GE Aviation to bring additive manufacturing to Auburn facility

Gov. Robert Bentley joins GE Aviation exes David Joyce, Greg Morris and Colleen Athans at ceremony announcing the company's plans to mass produce a 3-D printed jet engine part in Auburn. (July 15, 2014)
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LONDON, England -– GE Aviation, a global leader in jet engine and aircraft system production, today announced plans to bring high volume additive manufacturing to its facility in Auburn, making the facility the first of its kind to mass produce additive components for the jet propulsion industry.

GE Aviation’s David Joyce, president and CEO; Colleen Athans, vice president and general manager, supply chain; and Greg Morris, general manager, additive technologies were joined by Governor Robert Bentley and members of the Alabama delegation at the Farnborough Air Show to celebrate the announcement.

“GE Aviation’s decision to launch a 3-D printing initiative at its Auburn plant speaks volumes about the ability of an Alabama workforce to carry out cutting-edge manufacturing. This is tomorrow’s technology, and we are proud to say it will be performed right here in Alabama,” Governor Bentley said.

GE will invest $50 million in the existing 300,000-square-foot facility to prepare for the additional work. Upon completion, GE investment will total more than $125 million since 2011. (Read an article about the company’s Auburn facility.)

“We are delighted that GE Aviation has chosen Auburn, Alabama, for this advanced technology manufacturing operation. We are partners and look forward to many years of a fruitful relationship,” Auburn Mayor Bill Ham said.

ACCELERATED HIRING

Equipment installation will begin in late 2014 and production of additive components will begin in 2015. By the end of 2015, the plant could have as many as 10 printing machines with the potential to grow to more than 50 printers and occupy a third of the facility at full capacity.

A billboard at the Farnborough Airshow shows the part GE Aviation will make in Auburn.
A billboard at the Farnborough Airshow teases GE’s Aviation’s announcement.

“This is a first for the aviation industry,” GE Aviation’s Morris said during a ceremony today at the company’s chalet at the Farnborough Airshow.

The facility will also continue to manufacture precision, super-alloy machined parts for jet engines.

Since opening in April of 2013, GE has hired more than 70 people. The additional work will accelerate hiring. Based on current demand for its jet engines, GE expects to hire 300 people when the plant is at full ramp-up later this decade.

“This investment is a testament to GE’s commitment to this advanced technology. The Auburn team will play a vital role in the next-generation of aircraft engines, and we’re proud to be a part of it” said Joe Markiewicz, plant leader at Auburn.

The specific component to be built in the new Auburn facility is a fuel nozzle. More importantly, this 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 and will mark the first time such a complex component will be manufactured using additive technology. The LEAP engine, which will enter airline service in 2016, will power the new Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 MAX and COMAC (China) C919 aircraft.

Remarkably, CFM to date has logged total orders and commitments for more than 6.000 LEAP engines. There will be almost 20 fuel nozzles in every LEAP engine produced, thus setting the stage for high, long-term production volume at the Auburn plant. Production will ramp up quickly over the next five years, going from 1,000 fuel nozzles manufactured annually to more than 40,000 by 2020.

“We spent years proving out this technology for a critical component in the heart of the engine, the combustion chamber,” said Morris, the general manager, additive technologies, for GE Aviation. “Now we are well positioned to apply this technology to other components in the same harsh environment which could prove to be game changing for future engine programs and designs.”

Auburn will have capacity to take on additional component work when new technologies are developed. All development of additive components will remain in Aviation’s Additive Technology Center (ATC) in Cincinnati, OH which is also expected to grow over 300 percent in size in the coming year. The ATC will demonstrate a component’s manufacturing readiness before needing to scale for full rate production.

At today’s event, GE Aviation’s Joyce said the Auburn project came to fruition rapidly, thanks to the support the company received from officials from the state and from Auburn. He thanked Governor Bentley for the high level of cooperation that made it possible for the company to move ahead with a project involving a breakthrough technology.

Athans added that GE Aviation praised Alabama’s support system for the company, which includes Auburn University. “Our relationship with Alabama, at the state level and the local level, is really our gold standard,” she said.

SIGNIFICANT BREAKTHROUGH

The introduction of additive manufacturing represents a significant technology breakthrough for GE and the jet propulsion industry.  Unlike traditional manufacturing methods that mill or cut away from a slab of metal to produce a part, additive manufacturing (also referred to as 3D printing) “grows” parts directly from a CAD file using layers of fine metal powder and an electron beam or laser. The result is complex, fully dense parts without the waste, manufactured in a fraction of the time it would take using other methods.

To prepare for this new work, GE will partner with local universities and community colleges. The facility will continue its partnership with AIDT, the state job training agency, and Southern Union State Community College for pre-employment training programs. To develop a pipeline of young talent, GE has worked with Auburn University and Tuskegee University to create internship and co-op opportunities for students.

“We’re excited to expand our partnership with a global aviation leader to help enable the potential of additive manufacturing in advanced jet engine production. We look forward to working with GE Aviation experts on the workforce, research and technology requirements for high-volume production of this critical engine component,” said Dr. Jay Gogue, president of Auburn University.