Just yesterday, some early results of a US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) project have been published.
The idea of project was to create a low-cost, expendable engine by separating the development from the production/procurement costs. So what does this mean in particular?
The development of a new engine, especially when it comes to include new technologies, is always a costly endeavor. Most manufacturers therefore go for incremental innovation by using proven designs and improving them where possible. This approach not only leads to a slow growing product innovation roadmap but also stalls radical innovation or the radical review of any given concept for propulsion.
As a counterpart, DARPA and other research facilities try to fill that gap and hope for adoption by the industry when proves of concepts have been realized.
AFRL now has selected a different approach. By carrying out the whole development themselves it can include innovations it deems necessary but also carry the risk for any such developments. When the engine is running stable enough, suppliers can be selected who manufacture the engine according to the specs and designs of AFRL. This allows a selective co-innovation between manufacturer and “customer” with a sensible re-shifting of the risk between the parties.
Where else is it adopted?
This model is now becoming more and more attractive in other transport industries. We see it for instance in intermodal passenger travel with projects across Europe led by Deutsche Bahn, Wiener Stadtwerke or Rhätische Bahn. But even fundamental transformations such as the Smart Rail 4.0 or the EULYNX initiatives are governed by the “customer” of such infrastructure products. Overall, it is a revisiting of the earlier development concepts in these industries where there was a co-creation between “customer” the operator, and the manufacturer.