ALM could ‘revolutionise’ industrial mass production

EADS and GKN have launched a research project to develop additive layer manufacturing (ALM) for mass-producing aircraft parts.

The collaboration, which is supported by a £2m government grant, is an attempt to industrialise ALM technology, taking it from a method of creating prototype and one-off components to a final product manufacturing process.

The project will be based in a new shared facility based near the firms’ existing bases in Filton, Bristol, where the scheme was announced yesterday.

It is expected to create up to 30 new engineering jobs and also to help develop a new supply chain for ALM in the southwest and beyond.

Ian Risk, head of EADS Innovation Works UK, said: ‘This collaboration takes a significant step towards bringing this unique technology into industrial reality.

‘As a more efficient, sustainable process, ALM has the potential to revolutionise industrial manufacturing and secure the UK’s position at the forefront of high-tech innovation’

ALM is a way of manufacturing products by building up layers of material rather than cutting away unwanted pieces. A laser or electron beam is used to melt layers of powdered polymer or metal to create a solid structure based on a computer model.

Parts can be designed according to their exact purpose instead of being constrained by the limits of manufacturing techniques, and can therefore be lighter, smaller and with less material wasted.

EADS, which owns Airbus and space company Astrium, has been developing ALM techniques for the last decade, most notably to produce prototype components.

It estimates that scaling up ALM processes to create certified parts could reduce manufacturing waste by up to 90 per cent.

‘We must work closely with the supply chain to embed this technology into the manufacturing process,’ said Risk at a press conference yesterday to launch the collaboration with GKN.

Mark Himpson, head of manufacturing engineering at GKN, said: ‘We will be focusing on the entire ALM value stream, from materials, to design and manufacturing, through to part testing and qualification.’

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is supporting the project with £1.96m of funding through the Regional Growth Fund.

‘We want to make sure the UK retains its position as one of the aerospace leaders in Europe,’ said business and enterprise minister Mark Prisk at the press conference.

‘This has so many different applications. It can change the things we make in this country and how we make them.’

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