GE Aviation executives joined Governor Robert Bentley at a formal launch a $200 million project to build two factories in Alabama that are critical to the company’s plans to produce revolutionary ultra-lightweight parts for jet engines.
Leading state and local officials also attended a groundbreaking ceremony in Huntsville for the project, which was announced last October. Once the factories are fully operational later this decade, they are expected to employ up to 300 people.
GE Aviation is building adjacent factories in Huntsville to produce unique materials for lightweight jet engine components.
GE Aviation said the Alabama plants are scheduled to be completed by the first half of 2018, with production beginning later that year. The company expects to begin hiring its hourly workforce in coming months.
“GE Aviation is at the forefront of innovation in aerospace manufacturing, and I am excited to see Alabama expand its partnership with this industry leader,” Governor Bentley said.
“This project shows the sophistication of GE Aviation’s technology while also demonstrating the company’s confidence in Alabama to supply a skilled workforce,” he added.
The adjacent factories, being built on a 100-plus acre tract in Limestone County, will mass-produce silicon carbide (SiC) materials used to manufacture ceramic matrix composite components, or CMCs.
One of the Alabama factories will be the first U.S. operation to produce SiC ceramic fiber. Today, the only large-scale production of the material takes place at a facility in Japan.
The second GE factory in Huntsville will use the SiC ceramic fiber to produce a special CMC tape necessary to manufacture CMC components.
“GE Aviation is creating a fully integrated supply chain for producing CMC components in large volume, which is unique to the United States,” said Vice President Sanjay Correa, who leads the industrialization of advanced technologies at GE Aviation.
“The new factories in Alabama are vital to this strategy,” Correa said. “We are deeply gratified by the tremendous local, state, and national support for this effort.”
Scientists at GE have worked on commercial applications for CMCs for 20 years.
With one-third the density of metal alloys, CMCs reduce the overall weight of a jet engine, boosting efficiency.
In addition, CMCs are far more heat resistant, greatly enhancing engine performance, durability and fuel economy.
GE says demand for CMCs is expected grow tenfold over the next decade.
“This GE facility puts a global spotlight on Huntsville as a leader in the most progressive, ceramic matrix composite technologies,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said. “Our community is proud to provide the talent, support, and environment for this revolutionary advancement in materials.”
Expanding a Partnership
Ohio-based GE Aviation operates another facility in Alabama that’s making waves for its use of 3-D printing technologies.
Since 2013, GE Aviation has invested more than $100 million in a 300,000-square-foot factory in Auburn, where it produces super-alloy machined jet-engine and is establishing the world’s highest-volume additive manufacturing center.
Using the additive manufacturing process, workers at GE’s Auburn plant are now using laser melting machines to produce the interiors of fuel nozzles for the hot-selling LEAP engine.
GE says it marks the first time such a complex jet engine component is being manufactured using additive technology.