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GE Aviation Readies Ceramic Matrix Composites Complex in Huntsville, Alabama

11/10/2017
GE Aviation said special processing equipment and personnel are in place at America’s first production complex for unique materials used to manufacture ceramic matrix composites in Huntsville, Alabama.

The $200 million operations complex in Huntsville is comprised of two adjacent factories standing on 100 acres, where silicon carbide materials will be mass produced. The plants will enable GE Aviation to produce CMC components in large volume.

“The equipment coming into our Huntsville factories is unique,” said Jon Lyford, Plant Manager for GE Aviation’s Huntsville operations. We are hiring experts in the area of process-based manufacturing found in the oil and gas, chemical, and the consumer packaged goods industries.”

“Managing the production of CMC materials requires a special skill set. We have several key leadership positions in place, and we begin hiring hourly workers toward the end of the year,” he said.

GE Aviation expects to deliver its first CMC materials from Huntsville by mid-2018. The company anticipates to hire 150 associates at the complex by the end of 2018, with that number rising to about 300 employees at peak production.

At the Huntsville plant campus, one factory will produce SiC ceramic fiber, 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.

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 the only plant in the world today producing CMC fiber on a large scale.

The use of lightweight, heat-resistant CMCs in the hot section of GE jet engines is a breakthrough for the jet propulsion industry. With one-third the density of metal alloys, these ultra-lightweight CMCs reduce the overall engine weight. Further, their high-temperature properties greatly enhance engine performance, durability, and fuel economy. GE Aviation also produces fuel nozzles for LEAP engines using additive manufacturing at a facility in Auburn.

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 (a joint venture between GE and Safran) 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.

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