lock-in mechanism and semi-analytical model, Journal of Sound and Vibration, under review.
Start Year 2019
Description Collaboration with MIT including four separate study visits by Dr. Sina Staplefelt during 2019 
Organisation Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Sharing of best practice in aeroelasticity computation.
Collaborator Contribution PRogramming expertise on HPCs and on GPUs as well as independent modelling capability.
Impact e. J. Harris, B. Lad, S.Stapelfeldt, Investigating the Causes of Outlet Guide Vane Buffeting, ASME Turbo Expo 2020, London, 22-26 June 2020, under review.
Start Year 2018
Description Collaboration with SUPMECA (PARIS) by Loic Salles of Imperial COllege 
Organisation Supméca Institute of Mechanics of Paris
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution 1 month as a visiting professor. Delivery of three research seminars.
Collaborator Contribution Hosting the visit and collaborative work on non-linear vibration of complex systems.
Impact E. Denimal, F. El-Haddad, C. Wong, L. Salles, Multi-objective topological optimisation for nonlinear FRF with the MMC and global optimisation method, WCCM2020, Paris (France), 19-24 July 2020
Start Year 2019