Strategic planning years ago by GE Aviation leaders years ago has paid off in spades today for the current president of the engine, services and systems company, David Joyce.
"The technology suite in the core for next-generation engines was based on the GEnx engine for the 787 and 747-8," says Joyce. "That became the centrepiece for the Leap-X engine for the Comac C919 and Airbus A320neo." An associated regional and business jet engine development programme, Tech X, is now the Passport 20 for the next-generation Bombardier Global 7000 and Global 8000 business jets and could power a new generation of regional airline aircraft.
"We've been blocking and tackling through that strategy," says Joyce, noting that this is the year when the "founders" of the plan, the GEnx engines, go into service with the 787 and 747-8.
What that means is a continuation of almost double-digit production increases for turbofan engines despite an economy where many other sectors are flat or faltering. Joyce says the company this year will ship 2,200 commercial aircraft engines, including 1,300 CFM56 engines from its 50/50 CFM joint venture with Snecma, a 9% increase on the 2,000 engines delivered last year. Included the commercial numbers are 377 widebody aircraft engines (GE90, GP7200 and GEnx). On the military engines side, which represented about a quarter of the company's $17.6 billion yearly revenue in 2010, 1,000 engines for fighter aircraft and helicopters will be shipped this year.
The new development does not come at the expense of the company's massive installed base either. GE will have 24,000 engines in operation by year's end (40% of which have not yet had their first shop visit), with an expected increase to 30,000 engines by 2015.
The services business for those in-service commercial engines generated $6.5 billion in revenues in 2010, 37% of the company's top line income. New engines accounted for $4.4 billion; the systems business $2.4 billion and business and general aviation engines, $0.2 billion. Advanced technology programmes look not only forward to next-generation engines, but for advances that can be "cherry picked" to better existing engines during planned service intervals.
To help understand the state of its engines, GE provides free and for-pay premium remote diagnostics services through an onboard software package that allows for real-time monitoring via two ground station - one at GE's home base in Cincinnati and one in China (for in-country engines).
Significant investment for maintenance involves a new generation of on board integrated vehicle health management tools that will predict the "state space" of engines and systems, allowing operators to be proactive on maintenance items that might otherwise cause a costly delay, cancellation, or safety incident.
Joyce says "good demand" and "good yield" for products are his "tailwinds" in the business sense today, while potential headwinds include "speculation on what's going to happen with fuel prices" and the supply chain.
"One of my biggest challenges is making sure we can handle the production rates with respect to the supply chain," says Joyce. "We're watching - if everyone's rates are going up, we have to aggregate and go into the raw materials. You have to make sure you secure almost all the way down to the mines."
He says the production crunch has necessitated "a more focused assessment of delivering through the supply chain" for the next three years. "A programme starts with the orderbooks; starts with metal we need and we drive it all the way down to the ground," Joyce says. "It's an enterprise risk process that looks at deliveries and what we do if prices inflate. My headwind is raw materials inflation." Helping the situation, he says, is that the metals market is global. "The international market is still predictable - we can place our orders, our bets and our inventory."
Joyce says the move to non-metallic materials in fan blades and elsewhere is not so much driven by raw materials supplies but performance gains. For instance, composite fan blades for the GE90, and now for the Leap-X, were a "natural outcome" of technology development of a 3.15m (124in) diameter fan that was light enough to make needed thrust-to-weight targets. "It's much might lighter than nickel-based alloy," he says.
While the Leap-X next generation narrrowbody engine work is hot from an research and development perspective, GE never stops experimenting with thermal or propulsive efficiency advances. "We have a compression and core test facility where we've been running a new core engine every day for the past 24 years," he says. "Technology development to us is as much a continuum as coming to work every day."
On the table in the near future will be what to do next for large engines. "The next thing we'll all wrestle with is the next generation of GE90," he says. "We're looking at the next generation of compression and turbine systems. I think the pressure ratios will go higher." Joyce says the "best scientists in world" are working on potential, both from an aviation and ground turbine standpoint. "I think there's more to be had in terms of the efficiencies of aerodynamic cycles."
He adds: "It will be fuel efficiency again that drives the next large engine." While the 777 and GE90 match-up has been "an incredible combination", he says the next generation will have to improve those efficiencies. "That's going to take a suite of technologies we currently have under development," Joyce says. "Now it's a matter of getting scientists to get our technologies to where they need to be so we can execute on them."
Joyce is humble regarding the intense competition with Pratt & Whitney over selections of the next-generation narrowbody engines between the two engine makers. "Pratt's worked very hard - they made a big bet on the [geared turbofan]," says Joyce. "That's exactly what this industry's about".
However he says he is "really comfortable" about CFM's brand. "CFM has been in the business for 37 years. We're first in this market segment for a reason. We set the bar - 20,000 cycles on wing for CFM56 engines. That's five years before you open the cowling." He says the average CFM engine today sees one-third the shop visits now compared to when the engines were first in service.
"Let's get these done and out there and see how they work," Joyce says of the competing engines - Leap-X versus PurePower geared turbofan. "We're ready to go. Let's do it."
Source: Flight Daily News