This week, the Ohio-based company announced a $200 million plan to build a pair of plants in Huntsville that will produce silicon carbide materials used to make ultra-lightweight ceramic matrix composite components (CMCs) capable to withstanding extremely high temperatures.
The GE Aviation technology represents a breakthrough for jet propulsion. CMC components weigh just one-third as much as those made from conventional alloys, which means hundreds of pounds can be shed from engines. That means significant fuel savings and added efficiency.
“This investment will bolster Alabama’s pivotal role in the development of GE Aviation’s world-class engines and the future of aerospace engineering,” U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, said today.
The announcement represents GE Aviation’s second significant factory investment in Alabama since 2013. In Auburn, the company has invested $100 million in a factory that is machining super-alloy jet engine parts and establishing the world’s highest-volume additive manufacturing center.
Additive manufacturing is a 3-D printing technology that “grows” parts from the ground up using a precision laser and powdered metals.
Over the past year, GE Aviation has installed more than a dozen laser melting machines at the 300,000-square-foot factory in Auburn, where it will produce a fuel nozzle using additive that’s 25 percent lighter and five times more durable than conventional models.
GE Aviation says this is the first time such a complex jet engine component will be manufactured using additive technology.
“We are making the nozzles in Auburn and the raw materials in Huntsville,” Sanjay Correa, vice president of GE Aviation’s CMC project, said at an announcement ceremony on the new project.
The Alabama factories will play a significant role in the manufacturing of the LEAP engine, being developed by GE Aviation and partner Snecma (SAFRAN) of France in a venture called CFM International. The fuel-efficient LEAP will be used on aircraft including the Boeing 737 Max and the Airbus 320neo, to be produced at the company’s new $600 million Alabama facility.
The next generation jet engine will use the fuel nozzle produced by GE Aviation’s additive center in Auburn, while the Huntsville plants will produce the materials that become the engine’s turbine shrouds.
There are 19 fuel nozzles and 18 CMC turbine shrouds in each LEAP engine, according to GE Aviation. The LEAP engine has already racked up 9,500 orders and commitments, the company says.