Aerospace firm NEMA is celebrating the success of a cutting-edge innovation to cut emissions in aviation, having also benefitted from the support of our specialist Manufacturing Team.
Rochdale manufacturer NEMA Ltd is a long-standing provider of innovative electro-mechanical solutions to the UK and international aerospace sector.
The company started from humble beginnings in the 1950s manufacturing springs, before gradually moving into manufacturing specialist electric motors by the late 1990s. By 2006, NEMA had developed its own machine shop, and by 2010 had gained the AS9100 aerospace certification so it could offer full in-house design and manufacture to its aerospace customers.
NEMA has received support from the Growth Hub’s Manufacturing Service since 2018, helping it to develop its business. During this NEMA has participated in several high-profile R&D projects – from electric motor starter generators for aircraft, submarines and long range drones, to technology that scans obsolete electric motors for electromagnetic properties. The company has also recently gained funding to develop electromagnet bearings, specifically for the aerospace industry.
‘More-electric’ aircraft engine
One of NEMA’s most innovative projects to date reached final completion in early 2023. Working alongside the University of Nottingham and French aircraft engine manufacturer Safran, NEMA designed an electric motor/generator which charges batteries during flight and subsequently uses this energy to taxi the plane on the runway.
The project forms part of the flagship Clean Sky 2 programme, an EU-funded partnership which aims to develop more environmentally friendly aircraft.
Some of the most polluting activities in aviation take place before an aircraft has left the ground, explains NEMA’s Managing Director Andrew Wilding: “The vast majority of fuel used by aircraft is consumed in taxi and take-off, where a huge amount of fuel is wasted.
“Safran’s idea was to create an electric motor/generator so a turboprop light aircraft could generate electricity from its propellers and use it to power the aircraft on the ground rather than rely on fuel. Our task was to design and build that motor/generator.”
It wasn’t an easy process, Andrew adds: “The motor had to operate at 10 times the speed of the engine it was running off in order to generate electricity to charge the batteries as well as power the engine whilst taxiing on the ground, while still being able to fit inside the engine and stay cool. In the end we developed a solution, and to cool the motor we flooded the windings with the aircraft fuel running around the engine, which is pretty ground-breaking.
A 20kW demonstrator motor is now complete, and while it may be some time before bigger versions are integrated into larger commercial aircraft, NEMA has already benefitted from its involvement. “We’ve already moved the technology we developed into other projects we’re working on,” Andrew says.
Building problem solving skills
While working on its cutting-edge innovations, NEMA has benefitted from expert support from our Manufacturing Team to improve its processes and invest in new equipment.
Aerospace specialist and Manufacturing Advisor Martin Hyman has built a strong relationship with the company, having observed its manufacturing layout and operational processes and provided valuable advice on potential improvements.
This included knowledge transfer sessions on lean manufacturing, 5S and SMED techniques to a cross-section of staff, as well as additional training on the Five Whys and Eight Discipline (8D) approaches to problem solving.
These problem solving methods have been useful not just internally but also externally with NEMA’s customers, Andrew explains: “We’ve since sent people on further training courses for 8D because it really works and it’s something our customers value. For example, we did an 8D exercise on a problem an end user was having and it turned out they hadn’t been assembling motors correctly. When we shared the findings with our customer they realised that they hadn’t passed on the assembly process properly, so they really appreciated that support.”
Martin was also able to help NEMA secure grant funding from the Growth Hub towards the cost of consultancy for the design of a new commutator resistance welding machine, which has strengthened the resilience of the company in addition to simplifying the manufacturing process.
“The resistance welder is something we now use on a weekly basis,” Andrew says. “If you don’t use resistance welding you have to solder, which is a much longer, messier process. Being able to resistance weld was crucial for a long-running contract with a major aerospace customer. The welder has improved our productivity and gives us the reliability and backup to satisfy customer demand – the design of the welder is such that it can easily and accurately be set up to do prototype work.”
‘The support is invaluable’
NEMA’s support goes further than just the factory floor. Martin also provided help on the use of LinkedIn for marketing and making the company website more SEO-friendly.
“Our website is pretty good visually but we weren’t necessarily describing things in a way that would come up on search engines, so that’s been useful,” says Chris Smith, Systems Co-ordinator at NEMA. “Martin also helped familiarise us with how to use LinkedIn more effectively and analysed what was and wasn’t working on our company profile.”
But it is ultimately Martin’s knowledge of NEMA’s industry that really makes the Hub’s support stand out, Andrew points out: “Martin’s passion and knowledge of the aerospace industry is second to none. We met him at the Farnborough Airshow in 2018 and his list of contacts is exhausting, to be honest! He’s got a lot of information to give and a great knowledge of all the trade shows we should be aware of. So, I would definitely recommend the Growth Hub’s support.”