GE Aviation Developing SiC CMC Facility in Alabama
One factory will produce SiC ceramic fiber, which is the raw material used to make the unidirectional CMC tape being produced in the neighboring factory.
Initial personnel and special processing equipment are taking occupancy in GE Aviation’s new factory complex in Huntsville, Ala., which is reportedly the first center in the U.S. for the mass production of silicon carbide (SiC) materials used to manufacture ceramic matrix composites (CMCs). The $200 million center comprises two adjacent factories on 100 acres. One factory will produce SiC ceramic fiber, which is the raw material used to make the unidirectional CMC tape being produced in the neighboring factory. The CMC tape will be used to fabricate CMC components for jet engines and land-based gas turbines.
According to GE Aviation, the plants are critical in enabling the company to produce CMC components in large volume. The fiber plant is modeled after the SiC fiber factory of NGS Advanced Fibers in Japan, a joint company of Nippon Carbon, GE, and Safran of France. The expanding NGS operation is reportedly the only plant in the world today that produces CMC fiber on a large scale. GE is licensing fiber-producing technology from NGC.
“The equipment coming into our Huntsville factories is unique,” said Jon Lyford, plant manager for GE Aviation’s Huntsville operations.
GE Aviation has been hiring engineers outside the traditional areas of aerospace engineering. “We are hiring experts in the area of process-based manufacturing found in the oil and gas, chemical, and the consumer packaged goods industries,” Lyford said. “Managing the production of CMC materials requires a special skill set. We have several key leadership positions in place, and we will begin hiring hourly workers toward the end of the year.”
GE Aviation expects to deliver its first CMC materials from Huntsville by mid-2018. Currently, the Huntsville team is at 40 employees and growing. The company anticipates about 150 employees in the plants by the end of 2018. About 300 employees are expected to run the operation at peak production.
Demand for CMCs is expected to grow tenfold over the next decade, driven by rising jet engine production rates. Each new LEAP engine, produced by CFM International (50/50 joint company of GE and Safran of France), has 18 CMC turbine shrouds, which are stationary parts in the high-pressure turbine that direct air and ensure turbine blade efficiency. CFM is expected to deliver about 500 LEAP engines this year, 1,200 in 2018, and 1,800 in 2019. In addition, CMCs are being used in the combustor and high-pressure turbine section of the new GE9X engine under development for the Boeing 777X twin-aisle aircraft. Almost 700 GE9X engines are currently on order, with the aircraft entering service by 2020.
GE is also incorporating CMC components in advanced military engines, including the GE3000 for the U.S. Army. GE’s advanced turboshaft demonstrator FATE (Future Affordable Turbine Engine), also for the Army, reportedly increases the use of hot-section CMCs to achieve aggressive fuel efficiency, power-to-weight ratio, and lower maintenance cost goals. CMCs are currently being evaluated for upgrades to existing engines like the highly popular T700 helicopter engine.
For more information, visit www.geaviation.com.