With 404 firm orders for the A320neo, the Malaysian budget carrier is one of the most important customers to both Airbus and CFM, whose LEAP engine is AirAsia’s exclusive power choice.
Keeping these customers happy will mean delivering on time, and CFM co-owner GE now faces an unprecedented test of the production scalability of several new technologies.
These include the LEAP’s 3D-printed fuel nozzles and the ceramic matrix composite (CMC) shrouds in the engine’s high-pressure turbine.
GE Aviation expects to increase its use of CMCs tenfold in the next decade and has been using micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) to study them in better detail.
Finer resolutions allow its ‘Lean Lab’ to see deep between CMC plies, a level of scrutiny that GE needs as it tries out new tooling concepts and designs for additional CMC components in future engines such as the GE9X.
An upgrade for the GEnx is also being researched to reduce the 787 engine’s maintenance costs. More than 3,000 test cycles have been run on equipment containing a CMC combustor, stage one and two nozzles and CMC shrouds, while another potential upgrade is rotating CMCs that have been tested already for military applications.
Regular CT will be used in the actual production of CMCs, as this approach moves parts through far faster than micro-CT.
In the last six years GE Aviation has invested $7.6bn in its GEnx, LEAP 1A and 1B and GE9X engine programs.
Now the focus is mainly on production and a ramp-up that will boost GE’s installed base by 27%, from 36,000 engines to 46,000 by 2020. The company will have a backlog of 15,000 commercial jet engines by the end of 2016.
To meet this demand it already has its own factories for CMC raw materials, additive manufacturing and titanium aluminide, with investments in the manufacturing base approaching $4bn.
To find out more about the development of CMCs, pick up the forthcoming Engine Yearbook 2017.