“The doctoral student has an important role in our ecosystem of research”

To GKN Aerospace in Trollhättan, long-term research and development work is crucial to win new business. They invest heavily in research collaboration with University West and several other universities. Currently, around 60 doctoral students work in the company’s various projects in Sweden.

– The doctoral students’ efforts are the key to the breadth of our research, says Robert Reimers, R&D director of production technology at GKN Aerospace.

The aerospace industry is a research-intensive industry. Since the 1990s, GKN Aerospace has made a determined effort to develop new knowledge in production technology. The company participates in, among other things, the National Aeronautical Research Program, where long-term technology development strengthens the companies’ international competitiveness. In the ongoing program phase, 30 doctoral students participate.

– We are also partners in several other research projects run by different universities in Sweden, including University West, says Robert Reimers.

– In order to be able to capture new technology, we need to have a great breadth in our research and development work. There, we have great benefit from the doctoral students’ research – they contribute important pieces of the puzzle to our knowledge building. The collaboration with the doctoral students helps to keep our staff up to date and above all, it gives us a good recruitment base for the future, says Robert Reimers.

Valuable recruitment base

GKN Aerospace engages both doctoral students and externally employed doctoral students depending on which projects are announced. Externally employed doctoral students are recruited internally, while other doctoral students often come from universities. Many of them then continue as employees in the company’s R&D department with the task of further developing and implementing their research.

– Of course, the influx of new knowledge and new people contribute with benefits to the entire department. The advantage of externally employed doctoral students is that they can have a tighter connection with the company because their assignments are often almost tailor-made for our needs, says Patrik Johansson, who coordinates GKN Aerospace’s doctoral students.

Tahira Raza is one of several doctoral students from University West who has done research in close collaboration with GKN Aerospace.

Builds strong university centers

– I see it as a win-win situation for everyone involved – to the doctoral student, the university and the company. It is important to build strong university centers. That is how we create valuable symbiosis between industry and academia. Research collaboration is like an ecosystem where all parts have an important function, says Patrik Johansson.

GKN Aerospace’s broad portfolio of research initiatives spans a long time. In the early 2000s, for example, they started research in additive manufacturing and in 2011, the technology was ready to be introduced as an industrial application on an engine detail. Continued research and development make it possible to introduce the technology on full-size aircraft engine components in 2021. This means that GKN is at the forefront of this technology area.

Research strengthens competitiveness

– Our long-term focus on research has helped to give our company a whole new direction. During the 1990s, the company shifted focus from 90 percent military aircraft engine production to 90 percent in commercial aircraft and space engine production. As a consequence, there were completely different demands to be at the forefront of technology development in order to be an attractive business partner in the market, explains Patrik Johansson.

– Thanks to our investment in research and technology development, we can be internationally competitive and gain more valuable business contracts, says Robert Reimers.