Farnborough Air Show

GKN: Composites Aren’t Always the Answer

 - July 9, 2012, 2:10 AM

Rolls-Royce turned to GKN for help in alleviating service-life limitations caused by harsh heat and environmental conditions inside some of its engines. GKN’s engineers considered the problem very carefully and, somewhat unusually these days, concluded that the answer didn’t lie with advanced composite materials.

What GKN proposed was a new titanium honeycomb design for engine core fairings that deliver a service life of around five to six years. “It gives a long life cycle and can handle 25 percent higher temperatures, so it doesn’t need the surface treatments that composites do,” explained Mike McCann, senior v-p business development and strategy. “It also is weight neutral and has overall system benefits for the OEM.”

GKN also has established a strong specialization in aero engines, for example, supplying titanium honeycomb inner core fairings to Rolls-Royce (see box, above, below). According to Bryson, it won this contract by offering niche technology, “which was unique because it replaced a piece of composite.” The company is now exploring other applications for the same materials and design combination.

“If you’re not careful, you get tunnel vision that composites can solve anything,” commented GKN CEO Marcus Bryson. “This [new design] shows that this is not always the case. As a business, we have deliberately–perhaps belatedly–focused on metallics, as well. We need to ensure that we have the right technologies in both areas.”