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.