Integrated Wing research programme gets underway at GKN Aerospace Composite Research Centre

7/17/2006 8:00 AM
Aerospace - Technology & Innovation

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The GKN Aerospace team in the Company’s Composites Research Centre has started work on a three year ‘Integrated Wing’ research programme to examine how recently developed composite manufacturing techniques, which promise dramatically reduced manufacturing times and greatly increased flexibility and consistency in the process, can successfully be applied to the closed cell box structures that make up approximately 30 % of the airframe weight.

This work forms part of the Integrated Wing, Advanced Technology Verification Programme (IW-ATVP), a UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Regional Development Agency (RDA) 50% funded programme which is aimed at delivering a step change in wing technology and manufacture by 2020. The programme as a whole is co-ordinated by Airbus UK and is separated into several major work packages.

Closed cell box sections form a major part of the aircraft structure, including assemblies such as wings, vertical and horizontal stabilisers, flaps, ailerons, elevators and rudders.

In many instances, manufacture of these assemblies does not wholly capitalise on the benefits of composite materials but follows traditional metallic manufacture and assembly methodologies.

GKN Aerospace is developing a range of processes that greatly speed and improve the composite manufacturing process and promise far greater flexibility in the size and complexity of assembly that can currently be produced in a single component. The Company is already applying some of these processes to the manufacture of the composite wing spar for the A400M military airlifter.

Frank Bamford, Vice President Business Development, of GKN Aerospace comments: “The challenge of Integrated Wing is to apply and develop these processes to closed cell structures in such a way that will produce more efficient structural components, and do so at a reduced unit cost”.

These areas of development have huge promise. Automated tape laying of carbon fibre tape results in over 75% reduction in man hours. Hot drape forming brings a dramatic speeding of the forming process and out of autoclave curing eliminates the limitations that are inherent in using an autoclave to cure the final item. It also avoids the considerable capital investment required in the autoclave purchase.

In the first 12 months of the research programme, the Company will work with these processes to produce ‘element level’ demonstration in the form of stiffened panels. Subsequently, by the fourth quarter of 2008, the team will produce a full closed box demonstrator item.