The opening in late April of GKN Aerospace’s manufacturing and assembly facility for composite wing structures at Bristol in the UK represents a $270 million investment that the company believes will see it significantly boost its presence in this sector over the next 30 to 40 years. The new 333,000-sq-ft facility is primarily dedicated to making wing spars for the new Airbus A350XWB airliner, but it is also producing spares for the A400M military transport.
The new Western Approach factory is just a few miles from GKN’s Filton facility, where it makes wing structures for the A320, wing trailing edges for the A380 and flap components for the A330. It has introduced a new level of automation, both in the manufacturing of the carbon fiber wing structures at rates that are up to 10 times faster than hand-laid structures and also in the assembly phase with a new moving-line architecture. GKN produces the six rear spars for the A350 wings.
The automated facility assembles the wing fixed trailing edge parts to the rear spars before the completed 89-foot units are delivered to the Airbus wing factory at Broughton in the northwest of the UK. The moving line uses automated guided vehicles to bring the wing structures through the various stages of assembly, where complex tasks such as five-axis machining, robotic drilling and laser scanning are conducted.
The A350XWB is due to enter service in 2014 and the program currently is backed by 555 orders. When full production rates are reached (around 2016) it anticipates producing 13 shipsets per month. By then, the new plant expects to be employing 450 people–up from 300 staff today.