Farnborough Air Show

GKN advances composite and metal techniques

 - July 16, 2008, 9:30 AM

GKN Aerospace announced here at Farnborough that it is expanding its metallic and composite manufacturing techniques. Acquisitions have boosted its metallic capabilities, while the company’s Composites Research Center is nearing completion of three years’ work on the integrated wing, advanced technology verification program.

The acquisition just over a year ago of Teleflex Aerospace Manufacturing Group (TAMG) and the continued growth of GKN’s manufacturing base in Mexicali, Mexico, have helped its ability to offer aero-engine primes complete, assembled jet engine fan, turbine exhaust and compressor case modules.

The company has achieved an annual growth rate of 20 percent over the last five years, with annual sales of engine products growing to $550 million. CEO Marcus Bryson believes aero-engine primes will prefer to work with suppliers who can take responsibility for complete modules. “The strategic increase in the scale and technological expertise of our engine-related operation ensures we are positioned to take on that role,” he said.

GKN’s initial focus centers on fan modules, which typically include metal or composite fan blades, the front containment case, rear fan exit case, exit guide vanes and inner “V” groove ring.

As well as adding hot engine core and rotating-area capability to GKN’s existing cold section operation, TAMG gave GKN Aerospace a strong position in electrochemical machining (ECM) capability and technology.  “ECM is a core capability for us,” explained Mike Beck, CEO and president, propulsion systems and special products. Benefits include reductions in parts count and engine weight, along with improved structural integrity and efficiency. “We are investing extensively in this capability to grow our capacity, improve the technology and refine our processes to create more cost effective solutions for a growing market,” he said.

ECM will create precise, compound shapes from advanced alloys regardless of how hard the material.  It is one of the key manufacturing processes involved in creating components such as blisks (rotors with integral blades), combustor cases, outlet guide vanes and compressor blades and vanes. Beck expects market demand for blisks to grow by at least 400 percent over the next five or six years.

The IW-ATVP program is testing multiple new manufacturing processes for composite aircraft wing ribs, skins and spars. “Our team is developing new manufacturing methodologies designed specifically for composite assemblies, rather than adapting traditional processes developed for metallic structures as has largely been the case across the industry to date,” said Frank Bamford, vice president business development.

Automated carbon fiber tape laying is already producing a reduction of more than 75 percent in man hours compared with manual methods, while composite fasteners are being tested to compare with traditional metal items for weight, lightning strike compatibility and cost, the company said. Other innovative processes being evaluated include hot drape forming, microwave curing and self-heated tooling.