Viewpoint

Contrasting Fortunes for New Mid-Size Engine Makers

Less than a month after Pratt & Whitney admitted to investors and financial analysts that it wouldn’t be able to deliver as many PW1000G geared-turbofan engines this year as it had originally planned, rival CFM International has announced a spectacular production milestone – and has said it is on track to meet its production ramp-up targets for its new LEAP family. On September 16, United Technologies Corporation’s CEO Greg Hayes revealed at an investor conference that P&W would be able to deliver only about 150 PW1000G engines in 2016, rather than the 200 it had planned to deliver. According to Hayes, the primary problem causing the production shortfall is that it is taking P&W about 60 days to manufacture each PW1000G aluminium-and-titanium fan blade, rather than the 30 days it should be taking.

Less than a month after Pratt & Whitney admitted to investors and financial analysts that it wouldn’t be able to deliver as many PW1000G geared-turbofan engines this year as it had originally planned, rival CFM International has announced a spectacular production milestone – and has said it is on track to meet its production ramp-up targets for its new LEAP family.

On September 16, United Technologies Corporation’s CEO Greg Hayes revealed at an investor conference that P&W would be able to deliver only about 150 PW1000G engines in 2016, rather than the 200 it had planned to deliver.

According to Hayes, the primary problem causing the production shortfall is that it is taking P&W about 60 days to manufacture each PW1000G aluminium-and-titanium fan blade, rather than the 30 days it should be taking.

Hayes characterised this as a temporary “learning curve” problem, but conceded at the conference that P&W would be forced this year to make penalty payments to some airlines because it is not delivering PW1000G engines for their new aircraft on time.

Deliveries of PW1100G-JM engines to Airbus for installation on A320neos are being affected, but the P&W production shortfall is particularly impacting the Bombardier C Series programme as Bombardier struggles to gain traction for its all-new commercial jet family.

It is doing so by forcing Bombardier to reduce 2016 C Series deliveries to customers from the originally planned 15 aircraft to just seven, hurting the programme’s early revenue stream and cash flow.

In contrast with P&W’s short-term PW1000G production woes, CFM International announced yesterday that it had delivered the 30,000th CFM56 engine – CFM carefully and diplomatically sharing the milestone honour between two engines of different CFM56 versions.

One of the milestone engines is a CFM56-5B for a new-production Delta Air Lines Airbus A321, while the other is a CFM56-7B for a new Boeing 737-800 going to China Eastern Airlines.

Delta Air Lines launched the CFM56 engine into commercial service in 1982 (upon re-engining its DC-8-60-series jets with CFM56-2s) and Delta now has more than 400 CFM56-powered aircraft in service or on order.  China Eastern Airlines became a customer for the CFM56 in 1994 and today it is the largest CFM customer in China, operating more than 800 CFM56s.

No other commercial jet-engine programme in history has achieved sales anywhere near 30,000 engines and CFM has forecast it may sell as many as 35,000 CFM56s before it ends the programme in favour of the new-generation LEAP engine family which will ultimately replace the CFM56. In all, CFM has sold CFM56 engines to some 550 customers.

In announcing the 30,000-engine milestone, CFM provided an update on its 2016 production totals. It expects to construct nearly 1,700 production engines in 2016, of which about 100 will be LEAP engines and the rest will be CFM56s.

Although CFM’s planned LEAP total for this year is smaller than the number of PW1000Gs P&W will produce in 2016, as yet only one aircraft which can be powered by the LEAP – the A320neo – is in service. Two PW1000G-powered aircraft, the A320neo and the C Series, are in service.

But while CFM’s 2016 production of LEAP engines is dwarfed by its CFM56 output, that situation will soon change drastically. CFM expects to ramp up its total annual production to more than 2,000 engines by 2020, almost all of which will be LEAP-1As, LEAP-1Bs and LEAP-1Cs. By then, CFM only will be constructing 100 or so CFM56s a year.

CFM is confident both in the need for it to produce such huge numbers of LEAP engines annually and in its ability to achieve the biggest production ramp-up in history for any commercial jet engine.

One reason for CFM’s confidence in its ramp-up ability is that for the past three years it has been performing six-month ‘Run at rate’ exercises annually. These exercises require CFM to produce a given selection of LEAP parts (which may vary from year to year) at the following year’s planned increased production rate, to ensure any production and supply-chain bottlenecks of the most time-critical parts for that year’s production are ironed out before the year begins.

Meanwhile, CFM’s confidence in the need for it to produce 2,000 LEAP engines annually arises from the fact it is finding itself constantly able to maintain a 3,000-engine order-book backlog – enough to ensure 18 months’ production, even if new orders were to dry up suddenly.

In addition to powering about half of all A320neo-family aircraft, the LEAP family in the form of the LEAP-1B will power all Boeing 737 MAX jets and many if not all examples of the new COMAC C919 single-aisle design about to begin flight-testing in China.

A CFM press release issued yesterday quoted François Bastin, CFM executive vice president, as saying, “We knew from day one that this would be an extraordinary ramp-up, and we have been preparing for it for a long time. The investment that GE and Safran have made, our dual-sources strategy, and the fact that we have kept critical technologies in-house has put us on track to meet our production commitments to Airbus and Boeing.”

Examples of the two partners’ investments in LEAP production include Safran’s 3-D woven carbon-fiber composite fan blade factories, as well as GE Aviation’s new LEAP final assembly and overhaul facility in West Lafayette, Indiana.

The two composite-fan production facilities, one of which is located in France and one in the U.S., have opened in the past two years. Using gigantic Jacquard looms – which are based on 19th-century weaving technology but are definitely 21st-century in the technologies they employ – the two factories have already produced more than 4,600 fan blades for production LEAP engines, enough for 256 LEAP powerplants. A third composite fan-blade factory in Mexico will begin producing LEAP fan blades in 2017, according to CFM.

Each LEAP engine requires 18 fan blades and CFM plans to ramp up their production to more than 40,000 blades per year – enough to outfit more than 2,220 engines annually – to support planned LEAP production levels.

The final assembly plant in Indiana began production operations earlier this year and is now assembling the first production LEAP-1B engines. (CFM’s plans at present call for all initial LEAP-1Bs to be assembled in the USA.) The West Lafayette facility also performs modular assembly of LEAP engine cores.

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