Bristol aerospace work helps profits take off at GKN

April 18, 2012

Engineering group GKN today reported a 19% rise in first-quarter profits, with its Bristol-based aerospace interests contributing strongly.

The aerospace division, which makes wing parts for Airbus at its plants at Filton and Avonmouth, achieved a 13% rise in trading profits to £36m during the period on sales 5% higher at £370m.  

The division was helped by a significant increase in production of Airbus aircraft. It is also benefiting from a contract with French aerospace firm Dassault Aviation to design and build the wing moveable surfaces for its next generation super mid-sized (SMS) business jet platform.

The work is the first non-Airbus contract won by GKN Aerospace’s Filton operation. When the contract was signed last summer Phil Swash, GKN Aerospace’s president and CEO of aerostructures for Europe, heralded it as “a clear indication of the global competitiveness and depth of expertise of the GKN Aerospace team and, specifically, of our growing Filton-based wing structures activity”.

Filton will be responsible for the complete design, component manufacture and assembly of wing moveable surfaces for the SMS, which will enter service in 2016.

GKN has created a global centre of excellence in composite aircraft wing structures at Filton following its acquisition of Airbus’s manufacturing interests in 2008. It employs around 1,500 at the site producing wing sections for Airbus’s existing models.

It has also developed a new site at Avonmouth, known as Filton-West, for state-of-the-art automated composites manufacturing. Wing spars and trailing-edge assemblies for the Airbus’s new A350 XWB aircraft are being made at the plant.  

Analysts expect GKN’s aerospace division will benefit in the long term from Airbus rival Boeing’s new 787, parts for which it is producing in the US, and the Airbus A350.

GKN’s group trading profit of £142m was achieved on revenue up 17% at £1.74bn.

GKN Aerospace has also invested in Bristol’s National Composites Centre (NCC), where it has become the first UK-based user of a machine that can significantly speed up production of complex composite structures similar to those used for aircraft wings and car parts.

The UK’s first automatic fibre placement (AFP) machine with two robotic arms produces composites much faster than single machines or conventional hand-laying methods.

The £2.5m machine, supplied by French firm Coriolis Composites, has been installed at the NCC research facility to enable companies to develop complex prototype structures and optimise manufacturing techniques before buying their own machines.

GKN will use the machine to develop prototype wing boxes as part of the Next Generation Composite Wing programme led by Airbus and sponsored by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB).

The machine was funded by a £1.4m grant from the now-defunct South West Regional Development Agency and £1.2m from the European Regional Development Fund.


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