What are your first impressions of Aviation Systems?

I've been here for six months, and Aviation Systems has been part of GE for two years (it was formerly Smiths Aerospace). When I joined the company, the first thing I was struck by was the impressive technology advancement programmes, particularly for the military, including a broad portfolio for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

There were great civil programmes too, among them impressive technologies in flight management systems. But from an operations perspective, companies were operating independently. There were 32 different profit and loss centres that had to be brought into one business, with only one centre at the system level. With individual sites acting as independents, you don't gain synergies if that goes on too long. That is history.

Also what also struck me initially was the need to improve on-time delivery. By implementing a six-sigma "lean" initiative across all the sites, we've been able to improve on-time delivery by 20% in the first year, on average across the board. That efficiency will be crucial on JSF, where in the full production era, we will be delivering one shipset a day. We're also setting up robust processes in environmental health and safety.

Lorraine Bolsinger - chief executive of GE Aviatio 
 © GE Aviation Systems

How has the economic downturn impacted the company and how are you reacting?

We're a good old-fashioned operational discipline, with total revenue of $2.2 billion, split among the power business, mechanical business and avionics. A little more than half of the revenue comes from military.

We also have fairly robust service businesses for each of the three major areas. On the power and avionics side, we're more heavily weighted toward the military, and on mechanical, we lean toward the commercial. The military business is not affected very heavily by the economy, given the multi-year programmes like JSF and the Lockheed Martin C-130.

Airframers in the civil aircraft industry have been hit the worst, and our service business had been impacted by the decreased number of flying hours. Since we reflect exactly the diversity of this market, our military share has been a bit of a bedrock for us.

Perhaps more importantly, this environment really helps clear the mind, puts a fine point on the things you have to work on, including right-sizing the company for the environment. As a result of this imperative, we took a look at our supply chain.

What we had was a customer service repair and overhaul process that was separate from the forward-fit production line, which led to inefficiencies by having two sourcing arrangements, two inventory piles, two assembly lines, and no synergy between the two. To optimise the supply chain, we went to a single sourcing agency within GE.

What steps have you taken to address manufacturing costs?

We opened a manufacturing centre in Suzhou, China, in March. We believe this will be a very important play for us for lowering prices for items like composites and actuators.

We plan to move to more composite structures work there, including the Airbus A350 trailing edge, and eventually we would like to do electronics assembly there. While we don't have any work share goals for China per se, the challenge is to determine what programmes must be placed there for cost. By the beginning of 2012, we hope to have 300 people working there. China is a growth area for composites, electronics and actuation.

What advanced technology programmes are hot?

Where previously we tended to be focused on particular applications, we're now looking at growing capabilities across our portfolio. We are looking at the advantages we can bring to existing customers and future customers by improving an existing technology, like flight management systems, and taking the system to the next level, retrofitting thousands of aircraft today that are not using that system fully.

GE wants to be a thought of as a leader in air traffic management for the next generation air transport system (NextGen). We're working with the US Federal Aviation Administration to have our systems be part of the solution. That includes advanced procedures like continuous descent arrivals and 4D approaches. Our FMS will allow carriers to upgrade and fly "green" approaches that can yield 6-12% decrease in fuel burn per approach. We're working with the FAA on a couple of demo projects to prove out the savings.

What innovations are you working on in electrical power systems?

On our electrical power side, at the end of the day, we want to be more than a component and subsystem provider. We want to be an electrical system provider in parallel with aircraft becoming "more electric". We intend to produce a total system that will include generators, controllers for primary and secondary power and distribution systems.

One applicable technology we developed is the modular power tile, in use on the JSF. A software-driven power distribution system, the power tile allows for duty cycle reprogramming over time as aircraft electrical demands change. As for becoming an end-to-end integrated electric provider, we have the unique asset in that we, GE, make engines as well as avionics.

We can make trade studies that encompass all parts of the power generation and distribution system. That extends to the analysis of the integrated propulsion system, with nacelle, thrust-reverser and engine. Research is focusing on a "more electric" nacelle, thrust-reverser and anti-icing system, part of GE's broader LeapX technology program for the next-generation narrowbody engine.

The result will be less piping and less wiring, leading to a slimmer, more aerodynamic propulsion system that could give back a 3-5% efficiency improvement. Composites are another area we're particularly interested in for use on engine fan cases, propellers, wind turbines, pumps, wing structures and nacelles.

Source: Flight Daily News