General Electric Aviation is a driving force in additive manufacturing, and now they've announced their intention to set up a production facility to make parts for the new LEAP engine in Alabama.
The LEAP engine is a modern miracle of innovation designed to reduce carbon emissions and save fuel. GE says this radically conceived engine will be used, beginning in 2016, in three cutting edge passenger aircraft; the Boeing 737 MAX, the Airbus A320neo and Chinese-built COMAC C919.
It's a facility the company says is the first of its kind dedicated to mass producing additive components for the jet propulsion industry.
GE says they'll invest a total of $50 million in the existing 300,000-square-foot facility to prepare for a ramp-up of the project, and once the initiative is complete, GE will have spent a total of more than $125 there since 2011. Installation of equipment to take on the task is slated to start late in 2014 and the production of the additive components should start in 2015. GE adds that the plant is likely to have up to 10 printing machines – with that number to grow to more than 50 printers. They say AM projects will occupy fully one-third of the floor space at the facility when it eventually operates at full capacity.
"This investment is a testament to GE's commitment to this advanced technology," said Joe Markiewicz, team leader at the Auburn plant. "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."
The component to be made at the Auburn facility, a fuel nozzle, was developed by CFM International and French firm, Snecma. It's the first time a part of such complexity will be manufactured using additive technology.
Orders and commitments for more than 6,000 LEAP engines are already on the books. Each LEAP engine includes 20 fuel nozzles and GE expects to make 40,000 of the parts annually by 2020.
"We spent years proving out this technology for a critical component in the heart of the engine, the combustion chamber," says Greg Morris, the General Manager of Additive Technologies at GE. "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."
The development work on additive components will stay at GE Aviation's Additive Technology Center located in Cincinnati, OH, and the company expects the center to grow some 300% in 2014. The growth is expect to impact academia as well. GE plans to partner with local universities and community colleges to create training programs to support the project.