June 18, 2019
GE and its joint-venture company CFM International are booking orders at a rate of more than $1 billion per hour at the Paris Air Show this week. The next-generation LEAP jet engine has been “a big success,” said Gaël Méheust — president and CEO of the engine’s maker, CFM International — at a press conference in Paris on Saturday morning. But the biggest measure of that success wasn’t announced until Monday, the first day of the Paris Air Show, when CFM said it had signed the single largest jet engine order in history. A 50-50 joint venture between GE and France’s Safran Aircraft Engines, CFM will supply the fast-growing Indian carrier IndiGo with LEAP-1A engines to power 280 Airbus A320neo and A321neo aircraft. The deal is valued at over $20 billion at list price. Wait, stop the presses: On Tuesday, the company topped that achievement, in dollar terms, with a $23 billion whopper to supply engines and services to AirAsia. CFM and GE’s Paris tally now stands at nearly $50 billion — and it’s only Tuesday.
These engines get around: “The CFM LEAP engine will allow IndiGo to maintain its strong focus on lowering operating costs and delivering fuel efficiency with high standards of reliability,” said Riyaz Peermohamed, IndiGo’s chief aircraft acquisition and financing officer. It’ll do that by way of space-age materials like ceramic matrix composites and state-of-the-art manufacturing processes such as 3D printing — which help the engine lower emissions, save fuel and achieve other performance benefits. The proof is in the planes circling the world today. At the Saturday presser, Méheust said the LEAP engine has 15% better fuel-efficiency than its predecessor and best-in-class utilization — essentially, how often the engines are available to make money. CFM has been in the jet engine business since the 1970s; its machines power 20 different aircraft for more than 600 operators around the world.
Learn more about the past and future of CFM’s LEAP engine here — and keep reading for more on the technology and expertise that made it happen.
Growing up in small-town Michigan, Ted Ingling wanted to be a car mechanic. But he ended up settling for jet engines. Today, Ingling is the general manager of the GE9X engine program, overseeing the building of the world’s largest commercial jet engine, which GE developed for Boeing’s next-generation widebody 777X jet — and unveiled Monday at the Paris Air Show. It’s a step-up for Ingling, GE and Boeing at the same time: At more than 11 feet in diameter, the GE9X is as wide as the fuselage of an entire Boeing 737. And though it involves brand-new materials and manufacturing techniques, the machine is “rooted in a fifth generation of engine architecture,” Ingling said. He should know about those roots: Ingling’s been in the jet engine business for 30 years.
You’ve come a long way, baby: Catching up with Ingling ahead of Paris, GE Reports got a sneak peek into the design and construction of the world’s largest engine. “It’s an iterative process internally at GE Aviation and also with Boeing, in this case,” Ingling said. “They are building a plane, the 777X, which has 20% better fuel economy than the existing Boeing 777-300ER, one of the best planes out there.” Just like with the LEAP engines, GE is helping achieve those gains with materials like ceramic matrix composites — lightweight, heat-resistant materials it took GE three decades to develop — and 3D printing, which allows for the manufacture of super-complex parts. (See below for more on 3D printing.) “The technologies I’ve worked on are out of this world,” Ingling said. “I never have a dull moment.”
Ingling explains some of the science and tech behind the GE9X here, and — promise — it’s not dull.
The GE9X engine is 10% more fuel-efficient than its predecessor, the GE90 — thanks to engineering marvels like 3D printing, and to engineers like Stefka Petkova, who’s part of the GE Aviation team tasked with developing the engine. Petkova joined GE as an intern while she was still in college. Today, she’s based in GE’s Additive Technology Center in West Chester, Ohio, where hundreds of engineers, designers and workers from GE Aviation and GE Additive dream up the machine parts of tomorrow. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing wasn’t even taught to most of the engineers here when they were in school — even those in their 20s and 30s. The technology was still too new.
The next dimension: At the ATC, though, they’re building the future of manufacturing — layer by layer. With 3D printing, engineers can design parts to optimum shapes on computers, then use lasers or electron beams to build those shapes out of fine layers of powder. The technology lets them make parts not previously dreamed of, either too expensive or too complex to build by traditional means. The GE9X engine, for instance, combines more than 300 engine parts into just seven 3D-printed components, including the fuel-nozzle tip, which precisely sprays a mixture of fuel and air into the combustion chamber. Antroine Townes, ATC site leader, said, “In the past, designers were trapped by the manufacturing methods available to them. Now you can take those limitations away and design the best thing for the engine, not the best thing for manufacturing.”
Learn more here about 3D printing and jet engines — and the young engineers putting the two together.
Today, both long-haul air travel and aerial combat rely on turbojet engine technology: basically, engines that suck in air, compress it, heat it, and then shoot it out the other end, propelling the plane forward. But in 1929, when Frank Whittle showed a design for a turbocharged jet engine to his superiors at the British Air Ministry, they thought he was a bit barmy, and — on the advice of a single consultant — rejected the concept. When Whittle took out an ordinary patent on the technology, it was discovered by the German Embassy, inadvertently giving the Nazis a leg up in the air war that soon unfolded. It was time for Whittle to take a new job: In 1942, he came to the U.S. to assist GE engineers in developing turbojet engine technology and help turn America from laggard to leader in jet engine design.
A propulsive innovation: GE Aviation is celebrating 100 years in business at the Paris Air Show this week — and looking back on those whose genius made air travel not just possible but widely available. Whittle’s designs resulted in the first American jet engine and also energized GE’s aviation division, whose technology powers planes taking off every two seconds in the world today. They also provide an important lesson to the engineers of today and tomorrow (and — ahem — their bosses): Don’t be too quick to dismiss a potential breakthrough. “It was bad advice from a single consultant that convinced the Air Ministry it was a waste of time,” said Ian Whittle, Frank’s son.
This is complicated technology, but GE engineers had to deal with more prosaic matters too — like the fact that Whittle had made his designs on the metric system. Learn more here about this transatlantic collaboration.
1. Memory Aid
Researchers at the University of New Mexico have created a vaccine that might help prevent Alzheimer’s-related cognitive decline.
2. Bovine Intervention
By 2040, 60% of the meat we consume will either be grown in the lab or replaced by plant-based alternatives, according to a new report. Cows won’t be necessary for beef production, in other words — and we might not need them for cheese, either.
3. Genes That Fit
Researchers at MIT and Harvard have developed a system for “precisely and efficiently” inserting large DNA segments into a genome, a development that could lead to treatments for many genetic diseases.
Read more about this week’s Coolest Things on Earth here.
— QUOTE OF THE DAY —
“It’s not hard to walk into this building every morning and go to work. A lot of the things we do here, we are doing for the very first time.”
— Eric Gatlin, general manager at GE Aviation
Quote: GE Reports. Image: Tomas Kellner for GE Reports.
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