British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce are linking with the universities of Southampton, Sheffield and Cambridge in a Pounds 1.5 million research programme into engineering design processes for the 21st century.
The links, called University Technology Partnerships, are an extension of a successful university-industry scheme for engineering research developed by Rolls-Royce.
The project will identify ways in which complex engineering design processes in both companies can produce better and more cost-effective products to tight timescales. Emphasis will be on research into creativity and innovation to find ways of giving designers more freedom.
At Cambridge, engineering researchers will focus on the management of an ever-growing body of engineering knowledge to ensure that during the development of future generations of aircraft, the correct information is available in exactly the right format.
At Sheffield, researchers based at the Economic and Social Research Council's centre for organisation and innovation will study the organisation of the design team to improve its effectiveness.
At Southampton, computers will be used to look at ways of improving forecasts of aerospace engineering design problems.
Ken Wallace, chairman of Cambridge's Engineering Design Centre, said:
"Looking at the engineering design problems from both the social and technical perspectives is particularly interesting and exciting."
The UTPs are seen by British Aerospace as a potential model for university-industry links in other technology areas through its newly established "Virtual University" for its workforce.
Simon Howison, dean of the BAe university's faculty of engineering and manufacturing technology, said: "We are talking to Rolls-Royce about setting up UTPs in other areas like manufacturing processes."
He said that given the experience of Rolls-Royce's own university technology scheme, the two companies are confident of extra funds from government and the European Union.