Two futuristic manufacturing technologies that will change the design and performance of jet engines are taking off in Alabama. Ohio-based GE Aviation will invest $200 million to build a pair of plants in Huntsville that will produce silicon carbide materials used to make ultra-lightweight ceramic matrix composite components (CMCs) capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures. The new plants will employ up to 300 workers.
The GE Aviation technology represents a breakthrough for jet propulsion. CMC components weigh just one-third as much as those made from conventional alloys, which means hundreds of pounds can be shed from engines resulting in significant fuel savings and added efficiency.
“This investment will bolster Alabama’s pivotal role in the development of GE Aviation’s world-class engines and the future of aerospace engineering,” said U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville).
The project represents GE Aviation’s second significant factory investment in Alabama since 2013. In Auburn, the company has invested $100 million in a factory that is machining super-alloy jet engine parts and establishing the world’s highest-volume additive manufacturing center. Additive manufacturing is a 3-D printing technology that “grows” parts from the ground up using a precision laser and powdered metals. Over the past year, GE Aviation has installed more than a dozen laser melting machines at the 300,000-square-foot factory in Auburn, where it will produce a fuel nozzle using additive that’s 25 percent lighter and five times more durable than conventional models.
GE Aviation says this is the first time such a complex jet engine component will be manufactured using additive technology.
The Alabama factories will play a significant role in the manufacturing of the LEAP engine, being developed by GE Aviation and partner Snecma (SAFRAN) of France in a venture called CFM International. The fuel-efficient LEAP will be used on aircraft including the Boeing 737 Max and the Airbus 320neo, to be produced at the company’s new $600 million Alabama facility.
The next generation jet engine will use the fuel nozzle produced by GE Aviation’s additive center in Auburn, while the Huntsville plants will produce the materials that become the engine’s turbine shrouds.
There are 19 fuel nozzles and 18 CMC turbine shrouds in each LEAP engine, according to GE Aviation. The LEAP engine has already racked up 9,500 orders and commitments, according to GE Aviation.
In support of the project, GE Aviation will receive $1 million from the City of Huntsville, $1.5 million from the Huntsville Industrial Development Board, $500,000 from Madison County, $150,000 and utilities assistance from Limestone County, and $500,000 from GE, according to city spokeswoman Kelly Schrimsher.
The Alabama Department of Transportation and Department of Commerce also will provide a $2.2 million industrial access road and bridge grant toward the project. GE Aviation will receive benefits under the “Made in Alabama” Jobs Incentive Package, which took effect this summer. The estimated payroll for the facilities for the first 10 years is $102.5 million and average annual pay is expected to be $48,000 at full production. Under the project agreement, GE is qualified to receive an estimated $3.5 million in job-creation credits and an estimated $12.4 million in investment credits over 10 years.
The company will also receive assistance from AIDT, the state’s workforce development agency, valued at nearly $1.9 million. GE Aviation plans to use $21.9 million in funding from the U.S. Air Force Research Lab Title III Office for the ceramic fiber portion of the project.