Farnborough, Ala._Governor Robert Bentley on Tuesday announced GE Aviation, a global leader in jet engine and aircraft system production, plans to bring high volume additive manufacturing to its facility in Auburn. This facility will be the first of its kind to mass produce additive components for the jet propulsion industry.
GE Aviation’s David Joyce, President & CEO, Colleen Athans, Vice President & General Manger, Supply Chain and Greg Morris, General Manager, Additive Technologies joined Governor Robert Bentley and members of the Alabama delegation at the Farnborough Air Show to celebrate the announcement.
“GE Aviation’s decision to launch a 3-D printing initiative at its Auburn plant speaks volumes about the ability of an Alabama workforce to carry out cutting-edge manufacturing,” Governor Robert Bentley said. “This is tomorrow’s technology, and we are proud to say it will be performed right here in Alabama.”
GE will invest $50M in the existing 300,000-square-foot facility to prepare for the additional work. Upon completion, GE’s investment will total more than $125M since 2011.
“We are delighted that GE Aviation has chosen Auburn, Alabama for this advanced technology manufacturing operation. We are partners and look forward to many years of a fruitful relationship,” Auburn Mayor Bill Hamm said.
Equipment installation will begin in late 2014 and production of additive components will begin in 2015. By the end of 2015, the plant could have as many as 10 printing machines with the potential to grow to more than 50 printers and occupy a third of the facility at full capacity.
The facility will also continue to manufacture precision, super-alloy machined parts for jet engines.
Since opening in April 2013, GE has hired more than 70 people. The additional work will accelerate hiring at the Auburn facility. Based on current demand for its jet engines, GE expects to hire 300 people when the plant is at full ramp-up later this decade.
“This investment is a testament to GE’s commitment to this advanced technology. 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,” said Joe Markiewicz, Auburn plant leader.
The specific component to be built in the new Auburn facility is a fuel nozzle. More importantly, this component will be on the best-selling LEAP jet engine, being developed by CFM International, a joint company of GE and Snecma (SAFRAN) of France and will mark the first time such a complex component will be manufactured using additive technology. The LEAP engine, which will enter airline service in 2016, will power the new Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 MAX and COMAC (China) C919 aircraft.
Remarkably, CFM to date has logged total orders and commitments for more than 6.000 LEAP engines. There will be almost 20 fuel nozzles in every LEAP engine produced, thus setting the stage for high, long-term production volume at the Auburn plant. Production will ramp up quickly over the next five years, going from 1,000 fuel nozzles manufactured annually to more than 40,000 by 2020.
“We spent years proving out this technology for a critical component in the heart of the engine, the combustion chamber,” Greg Morris, General Manager, Additive Technologies said. “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.”
Auburn will have capacity to take on additional component work when new technologies are developed. All development of additive components will remain in Aviation’s Additive Technology Center (ATC) in Cincinnati, OH which is also expected to grow over 300% in size in the coming year. The ATC will demonstrate a component’s manufacturing readiness before needing to scale for full rate production.
The introduction of additive manufacturing represents a significant technology breakthrough for GE and the jet propulsion industry. Unlike traditional manufacturing methods that mill or cut away from a slab of metal to produce a part, additive manufacturing (also referred to as 3D printing) “grows” parts directly from a CAD file using layers of fine metal powder and an electron beam or laser. The result is complex, fully dense parts without the waste, manufactured in a fraction of the time it would take using other methods.
To prepare for this new work, GE will partner with local universities and community colleges. The facility will continue its partnership with Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) and Southern Union State Community College (SUSCC) for pre-employment training programs. To develop a pipeline of young talent, GE has worked with Auburn University and Tuskegee University to create internship and co-op opportunities for students.
“We’re excited to expand our partnership with a global aviation leader to help enable the potential of additive manufacturing in advanced jet engine production. We look forward to working with GE Aviation experts on the workforce, research and technology requirements for high-volume production of this critical engine component,” Auburn University President Dr. Jay Gogue said.
GE Aviation has the largest and fastest-growing installed base of jet engines in commercial aviation and a global services network to support them. GE Aviation employs approximately 40,000 people and operates more than 80 facilities around the world. An operating unit of GE, GE Aviation is a world-leading provider of jet engines, components and integrated systems for commercial and military aircraft. GE Aviation has a global service network to support these offerings.