GKN wins award for its A350 XWB composite wing spar

U.K.-based GKN Aerospace has won the 2013 Horners Award for Plastics Innovation and Design for the carbon fiber rear wing spar it developed for the Airbus A350 XWB.

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The British Plastics Federation (BFP) and the Worshipful Company of Horners have awarded the 2013 Horners Award for Plastics Innovation and Design to GKN Aerospace for its "highly innovative" Airbus A350 XWB carbon fibre rear wing spar.

This award recognizes the success of an intensive development and production program that has seen GKN Aerospace engineers, working closely with the Airbus team, achieve demanding goals for the A350 XWB wing spar that will help increase the aircraft's performance and reduce its weight, fuel consumption and emissions.

Each wing's 27m/88.6-ft long rear spar is manufactured in three sections and forms the structural heart of the wing fixed trailing edge (FTE). The spar attaches vital parts including the main landing gear, to the wing. Its complex integral contours are achievable only as a result of manufacturing innovations introduced by GKN Aerospace, and these contours provide the specific strength and flexibility required with minimal weight.

Once the spar is manufactured, GKN Aerospace is responsible for assembling the complete wing FTE and delivering this assembly to Airbus in Broughton, U.K., ready for integration onto the wing.

Chris Gear, VP chief engineering, GKN Aerospace explains: “We have used methods developed by Airbus and validated by GKN Aerospace to optimise the complex spar structure to meet rigorous technical requirements for weight, strength, wing architecture and the main landing gear attachment, achieving this by precisely tailoring the layup of the composite material.”

To produce this complex spar structure and assemble the FTE, the company has created a totally new, advanced, automated manufacturing and assembly facility near Bristol, U.K., where it has introduced innovations across product design manufacture and assembly, including material deposition, tooling and forming, finishing, assembly and testing. Here, among many process innovations, advanced automated fiber placement (AFP) machines use robotic heads to lay down carbon fiber-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. Using this new facility, the company can produce lightweight CFRP components with complex, bespoke geometries, and integrate complete assemblies swiftly, cost effectively and consistently.

Phil Swash, CEO and president, GKN Aerospace – Aerostructures, Europe, explains: “We would like to thank all our suppliers, partners and especially Airbus for the vital part they have played in our winning this award. Our work on the A350 XWB program is the latest step in a journey that has seen us become a major supplier of critical wing assemblies for both the A380 and for the A400M. In every case we have worked with Airbus to introduce innovative and effective manufacturing solutions that enhance airframe performance. Our new facility will allow us to meet future demand for faster, more consistent manufacture of ever more reliable and environmentally friendly aircraft.” 

The Horners Award, established in 1947, is thought to be the oldest extant award for plastics in the world. It is run jointly by the Worshipful Company of Horners (an ancient guild and livery company of the City of London) and the British Plastics Federation. It is awarded annually for entries demonstrating innovation in plastics design and manufacture or in the processing of plastics. 

Look for a more detailed report on GKN's manufacturing process for the A350 XWB wing spar in the November issue of High-Performance Composites.