To help the aerospace industry speed up both innovation and the necessary testing, major companies in the Basque region of northern Spain, with local government assistance, developed the Aeronautics Technologies Center (known by its Spanish initials, CTA) in 1998. The center focuses both on developing new technologies and on testing products and designs.
One of the products CTA has developed is a method of using infrared sensors to discover cracks and other defects in both metal and composite parts. Aernnova, one of the companies behind the founding of CTA, is already successfully using this new technology.
Another advance in testing is one of the most significant services CTA provides. There are already four facilities that deal with fire, structures, fluid dynamics, and acoustics. A facility now under construction will employ highly accelerated life testing, a cutting-edge technology that can save companies about 20 percent of the time used in typical product testing— time savings that can, over the development of a product, lead to significant cost savings. These new tests involve exceeding a system's vibration, temperature, and load limits at the same time. The effects mimic the stresses of long-term product life span and can highlight weaknesses, allowing manufacturers to correct those weaknesses before the products are on the market. CTA is the only lab in Europe performing these tests on electromechanical components, and one of only a handful of labs in the world with these facilities.
CTA is one example of the focus on research and development in the Basque area, in northern Spain. In large part this movement toward R& D came about as the region shifted away from a primarily manufacturing base.
"The industrial crisis of the '70s and '80s exploded in the north of Spain," says Juan P. Vela, general manager of CTA. "It affected the steel and shipbuilding industries, as they faced rising costs and increasing competition from the Far East." With the assistance of the local government, the companies of the Basque region defined the aeronautics industry as one of the area's new industrial goals after analyzing the viability of a number of alternatives. In only 15 years, the region's investment, employment, and production in the aerospace industry skyrocketed.
"In 1990, we had virtually zero sales in the aerospace industry," says José Juez, director of HEGAN, the Basque aerospace industry association. "Today we have 6,000 individuals employed in that sector. We have almost 20 percent investment in R& D over sales, which is particularly high. All this growth came about because the companies in the region, such as Aernnova, ITP, SENER, and more than 40 smaller companies, know the sector and understand the importance of investment in research to generate our own technology and the importance of collaborating with other companies and institutions."
In the southern region of Andalusia, where Airbus and EADS-CASA have major production centers, local government and companies have created the Center for Aerospace and Advanced Technology (CATEC in Spanish), which is scheduled to open this year. The center will focus on three major areas of research: structures and materials; propulsion, with research both on engines and on fuel; and equipment, avionics, and other onboard systems. The center will also work with EADS-CASA on research into unmanned aerial vehicles.