GKN Aerospace Engineers Drive Composites Technologies Forward

22 June 2009

GKN Aerospace is in the final stage of developing one piece acoustic engine and inlet liners which have already demonstrated 4db noise level reductions and promise to be 40percent lighter than current liners.

This honeycomb technology is ready to go into production in its current form with further development already underway, as Phil Grainger, Senior Technical Director and Chief Technologist at GKN Aerospace, explains:

""Installed today, this is a development that offers the operator real performance improvements and significant noise reduction. And it is a technology we are still evolving, moving towards a future product with fully versatile honeycomb layers that are constructed on a cell by cell basis to give the optimum solution for each application and to maximise noise reduction.""

In the aero-engine, the aircraft wing and rotor-blade, the Company continues to advance embedded electro-thermal ice protection technology in a number of directions, largely through involvement on the 'Integrated Wing' (IW) and 'Next Generation Composite Wing' (NGCW) research programmes. The Company is also investigating using thinner coatings in the construction of the heater mats to further reduce the weight of this already extremely lightweight system.

In its aerostructures business, GKN Aerospace is investing in new robotic technology, in particular at its new Filton, UK, operation. Later this year the Company's newly equipped satellite site to GKN Aerospace-Filton will commence work on the manufacture and assembly of the rear wing spar and trailing edge for the A350XWB. This new manufacturing and assembly operation will house manufacturing 'cells' in which the production item will remain static whilst multi-taskable robotic heads move over the structure, completing all the required tasks.

Grainger continues: ""Using robotic technology offers us speed, consistency and, crucially, flexibility. With this choice we are avoid investing heavily in costly plant that is dedicated to the manufacture of single item. Instead our capital equipment has 'cartridge like' functioning heads that can be re-formatted for new tasks as we require. The quality of consistent, high rate production this technology offers, with this level of adaptability, would just not have been achievable in the recent past.""

Looking further ahead, GKN Aerospace aims to find an alternative to the traditional autoclave curing process for composites which can represent an expensive and inefficient 'bottleneck' in the production process. The Company has already evolved an effective Out of Autoclave (OOA) process which avoids the component size limitations inherent in using an autoclave.

However, the time commitments required by both autoclave and OOA processes remain similar at approximately 8 hours of curing at sustained high temperature. GKN Aerospace engineers are now testing microwave curing processes which could bring average curing times down by 80%, to only 90 minutes. In addition microwave curing could offer the ability to selectively cure parts of the structure leaving other parts unaffected, which would open up a completely new range of possibilities in airframe manufacture.

Grainger concludes: ""These are just a few examples of the many initiatives underway at GKN Aerospace that are producing tangible benefits today and offering the promise of even more tomorrow - gaining even better airframe performance as we move to meet the challenging emissions reduction targets for the aviation sector in the future.""

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