CMCs and the Modern Aerospace Industry: General Electric Takes a LEAP Forward

General Electric Aviation is working on developing a ‘blueprint’ to help improve the production of industrialized ceramic matrix composites (CMCs). CMCs are a breakthrough materials technology, utilized in manufacturing of jet engines. The amazing thing about this material is that they can be made as strong as metal but are much lighter while also being able to withstand much higher temperatures. GE Aviation is working on creating a better way to produce these CMCs because the company expects to start using much more of them in the near future.

CMC raw material use for GE Aviation is expected to increase by 20 times when compared to 2007. On Friday (2/24/17), the company said they expect two factories in Alabama to generate up to 20 metric tons of CMC materials per year. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Title Ill office gave $21.9 million in funds to help build a factory that will license NGS Advanced Fiber technology platform to mass produce silicon carbide ceramic fibers. NGS is a joint venture of GE, Safran and Nippon Carbon.

The CMCs GE Aviation will be producing are formed with silicon-carbide (SiC) ceramic fibers in a SiC matrix. This material is then coated with proprietary ceramic material. Commercial applications for CMCs have been in development by GE’s Global Research Centers for over two decades. A material that offers the strength of metal while weighing only a fraction of its equivalent is a gold mine when it comes to aerospace. Weight is everything but there is no room for using weaker materials so CMCs are the perfect option. Last year, construction of two adjacent plants in Huntsville, AL. began.

Once the $200 million project is completed, one plant is expected to produce SiC ceramic fiber. The second facility will use the SiC ceramic fibers to produce unidirectional CMC tape which is required to fabricate components out of this incredible material.

“We continue to make great progress, – The engineering and construction teams are on track to start placing process equipment by October. The CMC prepreg facility commissioning will be complete in the summer of 2018. The CMC fiber facility commissioning remains targeted for the spring of 2019.” said Huntsville site leader Jon Layford.

The company expects to have over 750 U.S. employees dedicated to CMC component manufacturing by 2020. The first Huntsville complex will be the first in the U.S. to produce SiC ceramic fiber. In tandem, both facilities will be able to produce up to 20 metric tons of CMC parts per year. This is an incredible step forward for american manufacturing and could greatly improve the aerospace industry as well. Being able to utilize this material to its full extent could have a profound impact on the development of lighter and more powerful jet engines in the future.

Find out more on GE Aviations [LEAP jet engine] series, one of the engines utilizing this incredible material.


GE Aviation Invests $200M in Alabama-Based Ceramic Matrix Composite Production Facilities