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 composites 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.

According to GKN Aerospace, the repaired structure has the strength of the current manual repair but is achieved with greater consistency and up to 60% lower cost.

GKN, working with SCLR Lasertechnik GmbH (SLCR), has installed the first prototype robotic machine using laser technology to remove damaged composite structure on aircraft. The robotic cell, housed at GKN Aerospace’s composites research centre in the UK, replaces the time consuming, manual grinding away of damaged structure with the precise, contact and vibration-free laser removal process.

“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," explains John Cornforth, Head of Technology at GKN Aerospace.

"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.”