GE Aviation selects Auburn, AL facility for high-volume additive manufacturing capability

Auburn, AL - Jet engine and aircraft system producer GE Aviation is planning to bring high-volume additive manufacturing to its Auburn facility. This facility will be the first of its kind to mass-produce additive components for the jet propulsion industry.

Related: Additive manufacturing at GE Aviation

The company will invest $50 million in the existing 300,000-sq-ft. facility to prepare for the additional work. Upon completion, its investment will total more than $125 million since 2011.

Equipment installation will begin in late 2014 and production of additive components will begin in 2015. By the end of 2015, the plant could have as many as 10 printing machines, with the potential to grow to more than 50 printers and occupy a third of the facility at full capacity.

The facility will also continue to manufacture precision, super-alloy machined parts for jet engines.

Since opening in April 2013, the company has hired more than 70 people. The additional work will accelerate hiring. Based on current demand for its jet engines, it expects to hire 300 people when the plant is at full ramp-up later this decade.

The specific component to be built in the new Auburn facility is a fuel nozzle. More importantly, this component will be on the best-selling LEAP jet engine, being developed by CFM International, a joint company of GE and Snecma (SAFRAN) of France, and will mark the first time such a complex component will be manufactured using additive technology. The LEAP engine, which will enter airline service in 2016, will power the new Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 MAX, and COMAC (China) C919 aircraft.

Remarkably, CFM to date has logged total orders and commitments for more than 6000 LEAP engines. There will be almost 20 fuel nozzles in every LEAP engine produced, thus setting the stage for high, long-term production volume at the Auburn plant. Production will ramp up quickly over the next five years, going from 1000 fuel nozzles manufactured annually to more than 40,000 by 2020.

Auburn will have capacity to take on additional component work when new technologies are developed. All development of additive components will remain in Aviation's Additive Technology Center (ATC) in Cincinnati, OH, which is also expected to grow over 300 percent in size in the coming year. The ATC will demonstrate a component's manufacturing readiness before needing to scale for full-rate production.

The introduction of additive manufacturing represents a significant technology breakthrough for the company and the jet propulsion industry. Unlike traditional manufacturing methods that mill or cut away from a slab of metal to produce a part, additive manufacturing (also referred to as 3D printing) "grows" parts directly from a CAD file using layers of fine metal powder and an electron beam or laser. The result is complex, fully dense parts without the waste, manufactured in a fraction of the time it would take using other methods.

To prepare for this new work, the company will partner with local universities and community colleges. The facility will continue its partnership with Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) and Southern Union State Community College (SUSCC) for pre-employment training programs. To develop a pipeline of young talent, the company has worked with Auburn University and Tuskegee University to create internship and co-op opportunities for students.

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