CTAL’s Andy Portsmore, left, talks to Mark Prisk, minister of state for business and enterprise, at the opening of the facility in February.
WIGHT LIVINGWHEN you are doing something that no-one else in the world does, it is not a bad idea to have innovators with no preconceptions.
Fresh minds are more likely to come up with innovative ideas and it is new, young thinking that is needed if you are leading the field and effectively you have no-one to copy.
Behind the news of the recent official opening of the £14.8 million joint venture between GKN Aerospace and Rolls Royce is a youthful team from Rolls in Derby and those recruited on the Island.
The team is 70 strong and young people figure heavily within it — clearly enjoying the buzz of working out new ways of doing things within an East Cowes unit that leads the world in automated composite construction.
Composite structures are the great hope of the aero industry in this country and on the Island especially.
Carbon fibre, which is light and strong, does not corrode and lasts longer than metal, now makes up more than half the structure of modern commercial aircraft.
Traditionally, those panels have been laid up by hand.
But GKN, and its predecessor companies before it, has always looked to the future. They had always been leading edge and GKN is convinced its new generation of composite jet engine fan blades and cowlings are the way forward and they can largely be made by robots.
It is not particularly well-known, but the UK has the biggest aerospace industry outside the USA and the sort of high-tech robotic developments at East Cowes are just the sort of thing to stop work passing to the Far East where labour is cheap.
The laying up of composites to make fan blades and casings for a jet engine is so complex, and needs to be so precise, that a whole team of men and women would probably be unable to compete with a robot.
Hence the joint venture with Rolls, which has been titled Composite Technology and Applications Ltd (CTAL).
They aim to get in on the ground floor so when new aircraft are designed they will have the new British engines at their heart.
Joint ventures of this kind are unusual but in this case it would appear it is a compatible union because each has something to give to the relationship.
That is why government blessed the marriage by funding half the cost of the Osborne facility in which the union could be industrially consummated.
Currently, aerospace is worth in excess of £23 billion to the nation’s economy and multi-millions to that of the Island where local companies are now sub-contracted to make metal parts for GKN.
GKN now focuses on composites and there are hopes work will grow in leaps and bounds if the Island can secure full manufacture of the lightweight aero-engine technology, which is currently being developed here.
Not only that but the technology employed will significantly cut the amount of expensive fuel guzzled by jet engines and the greenhouse gases they pump in to the ozone.
"This is just the sort of advanced manufacturing in the UK the government wants," said CTAL managing director Ashley Owen.
"We hope to go into production by the end of the decade and, in the meantime, we are getting some very encouraging results.
"We can say we are a world leader in this — certainly leaders not followers — in building one of the hardest components to make in composites."
The team employed in the Environmental Lightweight Fan collaborative research enterprise pushes the total employed by GKN at East Cowes back over the 1,000 mark — approaching the position the company was in at the start of the last decade when it embarked on dramatic re-shaping.
In the CTAL facility, where the team is breaking new ground in a new building, there is the opportunity for people to mould jobs to suit themselves and for the company to ensure round pegs fit in the appropriate holes.
"With the support of the GKN board, the future of this facility is looking very rosy," said head of the composites research centre Sam Bradley.
"We are looking to work closely with the IW College so students can come to us with the skills they need, so they will know there is an end goal to their course.
"We will also know them and the skills that they have."
And they will work for an enterprise that stands a chance of revolutionising their industry.