The future of flight
GE Aviation has created self-sufficiencies as far as engines, additive manufacturing and R&D is concerned
A trip to the ge aviation campus in Bengaluru can be a fascinating experience. For so long, a layperson outside the sphere of aerospace has grown up with the thought that much secrecy enshrouds these places what with some of the most exclusive R&D being carried out. Of course, GE Aviation would have plenty of them. Any aviation manufacturing company that caters to high-profile aircraft companies would have plenty of its own secrets. But few would go through the trouble of sharing some of the most delicate details with non personnel.
GE Aviation went one step further. In keeping with 100 years of GE Aviation and 20 years of aviation engineering in India, the company chose to present its LEAP engine, the lab facility and additive manufacturing prowess.
Situated on a 55-acre campus, the John F Welch Technology Centre in Whitefield has more than 4500 employees and is a multi-disciplinary campus.
Alok Nanda, CTO, GE South Asia & CEO, GE India Technology Centre; and Vikram Reddy, executive, GE Aviation, India, have some very engaging stories to tell. But the focus largely was on the LEAP engine that its joint venture company CFM International has developed. The successor to CFM56, LEAP offers 15% improvement in fuel consumption, while maintaining life-cycle maintenance costs. It has been built for higher reliability and for airlines this means keeping the plane more time in the air and less maintenance on ground.
Reddy says, "LEAP’s advanced architecture combines GE’s high pressure ratio compressor & TAPS combustor with Safran’s composite fan & high efficient low pressure turbine. It has been designed in-house and has the ability to operate at a higher pressure than the CFM56 (the reason for its efficiency)."
What is unique about LEAP is that GE Aviation has made greater use of composite materials to develop the engine. Advancements in fan and compressor, and a second-generation Twin Annular Pre-mixing Swirler (TAPS II)—are some of the reasons it has seen high demand.
TAPS II reduces NOx emissions by 50% versus CAEP/6 standards. Unlike traditional combustors that mix fuel and air inside the combustion chamber, the LEAP nozzle pre-mixes these elements to provide what engineers call lean burn combustion.
Interestingly, when GE entered the wide body space with the GE90, it used blades made out of carbon fibre composites for the first time. Its fan blade’s uniquely curved design makes it larger, lighter and more aerodynamic than traditional titanium blades for reduced engine weight and lower fuel burn.
Nanda says, "When we started in India 20 years ago, it was with core technology work, because India was looked at as a talent-hub for science and computers. As we grew our domain-expertise in the region, we started advanced product engineering work on narrow-body engines. Today, we have reached a stage where 50% of the life-cycle-engineering work for wide body engines (like GE90 and GE9X) for GE Aviation globally is done by the engineering team here in India."
The way the world flies
Modern methods of manufacturing are easing some of the traditional woes. The concept of additive manufacturing or 3D printing ensures quicker time to market. Nanda says, "Considering the shorter times to market now, the advantages of additive manufacturing are many. it not only helps us expedite part production but also aids in quicker testing processes. Besides this, the large number of parts that are required for aerospace means that we can design and produce multiple parts simultaneously and go with what suits best."
Direct Metal laser Melting (DMLM) metal machines use lasers to melt layers of fine metal powder and create complex geometries with incredible precision directly from a CAD file.
In terms of research too, GE Aviation has advanced labs that are NADCAP accredited and enable its team to test materials and components up to the most minute detail. Tests that are conducted are for fatigue, fracture mechanics, hardness, tension and compression, impact, among others.
Most of the tests are conducted on metals, alloys, aluminium, super-alloys, ceramic matrix composites, plastics and adhesives.
The fatigue test measures the various ways in which cyclic forces will affect a product or material over time, using varying loads, speeds and environmental conditions to create predictive patterns for material behavior. What is imperative here is that the tests must adhere to rigorous international standards for endurance properties.
Inspections after each test are the hallmark of the labs. Using data analysis, the company is able to predict the lifespan of the product up to the last detail.
Going by the way the company plans its R&D, it is not surprising that its engines are increasingly becoming common across airlines.