CFM international shipped the first Leap-1B engine to Boeing in early October from a one-year-old factory in Lafayette, Indiana, a new and critical location in the global industrial geography of the 40-year-old joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines.

The on-schedule delivery from the Lafayette plant — which looking from above is shaped to resemble the swept curves of a Leap engine fan blade — offered one of the first significant tests of a CFM strategy crafted to meet the modern aerospace industry’s most unprecedented production ramp-up.

CFM had decades to work up to delivering about 1,650 engines annually today for the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 assembly lines. Due to the early popularity of the three Leap platforms — the 737 Max, A320neo and Comac C919 — CFM has less than five years to ramp up to delivering 2,000 Leap engines each year, while at the same time winding down production of the CFM56. On top of that, the Franco-American partnership must grapple with new manufacturing methods in a Leap engine featuring 3D-printed fuel nozzles, 3D-woven composite fan blades and intricately shaped ceramic matrix composites in turbine shrouds.

Not surprisingly, CFM’s production and sourcing strategy has changed to cope with the demands of the looming ramp-up. CFM has emphasized duplicating supply sources even within the principle partners and subjecting dozens of critical parts to “stress tests” staged one year ahead of each step increase in engine output, says Cristina Seda-Hoelle, GE’s programme leader for CFM56 and Leap manufacturing.

The opening of the Lafayette plant in September 2015 offered a visible symbol of CFM’s duplication strategy. CFM already splits final assembly evenly each year between GE and Safran. GE’s industrial plan for the Leap takes that strategy one step further, duplicating assembly sites within the company’s half-share of the production ramp-up. GE already assembles CFM56 engines and the first Leap engines for all three variants in Durham, North Carolina. Assembly will continue at the Durham site as GE ramps up deliveries from Lafayette, as well.

The same effort to duplicate production extends through all levels of the supply chain, with a goal to duplicate or triplicate sources on 80% of parts. Dual sourcing ensures manufacturing continuity if one of the sources is disrupted, Seda-Hoelle says. The Lafayette plant is designed with this requirement in mind. The plant is sized to handle significantly more capacity than is needed at full rate, allowing Lafayette’s crews to surge production if Durham is shut down temporarily for any reason.

Another reason for the dual sourcing strategy is the “sheer capacity with these rates and how quickly they’re going to go higher,” Seda-Hoelle adds.

More than 75% of the Leap engine comes from suppliers to GE and Safran, and they don’t want to be surprised by shortages or defective parts at the final assembly stage.

So GE has instituted an annual series of “run-rate stress tests” of critical parts in the supply chain. Leap engine deliveries will climb from 100 this year to 500 next year, a 400% one-year ramp-up. So GE has already subjected dozens of suppliers to a test lasting from two to 12 weeks, depending on the part. The goal is to make sure the supplier has the capability and capacity to deliver the required parts a year in advance of the step-up in production.

“You run at these rates and you see what happens. We’ve learned a lot on it,” Seda-Hoelle says.

GE’s preparations for the Leap ramp-up will soon be tested. The schedule for the Leap engine has it ramping about eight months behind its main rival – Pratt & Whitney’s PW1100G geared turbofan. Two months ago, P&W acknowledged a production ramp-up bottleneck, with shortages on up to 40 parts numbers, including a critical shortages of a unique aluminium-titanium fan blade. The slowdown has hit two customers — the Airbus A320neo and the Bombardier CSeries family — hard as they attempt to ramp up deliveries. Within GE, the accelerated ramp-up of the GEnx engine for the Boeing 787 also was accompanied by technical glitches that CFM hopes to avert.

“It’s a scary, daunting ramp but at the same time it’s focused us on doing something different with the supply chain,” Seda-Hoelle says, “because we know we must deliver and our customers are counting on us.”

Source: Cirium Dashboard