Innovative Ideas for Aerospace showcased at GKN Aerospace, Filton

Sixty WEAF member companies attended the “Spotlight on GKN Aerospace” open day last week, and learned about how the global demands on the company are driving their procurement strategies and technologies, but still resulting in significant growth.

Mike Platt, the General Manager at the Filton Site, said that the world is changing, and that business improvements are driven not just through materials technology, but also through process changes.

The Senior Commodity Manager, Geoff Iles, emphasised that quality is no longer considered to be a discriminator in supplier selection; 100% quality is a mandatory requirement for anyone wishing to be considered as a potential member of the GKN supply chain, and selection now depends on cost effectiveness and willingness to share risk in bidding for lucrative export aircraft contracts.

Paul Perrera, the VP of Technology, Global Engineering and Mark Himpson, Head of Engineering & Technology explained that the changes in technology driving the GKN business can be summarised as “More Electric, More Autonomous and More Digital. The type of seamless interactivity which is entering our homes in the form digital connectivity and voice recognition systems which can respond to every demand, are being replicated within GKN to ensure that the design and manufacturing process is as lean, efficient and responsive as it can be. Composites, thermoplastic and ceramic materials have been rapidly adopted in parts of the aircraft structure where they offer performance advantages or lighter weight compared to metallic alternatives.

GKN has global technology centres in the U.K., Netherlands, Sweden and USA which are keeping the company ahead of their competitors. They undertake state-of-the-art research and development in additive manufacturing, machine learning, simulation, modelling and electrification, and are open to unsolicited proposals from new companies which can offer innovation or disruptive technology to help GKN to maintain the technological lead.

Mark explained that companies need to innovate or die, by focussing on efficiency, productivity, sustainability, cost down activity and rapid exploitation of good ideas. At GKN, the introduction of the composite wing spar has revolutionised the materials, processes and performance of this integral part of aircraft design. Over time, manual processes became increasingly automated, and looking forward to the 2020s, the wing of the future will be designed and made using Industry 4.0 processes and technologies. Industry 4.0 incorporates artificial intelligence, on-line non-contact real-time automated 3-D inspection, and shared, distributed data.

GKN works closely with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, the Manufacturing Technology Centre and the National Composites Centre to ensure the most advanced and effective technologies and processes are adopted.

Kevin Payne, the Additive Manufacturing Programme Manager, described how GKN now offers the widest range of additive manufactured components on seven aircraft programmes, working collaboratively with six research organisations around the world. Components and aerostructures are now being manufactured using wire-deposition and powder bed techniques, simplifying the manufacturing process. Kevin used, as an example, a component which is now made as a single part which previously comprised 17 separate sub-components, and reducing the need for complex machining and assembly.

After an exclusive and comprehensive tour of the Wing and Additive Manufacturing facilities, the delegates departed, not just enthused by the brilliance of the clever ideas that they had heard and incredible innovations they had witnessed, but also buoyed by the new opportunities arising from networking with GKN’s technology and procurement specialists and other delegates.

Written by Weaf

WEAF are the leading networking association for aerospace and defence companies in the South West of England. Our mission is to strengthen an aerospace and defence community that fosters innovation and collaboration, and provides a platform for growth.

We achieve this by offering critical support services, sharing best practice and enabling businesses of all sizes to understand supply chain needs, creating opportunities to flourish.