Asssyt Bullmer joins the ASCEND project lead by GKN for high rate capable composites manufacturing

Solvay hosted the unveiling of their automated Double Diaphragm Forming (DDF) demonstrator composite production line in Heanor Derbyshire. This is of major interest to the whole composites industry as shown by the fact that over 150 visitors came from the USA, Asia and Europe.

GKN Aerospace is leading a new UK industry consortium called ASCEND (Aerospace and Automotive Supply Chain Enabled Development) to develop and accelerate composite material and process technologies for the next generation of energy efficient aircraft and future mobility.

The £40m consortium, funded by a £20.0M commitment from industry and a £19.6M commitment from the UK Government via ATI, will focus on greater adoption of composite technologies today, the industrialization of new technologies, as well as accelerating aerospace production rates to meet future high-volume requirements. The collaboration will help develop technologies from across the UK supply-chain to develop the advanced materials and automation equipment required to manufacture lightweight structures for the sustainable air mobility, aerospace and automotive industry.

Assyst Bullmer, Airborne, Cobham Mission Systems Wimborne, Cygnet Texkimp, Des Composites, FAR-UK Ltd, Hexcel Composites, Hive Composites, LMAT, Loop Technology, McLaren Automotive, the National Composites Centre, Rafinex, Sigmatex (UK) and Solvay Composite Materials will join GKN Aerospace in the consortium with collaboration and investment support from Axillium Research. Through a 3-year commitment, the partnership, backed by the UK government, will bring together expertise, capabilities and resources from across the wider UK aerospace and automotive supply chain.  In doing so, ASCEND will strengthen the UK’s position as a technology leader in future lightweight structures and help to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions in the aerospace and automotive industry.

The consortium will be led from GKN Aerospace’s £32M Global Technology Centre in Bristol and will support up to 130 jobs through 2023/24. GKN Aerospace will use its long-term experience and in-depth knowledge of composite engineering for integrated airframe structures throughout the project.

John Pritchard, President Civil Airframe GKN Aerospace said: “GKN Aerospace has deep knowledge and expertise in composite technology and we are proud to lead this consortium. Accelerating the next-generation of lightweight, cost effective advanced composite technologies is critical for the aerospace and automotive industry and its move to more energy-efficient aircraft and vehicles.  Ensuring we can not only develop these technologies, but also manufacture them at high-rate across the UK supply chain, will maintain our position as an industry leader and underpin our commitment to sustainability. Combined with the Aerospace Technology Institute, which is providing vital support for the UK’s position on the next generation of aircraft, we will be able to deliver breakthroughs in technology as well as benchmark levels of price, quality and repeatability.

ASCEND partner information:

Axillium is an independent research and innovation agency working with businesses, public bodies and universities to identify, architect, convene and deliver multipartner R&D projects, programmes and ecosystems, based around Axillium’s proprietary e-Volution framework.?Working as Partners with our Clients, we share risk & earn value by transferring knowledge & expertise to shape, fund & efficiently operate long-term innovation outcomes.

Will Searle, Executive Chairman, Axillium Group, said “ASCEND marks a decade of collaboration with GKN Aerospace and the launch of our next new Bristol based offices at the GKN Global technology Centre.

Helen Corney, Managing Director, Axillium, said “We are excited to be a delivery Partner in developing the ASCEND programme and look forward to supporting all of the organisations in the delivery of the innovation ecosystem over the next 3 years.”

Airborne is a leading provider of Automation and Digitalisation solutions for composites. ASCEND provides Airborne a platform to build upon existing technology to accelerate the application of automation and digitalisation for high rate, cost effective manufacturing of next generation dry-fibre based composite structures, and to highlight the business case to collaborators at all levels of the value chain.”

Joe Summers, Managing Director Airborne UK said: “Airborne are delighted to be part of the ASCEND project which aligns perfectly with our scale-up plans in aerospace, automotive and future air mobility, and will enable significant investment in the UK organisation to develop next generation automation and digitalisation technology for dry and impregnated composite material handling”

Assyst Bullmer
Assyst Bullmer have a fantastic opportunity to expand our cutting technology capabilities by linking and integrating Bullmer cutting machines through collaboration with ASCEND partners Robotics and Automation solutions, which will position our company in a unique place to offer integrated products to composites companies in UK and around the world.

Cobham Mission Systems Wimborne Limited
ASCEND greatly benefits Cobham Mission Systems, by enabling continued investment in the design and manufacture of composite solutions, to become a greater proportion of our upcoming next generation of products.

Cygnet Texkimp
ASCEND gives us the opportunity to collaborate with key partners in the UK composites network and to focus our filament winding capability on the development of hydrogen tanks and fuel pipes for aerospace – a highly innovative technology that we will be able to showcase to the world.

DES Composites ltd
DES Composites is a company dedicated to high performance high quality composite design of products and tooling using physical testing and virtual optimisations.

It is very reassuring that with the help of Innovate UK we have the confidence to invest in research. With ASCEND we intend to push forward our capabilities in the product and process development of composite parts.  An effective simulation of the process will allow our customers to cut on expensive and time consuming trials by solving all major issues before any tooling is in place. The already fast and waste efficient industrial automation we target with our simulations will become even more flexible and competitive. This engineering work will be based on the evidence gathered in the ASCEND framework, we are therefore looking forward to working with the other ASCEND partners.

Urban air mobility is key to the future of transport, but there is a need for improved high strength low weight structures produced in large volumes. Because of this, Far-UK has joined the consortium to help transfer its experience from mass-produced composites in automotive to aerospace. Far UK will gain further experience multi-material structures, joining and analysis for this growing industry.

Hexcel Composites Limited
Hexcel has a long and successful history of innovation in advanced composites manufacturing, delivering next-generation materials for our customers. The ASCEND project, backed by the UK Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) offers the perfect platform to foster this ethos, while further developing our HexPly®, HiMax and HiTape® technologies, to deliver faster cure & processing times to enable higher production rates.

Hive Composites Limited
As a SME organisation the ASCEND programme will offer the company the opportunity to engage with the supply and end user chain. ASCEND will facilitate our capabilities to develop unique thermally/ electrically conductive polymer composite materials enabling new and more efficient manufacturing processes, multifunctionality in parts, saving mass and emissions. The project will also enable the company to expand the number of technical staff in the company. Exploitation of the results, technically and commercially, will result in significant increase in turnover and profitability of the organisation over next 3 to 5 years. 

LMAT Limited
LMAT is a UK registered company, established with the objective of improving composite product performance by eradicating manufacturing distortions and defects, as well as lowering risk associated with complex processing. Over the years, we developed sophisticated numerical and experimental methods, which allow us to design complex manufacturing processes.

The novel tooling system which will be developed and demonstrated within the scope of the ASCEND project combined with LMATs AI control system will significantly improve manufacturing cycle times and overall composite product quality in particular for parts with complex geometries.

Findings of this project are of very high importance to LMAT. The new technology will significantly strengthen LMAT’s ability to control and optimise composite manufacture in real time.

Loop Technology Limited
Being part of this exciting project provides Loop Technology with the opportunity to collaborate with some of the best companies in the industry. Additionally the funding received facilitates the next development phase for our ultra-high rate composite ply deposition technologies enabling us to increase performance and capability across  our range of cutting edge 3D composite ply handling and lay-up products including FibreFORM, FibreROLL and FibreCUT.”

McLaren Automotive
McLaren Automotive is a creator of luxury, high-performance supercars.

Every vehicle is hand-assembled at the McLaren Production Centre (MPC) in Woking, Surrey, England.

Launched in 2010, the company is now the largest part of the McLaren Group.

The company’s product portfolio of GT, supercar, Motorsport and Ultimate models are retailed through over 85 retailers in 40 markets around the world.

McLaren is a pioneer that continuously pushes the boundaries. In 1981, it introduced lightweight and strong carbon fibre chassis into Formula 1 with the McLaren MP4/1.

Then in 1993  it designed and built the McLaren F1 road car – the company has not built a car without a carbon fibre chassis since. As part of the Ultimate Series, McLaren was the first to deliver a hybrid hypercar, the McLaren P1™. In 2016, it announced a new hybrid hyper-GT would be engineering, confirming this next Ultimate Series car as the Speedtail in 2018.

2019 saw McLaren launch the 600LT Spider, the new GT and the track-only McLaren Senna GTR. It also unveiled the 620R and McLaren Elva before launching the 765LT the following year.

Most recently, the company unveiled its all-new high-performance hybrid supercar, the McLaren Artura.

The Artura is the first McLaren to benefit from the McLaren Carbon Lightweight Architecture (MCLA). The MCLA is designed, developed and manufactured at the McLaren Composites Technology Centre in the Sheffield region of England using world-first processes and will spearhead the brand’s electrified future.

McLaren Automotive also chooses to partner with like-minded, world-leading companies and organisations who push the boundaries in their respective fields. These include AkzoNobel, Ashurst, Dell Technologies, Gulf, Pirelli, Richard Mille and Tumi.

Ruth Nic Aoidh, Executive Director of Purchasing, Commercial, Government Affairs & Legal at McLaren Automotive, said: “McLaren has an unwavering commitment to super-lightweight engineering that, combined with our clear path towards electrification, helps us to deliver outstanding levels of performance and vehicle efficiency.

“As part of the ASCEND consortium, McLaren Automotive is excited to work with key industry partners to build on its pioneering work in composites and lightweighting and explore how we can push our expertise even further to help deliver mobility solutions and benefits for sectors such as aerospace.”  

National Composites Centre (NCC)
The National Composites Centre is a world-class research centre, where companies of any size and across industry sectors can access cutting-edge technology and specialist engineers. It focuses on accelerating the adoption of high-value, sustainable engineering solutions in composites, in order to stimulate growth, and enhance capability for the benefit of the UK. The NCC – one of seven centres of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult – has over 350 composite specialists based at its Bristol facility and offers open access to cutting-edge digital manufacturing technology for the design, and development of new composite products pulling through technology from the lab to large-scale production.

Kevin Mee, Head of Aerospace, Defence and Space at the National Composites Centre, said: “We are delighted to be a partner in the ASCEND programme and look forward to working with the consortium to develop cutting edge composite technologies that will benefit the UK supply chain. The NCC is leading work in ASCEND that will address some of the key challenges in both high rate manufacturing and sustainability, which are crucial in driving the UK’s aerospace and automotive industries to a net zero future.”

Rafinex Limited
Rafinex is pleased to be a core partner of ASCEND consortium as it will expedite our development of next-generation optimization algorithms for designing robust hybrid composite structures required for safety critical applications in future urban ground and air e-mobility solutions.

Sigmatex (UK) Limited
ASCEND forms a key opportunity for Sigmatex to develop technologies to advance the composite technology and work together with other key companies within the composite industry.

Solvay Composite Materials
Solvay Composite Materials is a global supplier of advanced composite materials that enable the design and industrialisation of lightweight structures in the aerospace, automotive and other demanding industries. As part of the Ascend project, Solvay will provide prepreg and resin infusion materials to demonstrate highly automated, rate capable and cost efficient solutions for complex structural parts. Novel thermoplastics and advanced bonding solutions will also be supplied for hybrid integrated structures. Solvay will also support the industrialisation focus by supplying materials with accompanying digital passports to facilitate intelligent manufacturing solutions, waste reduction and OOE optimization

Solvay has partnered the development with Assyst Bullmer and Gudel. Assyst Bullmer has supplied the roll feed, ply cutter and robotic integration.

The fact is, making parts from composite materials is currently “an essentially manual process, which is fine for low volumes,” explains Richard Hollis, Applications Engineering Operations Lead at Solvay’s Composite Materials. “But we want to support the large-scale adoption of composite materials to help automotive and aerospace OEMs face higher build rates and cost pressure.”

In effect, Solvay is actively anticipating market demand for increased manufacturing volumes of composite parts. In fact, with DDF, the production time of just three minutes, from raw material to finished and ready-to-use part, amounts to over 100,000 parts per year, thanks to continuous production as the robots can work simultaneously.

These are the sorts of figures that can open the way for the industrialisation of composite part manufacturing. “DDF is a Solvay technology that was already used commercially by BMW a few years ago,” explained Richard Hollis. “And we’ve seen a lot of interest over the last 12 months from OEMs in the automotive sector initially, but aerospace is definitely interested in applying new technologies and best practices to increase their build rates as well.”