Employment at the Alabama facility is expanding as production rapidly increases. The workforce recently stood at 210 people, with more set to join the team. And the pace of hiring isn’t expected to slow any time soon.
GE has invested well over $100 million in the Auburn site, the first plant in the aerospace industry to mass produce additively manufactured engine components.
“We’ve doubled employment in the additive area in the last year, and we expect it to grow at up to 50 percent again this year as production continues to grow,” Plant Leader Ricardo Acevedo said.
The 3D printing production area looks a lot like a clean room, where more than 40 additive machines operate around the clock daily.
Inside these advanced machines, highly complex fuel nozzles grow layer by layer, as a very thin coating of powdered metal is fused by extremely precise lasers.
The result is a lighter, more durable single-piece nozzle that replaces ones made with up to 25 parts using traditional manufacturing methods.
21,000 NOZZLES – AND COUNTING
And as GE Aviation continues to expand use of additive manufacturing in its newest engines like the GE9X, the company said the Auburn plant is in a strong position for continued expansion in the future.
The nozzles are one component that helps the new CFM LEAP engine achieve 15 percent better fuel efficiency than the engines it replaces. That efficiency is a key driver behind surging order growth for the LEAP. Orders now stand at more than 14,500 engines.
Variants of the LEAP engine power the Airbus A320neo family of aircraft, which are produced at the company’s $600 million Alabama manufacturing facility. The engines also are used on the Boeing 737 MAX family and the Comac C919.
ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING HOTBED
The GE facility’s impact is being felt in the broader Auburn community.
In addition to offering new career paths within the plant, GE has helped spawn a growing center for additive manufacturing through its partnerships with the city and with Auburn University and its National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence.
“We are continuing to look for ways to partner to advance additive manufacturing as a technology,” Acevedo said.
For example, more than 50 students who are part of Auburn University’s additive program recently toured the GE facility, giving them a factory-floor view of what they are learning in class.
Plus, seniors in the program work directly with the GE Aviation Supply Chain additive team to tackle challenges as the company works to expand the boundaries of the emerging technology.
Last year, GE chose Auburn as one of eight universities to participate in the GE Additive Education Program, recognizing the university’s commitment to ongoing research and education in additive manufacturing.
“We want to build an ecosystem for additive manufacturing across multiple industries,” said Mohammad Ehteshami, vice president of GE Additive. “GE is committed to this technology for the long-term.”
To underscore that fact, GE Additive announced at the Farnborough International Airshow that specialty metals manufacturing Carpenter Technology Corp. has joined its new Manufacturing Partner Network. Also at the air show, Carpenter announced plans for an Emerging Technology Center in Alabama focusing on additive.
Earlier this year, the company opened a new $200 million factory complex in Huntsville that will be America’s first production center for unique materials used to manufacture ceramic matrix composites (CMCs).
CMCs are poised to revolutionize aerospace manufacturing because of their ultra-lightweight properties and their ability to withstand extremely high temperatures.
The center in Huntsville is comprised of two adjacent factories standing on 100 acres, where silicon carbide (SiC) materials will be mass produced. The plants will enable GE Aviation to produce CMC components in large volume.
“After years of research and testing, GE Aviation and our partners have cracked the code on mass producing CMC material,” GE Aviation executive Mike Kauffman said at a plant-opening ceremony in May.
He added: “The impact of these materials will be felt around the globe.”