Rolls Royce ​SME Innovation Challenge 2023

Rolls-Royce are looking for applications from Academia, startups and SMEs to support the Tempest programme.

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In mid-2021, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) awarded a contract worth approximately £250m to progress the design and development of Tempest – a technology precursor to the UK’s Global Combat Air Programme. The Tempest programme is being delivered by a combined team, bringing together the expertise of the UK MOD, BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK, and Rolls-Royce. Working with international partners, the team is leading progress towards a joint collaborative Combat Air Programme, which will ensure the Royal Air Force and its allies retain world-leading, independent military capability.

The programme will pioneer cutting-edge technologies, including those assisted by Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and autonomous systems to meet the capability requirements of future conflicts and will be operational in the mid-2030s.

Tempest design and production demands a radically different approach and the programme partners are working with companies in their supply chain to drive digital transformation and embed a digital enterprise through the ecosystem; embracing an agile approach that will deliver a combination of advanced technologies, efficiency, increased production speed, and lower costs.

Rolls-Royce and the wider consortium of partners already work with a range of startups and SMEs to co-create, procure, and scale the capabilities they bring.  There is a desire to scale this engagement with the SME ecosystem to match the ambitions and growth of the Tempest programme.

The intent is to create a “walled-garden” SME ecosystem, where collaborative innovation can be delivered in a safe, secure, and private environment with a strong emphasis on mutually beneficial partnerships.

The four current areas of focus (the lists given below are not exhaustive):

1. Supply Chain Management – Technology applications such as IOT, Blockchain, AI/ML, data analytics to optimise planning, sourcing, manufacturing, and logistics. Greater visibility of where assets are to optimise the number of assets in the system

  • General sensor and IoT technology – factory energy usage and machine health monitoring
  • Concession tracking through the supply chain – managing information flow throughout a product’s manufacturing stages
  • Right first-time inventory management – digital management of inventory. Transition from legacy “traditional inventory” to a digital inventory
  • Connected community – multiple stakeholders of suppliers, partners, and customers can safely and securely communicate and share data directly
  • Human machine teaming – connecting humans, machines, and analytics to create a closed loop of learning, which supports on-the-spot human-machine decision-making and solving challenges such as commodity volatility, demand forecasting, and supplier-specific issues
  • Holistic decision-making – more transparent supply chain processes, resulting in improved visibility, performance optimisation, goal setting, and fact-based decision-making

2. Processes – Streamlining back-office functions like Purchasing and Commercial to remove barriers and drop in solutions to connect up systems

  • Always-on agility and transparency – integrating traditional data sets with data from sensors and location technologies, providing visibility into all aspects of the network. Track material flows, synchronise schedules, balance supply with demand, drive efficiencies, and rapidly respond to changing conditions or disruptions
  • Robotic process automation (RPA) – utilising RPA and RPA applications to increase efficiencies and lower operating costs. Utilising cognitive computing capabilities to augment human intelligence and exploit data to automate insights and reporting in real time
  • More detailed and accessible insight – predictive algorithms and visualisation technologies to enable more seamless oversight, planning, and decision-making by planners and analysts
  • Optimisation of procurement – using advanced-analytics techniques to extract new value from historical purchase data through applied AI & ML

3. Net Zero – Technology to continually drive in Net Zero tech such as packaging, processes etc.

  • Microfactories – utilisation of agile and “lightweight” manufacturing spaces established in localised areas to meet regional demands. Unlike “traditional” manufacturing sites these are driven by a combination of AI, automation, and robotics.
  • Additive Layer Manufacturing – commercially viable and scalable 3D printing for both prototyping and production-deployable components
  • Sustainable Circular Business – reducing demand, or better management of, virgin materials, safeguarding supply, and further reducing CO2 impacts
  • Smart plants & buildings – technologies that enable and support the reduction of CO2 footprint for existing and new buildings but also supports the real-time monitoring, reporting, and decision making to reduce the carbon impact in energy supply, utilisation, and the wider supplier, partner and staff ecosystem that exists around the plant or building
  • Net Zero Workforce – Bringing further efficiencies to workforce activities through the application of automation and AI/ML.  Using technology to further enhance the workforce (digital) skills and capabilities.  Further unlocking sustainable remote or hybrid working

4. Collaboration – Technology to bring stakeholders together and resolve issues before they are baked into the solution

  • Data collaboration – a centralised secure repository where data inflows combine and allow authorised users (internal and external) to draw on information, knowledge, and insights. Data governance, data residency, and territory-specific regulations to be accounted for
  • Supplier Relationship Management – centralise and consolidate performance data and mutually manage relationships with suppliers towards shared objectives, cementing alignment around strategic (net zero) goals
  • Supplier Collaboration Platform – a platform capability to bring different lines of business together, alongside suppliers, to collaborate on projects, organise tasks, and responsibilities, schedule events, assess sentiment, raise issues, discuss progress, and integrate with any SRM
  • Digital Thread – digital lifecycle from design, engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, service, and customer support. The digital thread will enable collaboration and communication bi-directionally at any stage of the product lifecycle and ensure the most current data is being utilised for change management or business insights.

The Technology Themes that intersect with the business focus areas above are:

  • Industrial Automation
  • Digital Twins
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Industrial IoT
  • Additive (3D Printing) Manufacturing
  • Immersive Technologies
  • Big Data
  • Sustainable Manufacturing
  • Augmented and Mixed Reality

The opportunity

Rolls-Royce are looking for applications from Academia, startups and SMEs that could be applied to any of the themes stated above.  The intent here is to collaborate and co-create to mature capabilities (“Discovery Phase”), test or trial capabilities (“Pilot Phase”) and, potentially, exploit and scale them in support of the Tempest and GCAP programme.

Selected applications will have the following opportunities:​

  • Attendance and presentation at an Innovation Showcase event in March 2023 to be held in Bristol and hosted by Rolls-Royce and supported by the wider Tempest consortium partners, Defence industry collaborators and UK Government representatives
  • Enrolment to the newly launched Rolls-Royce Open Innovation Forum – SDI Platform
  • Onboarding to a secure, safe and private collaboration platform where you can engage and progress with the Rolls-Royce team, other SMEs, and relevant Rolls-Royce supply chain and strategic partners.  The platform is where any net new “challenge requests” from Rolls-Royce and the Tempest partners will be shared.  This will also be where any 1:1 engagement between Rolls-Royce engineering, business units, and operational functions can be held to progress programmes of work
  • Access to a secure data collaboration platform (being developed in partnership with IBM and RedHat) where Official Sensitive datasets can be securely and safely held and made available to any relevant Academic or SME team to run their applications on and demonstrate their capabilities with real and meaningful datasets
  • Any Proof-of-Concept deployment will be a paid PoC and will be deployed for testing and productionisation within the Rolls-Royce IT estate. As such any digital capabilities will need to be deployable on-premise as well as exist as a native or hybrid cloud solution
  • A “white glove” onboarding programme to Rolls-Royce so any team is Procurement-ready and can be accelerated to commercial engagement when the opportunity arises
  • Assistance with any aspects of IBM cloud, AI/ML, security, or data access that you choose to use, as well as support from RedHat OpenSource software engineering
  • The opportunity to have a “concierge” experience in becoming a new partner with IBM – giving access to a range of go-to-market programs, free Cloud computing, and technical support


  • All applicants must be compliant with Rolls-Royce’s Global Supplier Code of Conduct (and pass the relevant Anti-Bribery and Corruption (ABC) checks)
  • The technology solution must be at least an early-stage prototype and meet Technology Readiness Level 4 requirements
  • Applicants’ solutions must not include export-controlled technology. It is the individual company’s responsibility to understand the export control regulations around their solutions and those will be governed by both the country of origin and the country they’re exporting to
  • All applicants must be a registered legal entity
  • To enable future flexibility, any on-premise applications should be Cloud capable. These, and indeed all Cloud applications, should support deployment onto multiple Clouds, with the preferred mechanism for this being the ability to run on OpenShift.

Application deadline: 5th May 2023
Down selection completion: 10th May 2023
Innovation Showcase event: 25th May 2023


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