A Busy Week for GKN Aerospace: Agreements for Metal Additive Manufacturing, Testing 3D Printed Components

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It’s been a news-heavy week for several companies, and GKN Aerospace is no exception. This week, the company announced that it has signed a five-year research agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Under the terms of the $17.8 million agreement, the two organizations will utilize ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) to work on advancing the industrialization of additive manufacturing. The research will have two main areas of focus. The first will be to develop a process called laser metal deposition with wire (LMD-w), which involves using a laser to melt metal wire into beads on a substrate to build up an object layer by layer. The goal is to create a prototype machine capable of manufacturing complex, medium- to large-scale titanium aircraft structures.

The second will be the advancement of electron beam melting (EBM), and will support work that is already in progress. The goal of this area of research is to get EBM ready for full-scale, high-volume aerospace production.

“We are extremely proud to work with the world-renowned Oak Ridge National Laboratory to speed progress towards fully industrializing these processes,” said Mike Grunza, CEO of GKN Aerospace’s Aerostructures North America business. “Additive manufacturing will continue to increase its vital role in engineering design spanning civil and defense aviation, revolutionizing the design and manufacture of structures across the entire airframe and engine. Additive processes could cut material waste by as much as 90 percent and manufacturing times by around 50 percent and will unlock new manufacturing horizons, allowing us to create complex components with no performance compromise.”

Speaking of partnerships, GKN Aerospace is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its partnership with security and defense company Saab. A lot has been accomplished in one year – several additively manufactured components have been delivered and certified, and are now flying on Saab aircraft. Now, the two companies are ready to move forward into the next stage of their partnership.

So far, they’ve mostly been focused on metal powder bed technology, delivered from GKN’s center of excellence in Filton, UK – one of seven additive manufacturing centers of excellence in the UK, the US, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands. Now, they plan to begin exploring new materials and designs.

“Saab is a long-term, valued customer for GKN and partnering with them on this ground-breaking new technology has been a major success for both companies. Historically, the challenge for AM was to move it from theory into production: fully certified and flying on major platforms. We are well past that stage now – AM is out there and flying on aircraft around the world today. I am confident that this partnership will push the boundaries of this revolutionary technology further in the years to come,” said John Pritchard, GKN Aerospace’s CEO of Aerostructures Europe and China.

Another part made via additive manufacturing will soon be in the sky courtesy of GKN Aerospace. The company has delivered the first Ariane 6 nozzle to Airbus Safran Launchers, which recently became ArianeGroup, for the Vulcain 2.1 engine. The nozzle, which measures 2.5m in diameter, was created through laser welding and additive manufacturing, reducing the number of components by 90% from roughly 1,000 to 100.

A demonstrator nozzle has already been trialed successfully in a full-scale engine nozzle test as part of the European Space Agency’s Ariane Research and Technology Accompaniment (ARTA) Program. The flight configuration nozzle will now be mounted to the Vulcain 2.1 engine for testing in Germany. The Ariane 6 is expected to enter service in 2020. It will be manufactured in a new center of excellence, scheduled to open at GKN’s Trollhättan, Sweden facility in 2018. GKN Aerospace will be providing a total of five complex sub-systems for each Ariane 6 rocket, including four turbine assemblies for the two engines.

“We are proud to be part of the Ariane 6 team,” said Sebastien Aknouche, General Manager Space, GKN Aerospace Engine Systems. “The advanced nozzle manufactured with breakthrough technologies is a true innovation. With the support of the Swedish National Space Board, we participated in the initial engine demonstrator programs. This allowed us to work with our customer to prove the great added value that innovative technologies like additive manufacturing have for the design and production processes in the space and aerospace industry.”

Finally, GKN Aerospace flew its patented Optical Ice Detector (OID), an ice protection system, on the Atmospheric Research Aircraft operated by the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) in Cranfield, UK. The OID has a small sensor head that incorporates optical fibers which emit light into any ice that forms over the component, and then collect the light reflected by the ice. The sensor head, which is housed in additive manufactured titanium, can be incorporated into any ice accreting surface on the aircraft, or in the internal areas of gas turbine engines. During its first flight, the OID successfully detected several instances of ice accretion, matching its performance in GKN’s Icing Research Tunnel.

The flight also marked the first test of GKN’s Type 8 Spraymat Ice Protection heater mats. GKN Aerospace was the first commercial customer for FAAM, which had previously only worked with research institutions and government bodies.

“This successful first flight of GKN’s OID technology was the result of positive collaboration between our additive manufacturing and ice protection teams and marks a significant milestone in maturing the capability,” said Russ Dunn, Senior Vice President of Engineering, Technology and Quality for GKN Aerospace.

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