On a number of fronts, engineers at GKN Aerospace are pushing forward the boundaries of current technology - achieving results now and opening new avenues for tomorrow in the drive to develop ever quieter, more fuel-efficient and lower maintenance aircraft.
The Company 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's embedded electro-thermal ice protection technology is reducing weight, enhancing performance and improving safety. This equipment will fly within the flying surfaces on the wings of the Boeing 787 during trials later this year. These anti-ice systems are a key future market for GKN Aerospace and the Company continues to advance the technology in a number of directions, largely through involvement on the 'Integrated Wing' (IW) and 'Next Generation Composite Wing' (NGCW) research programmes. Miniaturisation of the control system is a major goal, offering the pilot individual, finely tuned ice protection directly to each slat. This increase in system control will bring fuel savings, improved performance and greater aircraft safety. 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."
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 40,000 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.