New GE Advanced Manufacturing Plant to Make Next-Gen Ceramic Parts for Jet Engines
GE recently announced plans to invest $125 million and build a new 125,000-sq-ft advanced manufacturing plant in Asheville, N.C., to make parts from ceramic matrix composites (CMCs). The first products will reportedly be stationary high-pressure turbine parts for the next-generation LEAP jet engine manufactured by CFM International, a joint venture between GE Aviation and France-based Safran. But CMCs, which weigh a third of metal alloys, could also find applications as lightweight turbine blades, rotors, and other parts.
“When you start thinking about design, the weight savings multiplier effect is much more than three to one,” said Michael Kauffman, manufacturing executive with GE Aviation. “Your nickel-based superalloy turbine disc does not have to be so beefy to carry all those light blades, and you can slim down the bearings and other parts too because of a smaller centrifugal force. It’s just basic physics.”
Engineers at GE Global Research and GE Aviation’s pilot-scale production facility in Delaware developed the material over the last 20 years. They also designed the machines that manufacture CMCs. Pending final approval from the state of North Carolina, the Asheville facility would be the first of its kind in jet propulsion.
GE plans to use the Delaware facility to apply highly engineered ceramic coatings onto silicon carbide fibers and then incorporate the fibers into flexible sheets together with polymers and other composite matrix materials. Workers in North Carolina will then cut the sheets into shapes, put them inside molds and compact them in giant pressure cookers called autoclaves, which make the parts take their form.
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