As production of new-generation engines ramps up, so too must that of their associated systems.
The most integral of these is the engine-housing nacelle, the biggest manufacturer of which is UTC Aerospace Systems, which has just opened a new 80,000-square foot manufacturing and nacelle assembly facility in Foley, Alabama.
The Foley site assembles nacelles for integration with the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G series, an engine option on the Airbus A320neo, Bombardier C Series, Mitsubishi Regional Jet and Embraer E-Jet E2.
Once fully operational by the end of the year, the site will employ about 1,000 staff, further beefing up an Alabama aviation sector that already includes Airbus’ $600m A320 assembly facility and various Boeing sites that collectively employ about 2,600.
Big manufacturers have gravitated towards the southern state because of a combination of cheap labor, tax breaks and weak unions.
"Our expansion in Foley would not be possible without the strong support we've received from the state, the county and the city, and we're proud to continue to work together to create jobs in Alabama," says Marc Duvall, president, aerostructures, UTC Aerospace Systems.
As the third manufacturing building on UTC’s Foley campus, the new facility will complement the site's existing 230,000-square foot original equipment plant and 210,000-square foot MRO facility.
It will feature a range of advanced tooling, including: automated material movement to index large nacelle component platforms down the assembly line; an overhead rail system with vacuum lifts; and an automated painting system.
Notable absent from UTC’s description, though, is any mention of 3D printing systems, which some other nacelle component manufacturers are attempting to integrate into the production process.
Speaking to MRO Network earlier this year, Duvall was cautious about additive manufacturing’s move from the design process, where it is very useful for prototyping, to full-scale manufacturing.
“There is no doubt that additive will be in production in our next nacelle systems, but it may not be as transformational as in other commercial aircraft systems,” he said.