GKN Aerospace-automated manufacture of a STeM winglet box structure

Automation project to make better aircraft parts more quickly

GKN Aerospace is leading a collaborative project to develop new automation techniques for the manufacture of aircraft parts, with the aim of producing consistently high-quality structures with a 30 per cent reduction in assembly time.

An advanced winglet has been chosen as the demonstrator component for the project, using a range of innovative assembly technologies. GKN has developed the complete assembly tooling and robotic strategy for this winglet in collaboration with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at Sheffield University and Nikon Metrology.

Designed to be generic and therefore applicable to other future aircraft wing and fuselage structures, the process uses many emerging automated and robotic techniques that, as well as speeding assembly, will provide an extremely consistent end product.

Bombardier, Spirit and GE Aviation are all partners in the project, which is one element of the UK Aerodynamics Centre’s Structures Technology Maturity (STeM) programme for fixed-wing aircraft.

Richard Oldfield, GKN Aerospace technical director, commented: “As an industry we must step up production rates to meet future demand whilst ensuring the structures we design and build meet ever more demanding aircraft performance requirements. This STeM project is enabling GKN Aerospace and our partners to evolve and assess a number of promising assembly technologies and processes that could give us the performance, tolerances, affordability and integrity we will need in the coming decades.”

Novel processes being evaluated include lightweight fixturing, reconfigurable tooling, automated part positioning, assisted deposition of sealant, metrology assisted robotics, lightweight drilling heads, lightweight fastening heads for single-sided fasteners, automated scanning for accurate countersink drilling and automated fastener inspection.
GKN Aerospace provides £1.8m in funding for the advanced winglet project, matched by Technology Strategy Board support.

The STeM programme of work is intended to support new concepts in wing design that push the boundaries of aerodynamic performance and will helping UK aerospace manufacturers maintain a competitive edge.

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