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GE Aviation Prepares For LEAP

By Jenny Callison, posted Jul 23, 2013

With financial commitments from state and local governments in place, GE Aviation is moving forward with its plans to expand in North Carolina.

That means an uptick in activity at GE Aviation’s plant in Castle Hayne: 35 additional jobs and new equipment in support of the next-generation LEAP engine, a fuel-efficient, low-carbon-emitting engine developed by CFM, GE’s joint venture with French engine manufacturer Snecma.

LEAP is the next-generation version of CFM’s popular CFM56 engine, for which the Castle Hayne plant currently makes rotating parts – and for which there is a substantial backlog of orders. Orders for the LEAP engine abound as well, with production of the new engine scheduled to begin in 2014.

New jobs at the Castle Hayne facility will represent the same cross-section of skills that the workforce possesses now, said Mike Kauffman, the company’s general manager of rotating parts manufacturing. High on the list are computer numerical controlled (CNC) machinists and inspectors.

Without changing the size of its plant in Castle Hayne, GE Aviation’s investment of $63 million will add new machines to supply parts for the LEAP, Kauffman said.

“The reason is that the components Wilmington is going to manufacture [for the LEAP engine] are higher tech than those they are making now,” Kauffman said. “... the Wilmington [plant] is the most capable place for us to manufacture. ...  the most complicated rotating parts.”

As an example, Kauffman cited the plant’s capabilities in friction welding, which uses energy and friction to create a solid-state welded joint.

While all manufacturing at the Castle Hayne plant will produce metal parts, GE Aviation’s planned 125,000-square-foot expansion facility in Asheville will specialize in engine components made of advanced ceramic matrix composite (CMC) materials.

CMC technology will result in enhanced performance and improved durability of engines, which translates into lower fuel and maintenance costs for customers, GE Aviation spokeswoman Kelly Walsh said.

“CMC parts are lighter weight and can sustain higher temperatures,” she said. “When the engine runs hotter, CMC parts are more efficient than their metal counterparts because they don’t have to use as much of the intake air to cool. That air can be used for thrust rather than for cooling.”

Walsh said the company has not determined where the LEAP engines will be assembled, but its Durham plant, where jet engines are assembled, will play an important role.

GE Aviation’s plans for a $195 million expansion in North Carolina have taken wing since the July 9 announcement of a Job Development Investment Grants package from the state.

The company, which employs about 1,300 people in North Carolina, has said it would create 242 new jobs within the state, including the 35 in New Hanover County.

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