The UK’s capability in aerospace technology was strengthened today when GKN’s new Advanced Composites Facility was opened by the Rt Hon Alun Michael MP, Minister of State for Industry and the Regions.
GKN’s new Facility on the Isle of Wight focuses on the science and technology of composite aircraft structures and their related production processes.
Composite materials are produced from carbon fibre, fibreglass, Kevlar and advanced resins. Their properties allow aerospace engineers to produce lightweight and stiff structures which make a major contribution to the performance and efficiency of modern aircraft.
The process by which composites are replacing metals in many areas of aircraft structures is exemplified by the Airbus A380 for which GKN is a supplier. The A380 is 25% composite by weight and future aircraft will have as much as 50%. Twenty years ago most aircraft contained no more than 3% composite material.
Kevin Smith, GKN Chief Executive said: “The increased use of composite materials is creating a revolution in aircraft design. Today GKN is deeply involved in all of the important new civil and military aircraft under development in Europe and North America.
“We are the leading independent supplier of composite structures in the world today and this new Facility will keep us at the leading edge. It is also another example of the determination of the UK to maintain a strong, broadly based competence in aerospace.”
The new GKN Facility - part of a UK Government initiative to develop a strong, national composite materials capability - has been part funded by the Government and the South East Economic Development Agency (SEEDA).
Alun Michael said: “GKN’s new Advanced Composite Facility is one of five planned centres which will form the National Composites Network – a £30 million project launched last year to develop a strong, thriving composite materials capability in the UK.
“It is most appropriate that a major component of this Network should be on the Isle of Wight, which has long been associated with composites and is internationally recognised as a leading centre of excellence.
“The Government is committed to working in partnership with Industry, Regional Development Agencies and Devolved Administrations to ensure that the UK composites industry remains a world leader in a very competitive market. The Network is an outstanding example of us putting words about such a partnership into practice together.”
SEEDA Executive Director for Business & International, Jeff Alexander said: “SEEDA is delighted to be supporting the GKN Advanced Composites Facility on the Isle of Wight. GKN is a valued investor on the Island and in the region. This facility will stimulate joint projects with other composite companies. I am pleased that GKN is supporting this collaborative approach as it will greatly assist UK companies to compete in the global market place."
Among the first manufacturing activities to take place in the Facility will be the production of the wing spars for the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft. This will be the world’s first example of composite materials being used for a primary structure in a large aircraft wing. The research activity within the Facility will focus not just on aircraft structures but also on the extended application of composites in aircraft engines and a major programme is already underway with Rolls Royce.