GE Aviation opens America’s 1st center for mass-producing Silicon Carbide (SiC) materials to manufacture Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMC) in Huntsville, Alabama. The company reported on Nov 07 that initial personnel and special processing equipment are taking occupancy in the new factory complex.
The US$ 200 million center comprises two adjacent factories on 100 acres. One factory will produce SiC ceramic fiber, the raw material used to manufacture the unidirectional CMC tape, being produced in the neighboring factory.
Both plants are critical in enabling GE Aviation to produce CMC components in large volume for jet engines and land-based gas turbines.
“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.
According to the company estimates, it 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.
The 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.
According to the latest report by Stratview Research, the Global Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMCs) Market in Aircraft Engines is expected to witness a double-digit growth over the next five years to mark the annual sales of US$ 393.2 million in 2022. The CMC market is one of the fastest-growing markets in the aviation industry, as per the report. The major factor bolstering the growth of CMC materials is the development of CMC applications in the best-selling aircraft or their variants, owing to their intrinsic advantages, such as temperatures resistance up to 260°C higher than Nickel alloys at just one-third weight. There would be a continuous replacement of nickel alloys with CMCs in both low- and high-pressure engine zones during the forecast period. Increasing aircraft deliveries and demand for the fuel-efficient aircraft would further propel the demand for CMCs in aircraft engines.
GE is also incorporating CMC components in advanced military engines including the GE3000 for the USA Army. GE’s advanced turboshaft demonstrator FATE (Future Affordable Turbine Engine) also for the Army 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.
The usage of lightweight and heat-resistant CMCs in the hot section of GE jet engines is a breakthrough for the jet propulsion industry. CMCs comprise SiC ceramic fibers in a SiC matrix, enhanced by proprietary coatings.
With one-third density of metal alloys, the ultra-lightweight CMCs reduce the overall engine weight. Further, their high-temperature properties greatly enhance engine performance, durability, and fuel economy. CMCs are far more heat resistant than metal alloys, hence requiring less cooling air in the engine’s hot section. By using this air instead in the engine flow path, an engine runs more efficiently.
Image Source: GE Aviation