GKN has hosted a delegation from US giant Boeing at its Filton facility in Bristol as part of an attempt to grow the customer base at the aero-structures plant.
GKN bought the Filton factory from Airbus in 2009. The plant primarily makes major components such as leading and trailing edges, wing boxes and machined parts in hard metal and aluminium for the European planemaker, but GKN is keen to supply other customers. It has ambitions to win a place on Boeing's major civil aircraft programmes but has so far failed to do so.
However, representatives from Boeing toured the Filton facility last week and GKN is hopeful that orders might follow. “We think we raised a few eyebrows in terms of showing what we can do,” said Charles Paterson, vice-president of business development and strategy at GKN Aerospace.
Paterson said GKN was keen to show Boeing that, although the Filton plant has very close links with Airbus, it could safely and efficiently take on work from other customers. “We explained to them that we are a fully standalone business, with separate computer systems and firewalls that can physically and electronically separate individual customer information. Being close to Airbus doesn't preclude us from working with others,” he said.
Paterson said that discussions with Boeing executives had gone well and that he was confident that the two companies could forge closer links. He said: “We had discussions around a number of areas. We are hoping to receive further enquiries from Boeing and are confident that there will be further discussions.”
GKN has invested heavily in the Filton facility since its acquisition. It has spent large sums on new machine tools to enable it to produce a wider variety of parts and has implemented a process of continuous improvement to boost performance and to make Filton globally competitive.
There have been several successes in attracting new business. The first major new customer was the French firm Dassault Aviation, which provided Filton with a “life of programme” contract to design and build the wing movable surfaces such as flaps and ailerons for its next-generation business jet. The first production deliveries should start in 2013.
Paterson says GKN will bring significant performance, weight and cost benefits to the wing of the new airframe. Engineering teams in Filton and France are already working on the programme.
GKN has also won a $200 million contract to make metallic structures for Joint Strike Fighter military jets. Machining work on titanium metal structures is being spilt between Filton and the company’s St Louis plant in the US. Other work includes supply of the canopy transparency and titanium and composite structures for the engine.