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Early development programme results promise 60% cost reduction
GKN Aerospace is harnessing leading-edge laser technology to automate the repair of composite structures. The repaired structure has the strength of the current manual repair but is achieved with greater consistency and up to 60% lower cost. With programme partners SCLR Lasertechnik GmbH (SLCR), GKN Aerospace has installed the first prototype robotic machine using laser technology to remove damaged composite structure on aircraft. The new robotic cell, housed at GKN Aerospace’s composites research centre in the UK, replaces the time consuming, manual grinding away of damaged structure with a precise, contact and vibration-free laser removal process. John Cornforth, Head of Technology at GKN Aerospace, comments: “With the first installation of this prototype equipment we are now commencing work on extending the ability of this new process to handle various shapes and sizes of structure. We believe this process has enormous potential; composite materials increasingly dominate the airframe meaning their reliable, effective repair is critical for operators and the industry alike. This technology will allow the efficient, cost effective and high quality preparation of almost any composite assembly for repair.” Olav G. Schulz, Managing Director of SLCR, adds: “The newly designed system is the outcome of more than two years intensive collaboration and we are proud of the results achieved already. It is strong motivation for us to continue this programme with GKN Aerospace and we invite potential users to participate.” The new process uses lasers to remove damaged material, leaving the remaining fibres and resin intact. The technique applies no force or vibration onto the structure and so has no detrimental impact on its overall strength or integrity. The affected area is left clean and ready for repair using a replacement patch which is cured in place using a localised heating mat.