Bristol students tour GKN Aerospace’s state-of-the-art site at Western Approach

Published on: 24th October 2014

UK Government’s See Inside Manufacturing scheme gives young people a taste of working in high-tech aerospace manufacturing 

GKN Aerospace welcomed 16 students from Bristol Technical Engineering Academy (BTE) into its 30,000m2, state of the art manufacturing facility at Western Approach on 21st October 2014. The students, their teachers and careers advisors were given a unique, behind-the-scenes glimpse of how innovative robotic technologies are helping produce huge, flight critical carbon fibre structures for the wings of Airbus’s A350XWB and A400M aircraft.

The visit was organised as part of the Government’s ongoing ‘See Inside Manufacturing’ (SIM) campaign, an initiative that is aimed at transforming young people’s negative perceptions and prejudices about working in manufacturing.  

The students toured the company’s state of the art ‘moving line’ assembly activity where the 27m-long fixed trailing edge for the wing of the A350XWB and the 20m-long wing spar for the A400M are assembled – to tolerances no thicker than tissue paper.

During a two hour practical session following the tour, each student made their own carbon composite panel.  The company will now cure each panel – ie ‘cook’ the layers of carbon fibre and resin at very high temperature and under pressure – and on 30th October, the completed panels will be presented to each student at the Academy.

The visit also offered the students an opportunity to talk to some of GKN Aerospace’s current apprentices and young engineers, hearing how deeply involved these new recruits are with their projects and how important their contribution is to their team from a very early stage.

Steve Colebrook, General Manager of GKN Aerospace – Western Approach explained: “The UK manufacturing industrial base is facing an acute shortage of technically qualified people with the skills we need for the future.  If we are to succeed as a country we must educate the next generation about engineering as a career, breaking down some of the negative perceptions and prejudices that can discourage talented individuals from looking to manufacturing as a career.” 

Colebrook continues:  “The aerospace sector, where I have worked since 1989 is an exciting and rewarding place to work with innovation at every level. Each individual can make a real difference in the critical drive to create aircraft that are even more efficient and more ‘green’.  I hope this visit has opened the eyes of this group of students and given them a clearer understanding of the modern manufacturing environment as well as an insight into the competitive, high-tech, world of aircraft design and manufacture today.”

SIM forms a key element in GKN Aerospace’s broader relationship with the schools and colleges local to each of its UK sites.  Now in its third year in the aerospace sector, GKN Aerospace has used the SIM campaign to bring students into its sites every year. The company’s involvement has grown each year and this year, for the first time, all seven of the company’s UK sites will be holding SIM visit.

The Western Approach site employs approximately 350 of the GKN Aerospace’s worldwide total of 12,000 staff and is a global market leader in composite spars.