GKN Aerospace gains further recognition for A350 XWB wing spar

Inspection of the composite wing spar section at GKN Aerospace’s state of the art facility near Bristol, UK.
Inspection of the composite wing spar section at GKN Aerospace’s state of the art facility near Bristol, UK.

The UK Composites Industry award for ‘Innovation in Composites Design’ is one of eight awards made by Composite UK, the trade body for the UK composites industry. This award is sponsored by the National Composites Centre (NCC) and recognises the significant manufacturing and materials progress achieved in developing this all-composite structure.

This second award also recognises the success of the intensive development and production programme for the A350 XWB wing spar, with GKN Aerospace engineers working closely with the Airbus engineering team and materials supplier Hexcel throughout. As a result the spar has met demanding weight, strength and flexibility targets.

GKN Aerospace adds that the 27m long A350 XWB rear wing spar is manufactured in three sections and forms the structural heart of the aircraft wing’s fixed trailing edge (FTE), holding vital parts such as the main landing gear. The spar has complex integral contours that enable it to carry precise customer-specified aircraft loads at critical points and yet remain flexible and lightweight.

The manufacture of this structure has been possible as a result of a wide range of manufacturing innovations. Chief among these are two key developments, says GKN. Firstly, the use of automated fibre placement (AFP) machines which use a 5 axis head to lay down carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) material at more than eight times the maximum hand lay-up speed - and with a consistency and accuracy that is impossible to achieve manually; Secondly, the development of a new composite material, by materials supplier Hexcel with properties that allow the spar to carry the necessary loads.

Chris Gear, VP Chief Engineering, GKN Aerospace explains: “Creating the advanced manufacturing processes and materials to manufacture this innovative structure has strengthened the UK’s industrial lead in complex composite structure manufacture. Our partnership with Hexcel on this activity has been particularly rewarding and we believe the new material has immense potential.”

To produce this complex spar structure - and assemble the WTE which is also the company’s responsibility, the company has created a totally new, advanced, automated manufacturing and assembly facility near Bristol, UK, where it has introduced innovations across product design, manufacture and assembly, including, tooling and forming, finishing, assembly and testing. Using this new facility, the company can produce lightweight CFRP components with complex, bespoke geometries, and integrate complete assemblies swiftly, cost effectively and consistently.