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GKN to open research campus in Bristol in 2020

GKN Aerospace has revealed a plan to establish a research and technology facility in Bristol which, together with external partners, will focus on development of future aerostructures.

The UK-headquartered manufacturer says it has committed £17 million ($22 million) to the Global Technology Centre, with the UK government contributing a further £15 million. The facility is scheduled to open in 2020.

Designed to accommodate around 300 engineers, the centre will concentrate on additive manufacturing, advanced composites, component assembly and digital industrial processes to enable “high-rate” production of aircraft structures, GKN says.

It adds that the site will serve as GKN’s base for Airbus’s “Wings of Tomorrow” technology programme.

GKN is a key supplier for current Airbus programmes, and in 2008 acquired from the European airframer extensive manufacturing operations in Filton, outside Bristol.

Research and technology activities at the new facility will be conducted in collaboration with mainly UK-based suppliers, universities, and participants in the country’s industrial innovation programme “Catapult”.

Among the 15 partners are the UK’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre; The Manufacturing Technology Centre; Thales; robotics specialist Kuka Industries, and the nearby universities of Bristol and Bath.

GKN chief executive Hans Buthker tells FlightGlobal that new technology development is essential for the company to be able to attract supply contracts on future aircraft programmes. “If you don’t have new technology, you won’t be on the next platform,” he says.

The new facility is central to supporting GKN’s 4,000-strong UK workforce, he adds.

The manufacturer already has technology centres at locations in the Netherlands, Sweden and the USA, but the Bristol facility will be GKN’s largest R&D site.

Noting the facility’s public funding under the UK government’s newly-revealed aerospace industry strategy, Buthker says the government has adopted a “much more aggressive” approach than in the past to support the sector.

He adds that, in his view, the UK government shows an “ambition to outperform other countries” in terms of industrial support.

“We look forward to working with the British government in the years to come,” he says.

Secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Greg Clark says the new facility will “keep the UK at the forefront of the latest technologies and manufacturing processes for the next-generation of aircraft”.

Buthker says that GKN’s new shareholder Melrose Industries – the turnaround specialist acquired the manufacturer in April – is “really supportive” of the company’s efforts to develop new technology and establish the Bristol facility.

He says that GKN’s relations with Melrose are “good” and that his priority since the acquisition has been to improve the manufacturer’s US operations – which, he adds, are making “good progress”.

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