Jet engine and aircraft system production firm GE Aviation (Cincinnati, Ohio, USA) reported on June 17 at the Paris Air Show that it plans to break ground this year on an advanced composite component factory near Asheville, N.C.
The new 125,000-ft2/11,613m2 facility (next to an existing GE Aviation machining plant) would produce engine components made of advanced ceramic matrix composite (CMC) materials. GE could begin hiring at the new CMC components plant as early as 2014. Within five years, the workforce at the plant would be expected to grow to more than 340 people.
The new facility would be part of a larger commitment by GE Aviation to invest $195 million across its North Carolina operations through 2017. GE Aviation has more than 1,300 employees in North Carolina at sites in Durham, West Jefferson, Wilmington, and Asheville. Overall, the new CMC facility, combined with plant and equipment upgrades at existing sites across North Carolina, could create 240 additional GE jobs by 2017.
The workforce (290 employees) at GE Aviation's current machining operation in Asheville would gradually transition to the CMC components plant. Over the next decade, the current machining work at the Asheville shop could be transitioned to other GE facilities. The new CMC factory in Asheville – which would be unique in the jet propulsion industry – is subject to final approvals of incentives from the State of North Carolina.
The specific CMC component to be built in the new Asheville facility is a high-pressure turbine shroud, a stationery component that directs exhaust gases through the high-pressure turbine. More importantly, this CMC component will be on the best-selling LEAP jet engine, being developed by CFM International, a joint company of GE and Snecma (SAFRAN) of France. The LEAP engine, which will enter airline service in 2016, will power the new Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 MAX and COMAC (China) C919 aircraft.
The introduction of CMC components into the hot section of GE jet engines represents a significant technology breakthrough for GE and the jet propulsion industry. CMCs are made of silicon carbide ceramic fibers and ceramic resin, manufactured through a highly sophisticated process and further enhanced with proprietary coatings.
GE Aviation views CMCs as a differentiator for its next-generation aircraft engines. The ultralightweight CMC material supports extremely high temperatures in the high-pressure turbine. CMC benefits include: reduced weight, enhanced performance and improved durability that provides longer time on wing, translating into lower fuel and maintenance costs for customers.
"GE has been investing in CMC technology for decades, and we are mastering the manufacturing of CMCs at our laboratory in Delaware. Asheville would be our first factory involved in the mass production of CMC components," says David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation. "We believe the future Asheville plant will be on the ground floor of a new technology that will change aviation."
CFM to date has logged total orders and commitments for more than 4,500 LEAP engines. There will be 18 CMC turbine shrouds in every LEAP engine produced, thus setting the stage for high, long-term production volume at the Asheville plant. The number of CMC components inside GE jet engines will continue to grow with each new product introduction.
To prepare for the new factory, GE will partner with Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (ABTCC). The training program at ABTCC would allow current and prospective employees to train in a hands-on environment with state-of- the- art machinery.
The GE Aviation facility in Durham assembles commercial jet engines. The proposed investment would allow for increased capacity and new plant and equipment for the next generation of commercial engines. Proposed investment in the West Jefferson facility, which currently does machining of rotating parts, will also allow for increased capacity as it assumes additional machining work. The facility is poised for an 80,000-ft2/7,432m2 expansion, which would come with an additional 105 jobs by 2017.
The 540,000-ft2/50,168m2 facility in Wilmington will continue to manufacture medium to large rotating hardware. The planned investment would allow for the purchase of next-generation equipment for the plant.
Editor PickGardner Business Index at 54.1 in January
The US composites industry looks as strong as it has since early 2015, with expectations the highest in years.