A participant in the ATEP R&D programme was G&O Springs of Redditch. The small business, a member of the Midlands Aerospace Alliance, designs and manufactures industrial springs.
Managing director Steve Boyd says G&O Springs has often encountered gaps in the industry-standard metal performance data used in spring design. Data for materials that are included in SAE Aerospace Material Specifications, such as titanium, Inconel, Hastelloy and Nimonic, were missing.
He explains: "Every day, someone sent us a spring [design], maybe in Inconel, and asked, 'Does this look okay to you?' We wet our finger and put it up in the air. We needed data to say definitively that we can accurately predict this spring's life."
G&O Springs formed a consortium with local wire producer Alloy Wire International, another springs manufacturer (Reliable) and aerospace customers BAE Systems plus a Rolls-Royce subsidiary, Controls and Data Services.
In the R&D project, it received wire from Alloy Wire, bent it into batches of springs with varying degrees of prestress and sent these to the Institute of Spring Technology (IST). IST carried out destructive fatigue testing and relaxation performance testing, and added the data into its Aerospring software, on the understanding that it could later sell it to its user base. Over time, it was possible to build up lots of data on cycle life, relaxation over time and load at temperature.
G&O Springs was able to protect the data for a period, winning three years of exclusive use of the data. The new information entered the public domain in September 2014 and is due to be incorporated into a future global update of IST's software.
"The data is now in the public domain, which is a shame, but we have won quite a bit of business off the back of it," says Boyd.
In fact, halfway through the project, giant US aerospace supplier UTC, owner of Sikorsky helicopters and Pratt & Whitney engines, contacted G&O, wanting it to design springs with the new data. Says the managing director:"That reinforced the idea that what we were doing was desperately needed. Now UTC is one of our biggest customers."
The project also helped G&O win a contract for a new design of aftermarket landing gear springs from a US customer.
Boyd explains: "When Boeing and Airbus stop supporting aeroplanes, they are sold on to South America and Africa. This customer takes the original spring and has to redesign it. For the replacement version, it is very important that whatever design there is meets or exceeds the original specification. The company gave us one of the original springs. We had to design a replacement, and prove with testing that the spring would outperform the original – which it did, by a factor of 5:1. We could do a desktop design because we had data on how long it would live in the first place. Traditionally, that would have been guesswork."
Employing just 30 staff, and with no dedicated engineers, G&O Springs lacked the facilities, the software and the sophistication to contemplate such a research programme without the Midlands Aerospace Alliance.
Boyd again: "They coaxed us, taught us, held our hand and put us in touch with various people that helped us. They made it very easy for us to do the project."The PR alone from the project was worth it. I am really pleased. I just wish I could find another project for NATEP." But he adds that the project has positioned it as a world leader in aerospace spring manufacture.