Following the debut of ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) on CFM’s LEAP engine, other manufacturers are boosting research into the new material.
GE is expected to build on LEAP development lessons to incorporate CMCs into new widebody engines such as the GE9X, while Rolls-Royce has just directed $30 million to its composites research facility in Cypress, California.
The British OEM has been at the site since its purchase of Hyper-Therm High-Temperature Composites in 2013, and will now turn it into a 62,000sq-ft facility dedicated to ceramic matrix composite (CMC) materials and processes for use in next-generation aircraft engine components.
Its ‘CMC Technology Hub’ will develop production-ready manufacturing processes and components for engine test programs. The manufacturing processes will then be applied to a future dedicated production facility.
Much of the research will probably be directed at pushing CMCs deeper into the engine. LEAP features shrouds made from the lightweight but ultra-hard material, and GE has already conducted thousands of tests on equipment containing a CMC combustor. Ceramic composite rotating parts have also been ground tested on military engines.
“The turbine sits at the heart of the engine. I am very excited about several technologies we are developing across Rolls-Royce that will contribute to a significant reduction in fuel consumption,” said Rolls-Royce’s Andy Greasley, EVP turbines, Civil Aerospace.
Such reductions are possible because CMC parts weigh less and require less cooling than nickel-based components.
One potential worry, however, is that neither GE nor Rolls-Royce are pursuing much research into inspection and repair techniques for CMC components, and are instead prioritising production processes.
That’s an understandable strategy for now, but the aftermarket will have to be considered at some point.
To find out more about the latest developments in CMCs, pick up Engine Yearbook 2017, out this week.