The new GKN Aerospace state of the art facility will be at the heart of the next developments in the Environmental Lightweight Fan (ELF) research programme which aims to prove advanced, high-rate production processes for a new all-composite engine fan blade that will improve aircraft engine performance and reduce emissions.
The ELF programme is being undertaken by GKN Aerospace and Rolls-Royce and is aimed at bringing new engine fan blade technologies to market readiness to meet approaching opportunities in the global aerospace sector.
Rich Oldfield, Technical Director at GKN Aerospace comments: “This new facility, based on the Isle of Wight, UK, is a key part of our commitment to creating a global centre of excellence for aero-engine components and structures within GKN Aerospace. It will ensure we, our partner and suppliers can sustain the level of development progress required to have composite engine fan blade technology ready to meet major international business opportunities - including upgrades to existing aircraft and engines as well as entirely new airframe programmes. If Rolls-Royce, GKN Aerospace and the UK aerospace sector are to maintain and grow market share as these opportunities arrive, we must all move forward swiftly.”
Oldfield continues: “Furthermore, these important process developments will be transferable to the automated manufacture of many other aero-engine components and structures and will benefit other key UK industrial sectors such as marine, health, construction and energy.”
This stage of ELF will be completed by 2012 with processes proven. At that time GKN Aerospace will focus on production and the detailed optimisation of the manufacturing process.
GKN Aerospace and Rolls-Royce are being supported in this development by the South of England Economic Development Agency (SEEDA). In a matched funding exercise, SEEDA is investing £7.4 million to support the partner companies and the technology base in the South of England.
Rob Douglas, Chairman of SEEDA comments: “SEEDA has worked with GKN, Rolls-Royce and the Isle of Wight Council over the past 12 months to bring this groundbreaking R&D centre here. The Island is a centre of excellence for composite technologies, high value manufacturing and green technologies with a highly skilled workforce. We are continuing to work on attracting new businesses and growing existing ones on the Island to boost job opportunities and promote growth.”
Composite materials offer the benefits of low weight and high strength and are corrosion free and fatigue resistant. Their use reduces aircraft fuel consumption and emissions whilst also cutting costly and time-consuming maintenance activity. Their application on the airframe has grown from around 1% of the structure 30 years ago to over 60% of the structure of the latest generation of aircraft. In order to effectively manufacture complex, often curved aero-engine structures in the quantities required, new, sophisticated and high speed manufacturing techniques such as those the ELF programme is focused on, will be critical.
GKN Aerospace is the leading independent manufacturer of composite structures for aerospace in the world today. The Company has already created a world class, high-tech composite design and manufacturing facility on the Isle of Wight. In the coming years, the aerospace composites market is forecast to grow significantly year on year and GKN Aerospace is well positioned with an unmatched skills base in the manufacture of complex composite structures and a recognised track record for successfully creating and applying innovative solutions.
The ELF programme is focused initially on technology acquisition for the automated manufacture of a composite fan blade. More broadly it aims to introduce novel automated manufacturing processes which will have application beyond aerospace. It is fully aligned with the UK government’s National Aerospace Technology Strategy (NATS) which is a partnership among UK Government, industry and academia addressing UK competitiveness in aerospace technology through to 2020. It is also supports the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE) goals, which have been accepted by UK government, to reduce environmental emissions from aviation by 2020.
Rolls-Royce, a world-leading provider of power systems and services for use on land, at sea and in the air, has established a strong position in global markets - civil aerospace, defence aerospace, marine and energy. As a result of this strategy, Rolls-Royce today has a broad customer base comprising more than 600 airlines, 4,000 corporate and utility aircraft and helicopter operators, 160 armed forces, more than 2,000 marine customers, including 70 navies, and energy customers in nearly 120 countries, with an installed base of 54,000 gas turbines. In 2009, Rolls-Royce invested £864 million on research and development, two thirds of which had the objective of further improving the environmental aspects of its products, in particular the reduction of emissions. Annual underlying revenues were £10.4 billion in 2009. The firm and announced order book stood at £58.3 billion at year-end, providing visibility of future levels of activity.
GKN plc is a global engineering business serving mainly the automotive, industrial, off-highway and aerospace markets. It has operations in more than 30 countries, nearly 35,000 employees in subsidiaries and joint ventures and sales of GBP4.4 billion in the year to 31 December 2008. GKN plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE: GKN). GKN Aerospace is the aerospace operation of GKN plc, serving a global customer base. Operating in North and South America, Australia, the Asia Pacific and Europe, GKN Aerospace offers 24 hour 'follow the sun' engineering. With sales of GBP1bn, the business is focused around three major product areas - aerostructures, propulsion systems and transparencies, plus a number of specialist product areas - electro-thermal ice protection, fuel and flotation systems, and bullet resistant glass. The business is equally split along military and civil lines with significant participation on all major aircraft programmes today. GKN Aerospace is a major supplier of complex composite structures; offers one of the most comprehensive capabilities in high performance metallics processing and is the world leading supplier of cockpit transparencies and passenger cabin windows.