Archive For The “General Electric” Category

The A380 engine choice

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The latest order from Emirates suggests the engine makers are in for another round of tough bargaining.  No engines were selected for the latest deal.

Currently, Emirates is not only the largest A380 operator, it is the future of the entire program.  The latest order bought Airbus another decade and could be considered as a very big gift to the OEM.

We spoke with an A380 captain who told us that from his perspective he could not tell any difference in the aircraft’s performance with either engine type.

Rolls-Royce

The company won the last round of Emirates orders.  Since the start of the program, the Rolls Trent 900 has seen three upgrades.  The engine is now performing at spec and these are the engines that Emirates has received.

The engines Emirates now have, are obviously more modern than the older ones and will have had improvement work done during their life. This is typical of all engine programmes to improve fuel burn efficiency and durability. This can be achieved both via some improvements to physical parts as well as software updates to help manage the engine more efficiently. We understand that Rolls-Royce has improved fuel burn efficiency on the engine by at least 1% since it first entered the market – a not insignificant amount and in-line with other engines in their fleet.

But looking forward, it is unlikely Rolls-Royce can build a business case to improve the current engine.  The A380 market probably does not provide an ROI.  It would seem then, from the Rolls-Royce perspective, the current updated Trent 900 is what they will offer Emirates.  Rolls-Royce, in our view, would think the deal will come down to price, again.  They won the last deal this way and probably feel some confidence they can do it again if it makes commercial sense.

Engine Alliance (EA)

The company won the first several rounds of Emirates orders (for the first 90 aircraft), and EA has since worked with Emirates to stand up engine maintenance work in Dubai. So despite losing the last deal, they still have a close relationship with Emirates.

EA claims the GP7200 has a 1.3-1.4% advantage over the Trent 900, even with the improvements that Rolls-Royce has made. EA feels that on long-haul routes like Dubai-Los Angeles, this could allow Emirates to carry more passengers and thus generate more revenue. In addition, EA claims the GP7200 is achieving a time onwing at Emirates that’s 2x to 4x longer than the Trent 900.

EA has spoken previously about the technical potential for a GP7200 PIP; however, they have always noted that the business case would have to make sense. Whether or not the manufacturer could or would offer Emirates a PIP for this order remains to be seen.

EA’s public response so far has been: “EA member companies, partners companies, and suppliers have retained the tooling and capability to produce the GP7200 and is prepared to adjust production accordingly.

We currently power 90 Emirates A380s (with more than 360 engines), with maintenance performed at Emirates Engine Maintenance Centre in Dubai. We remain committed to powering Emirates for years to come, and we would welcome the opportunity to work with Emirates to grow its A380 fleet.

Engine Alliance’s GP7200 engine is the quietest, most reliable, most efficient engine for the A380. This engine has been proven to be the most capable, most durable engine in the Middle East, with the longest time onwing.”

The bottom line for EA, though, it that the company appears confident going into an engine selection campaign – especially now that Emirates is able to compare the performance of both the Trent 900 and the GP7200 side-by-side.

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Aircraft Health Management Systems and Digital Twin Technology

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Today’s new aircraft and engines have integrated data acquisition and transmission systems that can actively monitor and store data on the performance of an engine or airframe component.  This generates tremendous amounts of data for a fleet of aircraft, typically measured in petabytes.  A petabyte is one quadrillion bytes, which is a lot of data.

Collecting and transmitting this data requires a number of sensors on board the aircraft, data storage devices to collect and store the data, and transmission capabilities for either real-time or post-landing download, depending on the criticality of information and the design of the integrated hardware and software on board the aircraft.

The newest aircraft models, including the Bombardier C Series, Embraer E2, Boeing 787, and Airbus A350 have the most advanced health management systems for airframes, while the new technology Pratt & Whitney GTF,  CFM LEAP, and GEnx and GE9X, and Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 and Trent XWB are leading the way in engines.

But what happens next?  A massive amount of data are collected that need to be analyzed and turned into useful information for customers.  It is in the analytics behind big data that will enable the data collection systems to prove their worth.

Big data will tell us when a component is going to fail, and the condition of a number of variables that could impact that component at and leading up to the time of failure.  Analyzing conditions that lead to failure can then lead to a set of “early warning” criteria that a component may soon fail, providing the operator an opportunity to fix the fault before a failure occurs to avoid lost revenue.  Much like monitoring exhaust gas temperatures in an engine can determine when an overhaul is due, the additional data from an engine or airframe can provide new inferences and guidelines for maintenance activities.

How big is big data for an aircraft or engine?  The first health management systems monitored only a few key elements of an engine or airframe.  Today, the technologies that are driving the Internet of Things (IoT) have improved in capabilities at lower cost.  As a result, we may now have 5,000 or more parameters to analyze on an aircraft at any given point in time.

It may take quite some time before the impacts of changes in each parameter are known well enough to develop predictive models that will produce tangible benefits for new aircraft models.

Simulation is one software tool that has been shown promise in this regard and has resulted in “Digital Twin” technology from GE Aviation.  Digital Twin technology is, in its simplest form, a virtual model of a physical product.  By pairing the virtual and physical worlds, analysis of data and monitoring information enable advanced analytics that can predict failures and reduce maintenance costs.

The concept of a digital twin has been around since 2002 but has only recently become feasible with the availability of monitoring data gathered through sensors and connectivity that form Aircraft Health Management Systems and collects tremendous volumes of data for analysis.

Essentially, a digital twin is an advanced simulation of a physical entity, collecting data that mirrors the physical experience of an aircraft in a simulation model, capturing the operational characteristics and conditions to enable prediction of future behavior.  A digital twin for an aircraft engine utilized on an Emirates aircraft based in Dubai may show quite different results than one for the same type of engine used by Delta based in Atlanta.

Operational considerations, including temperatures, pressures, operating in an environment with a lot of sand in the air, or near ocean water, will have a difference on wear and tear on an engine and its components.  Those environmental factors, along with performance data from engine sensors provide a richer database for analysis and refinement of simulations to mirror the performance of a given engine based on its utilization, environment, and operational history.

The ability to accurately predict engine or airframe component behavior is essential to carry out the mission of health management systems, which is to provide maintenance and money-saving ideas.  GE Aviation is leveraging its Predix software suite, which provides an integrated platform for storing, analyzing and creating digital twin simulations across a variety of industrial applications, including Aerospace.  That cloud-based environment includes a number of robust applications and analytics routines for building customized applications, as well as a library of tools to create and deploy machine learning models that detect anomalies, direct controls, and predict maintenance.  The digital twin models created within the Predix environment enable analysts to determine correlations and cross-correlations between variables and to more rapidly understand, predict, and optimize the performance of an engine or aircraft.

The Bottom Line:

Health management systems and the Big Data they gather need to be analyzed and structured into useful information that is actionable to improve performance, reduce downtime, and predict failures before they interrupt operations.  Digital twin technology is a logical approach to the problem, simulating physical operations to predict future maintenance events and helping to optimize engine and aircraft performance.

While collecting the data is important, the ability to quickly and accurately analyze the data and turn data into actionable information that provides a payback is key.  The MRO business is changing, from borescopes and wrench turners to simulation modelers and logistics systems that will determine when a part needs changing and having it at the right place at the right time to minimize costs and downtime.  IT is changing the way we think about MRO.

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Innovative Aerospace Technologies Go Mainstream in 2018

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As we look over the technology landscape, several innovative technologies are moving from concept into production as new aircraft and engine programs reach the market.  Let’s take a look at those that will soon explode in volume and provide intriguing opportunities as they move from R&D to mainstream.

Big Data and Analytics
Virtually every new aircraft and engine program features “health management systems” that enable monitoring of a number of parameters and to predict when maintenance action might be required before an in-service failure.  The benefits of these programs are promising, but require the OEMs to store and analyze petabytes of data to implement these predictive benefits.

This will require massive data storage facilities, new analytical software, and communications capabilities to alert operators around the world to potential problems.  Almost every OEM has a control center with multiple computer monitors tracking their customers and equipment in service in real-time around the world.  These are complex systems, with the massive investment required, to generate the benefits of data for their customers by reducing catastrophic maintenance events and minimizing schedule disruptions.

In the narrow-body world, the C Series and E2 Jets are farther advanced than the A320neo and 737 MAX families in this regard, while the 787 and A350 lead the charge in wide-body aircraft.  In the engine side, GE’s Digital Twin concepts go beyond traditional health management and may be the most advanced application in its class.

Additive Manufacturing goes Mainstream
The new Advanced Turboprop Engine from GE has about 35% of its parts produced using additive manufacturing.  The benefits of additive include the ability to create designs and shapes that would be difficult using conventional techniques, and lighter weight components.  In the ATP, 855 individual parts are replaced with 12, reducing complexity and maintenance cost while providing improved performance.

At the same time, research and development into additive manufacturing technologies will result in faster processing to enable more rapid completion of complex parts, which are relatively slow to build today.  Our projection is for a doubling of speed in 2018 and a redoubling of speeds in 2019 as refinements are made in these technologies.

Innovative technologies using titanium have resulted in Norsk Titanium building a specialized facility in upstate New York to produce additively manufactured components from titanium in a unique, hybrid process.  Their 787 parts can be ordered one day and shipped overnight the next to a customer, perhaps a precursor to the next generation MRO facility that will have high-speed 3D printing capabilities instead of racks of parts inventories.

We’re seeing additive manufactured parts on engines from the GTF and LEAP, with large-scale applications on the ATP.  Additive has arrived.

Out of Autoclave Composite Materials Streamline Manufacturing
The composite materials utilized for most aircraft today are thermoset pre-pregs that require “baking” in a pressurized autoclave to “set” the polymers to form strong but lightweight structures.  Today, the second generation of composites is emerging, with materials that can be produced “out of autoclave” and do not need a pressurized high-temperature manufacturing process.  Speeding the manufacturing process, at lower energy costs, is viewed favorably by aircraft OEMs, who are looking closely at alternative materials  We see the industry gradually moving away from traditional thermoset materials to thermoplastic materials that include PEEK and PEKK materials, and to lower cost thermoset pre-preg materials.   While this transition will not be complete until the next generation of aircraft is introduced, those new materials are being tested and evaluated today for future programs.

Ceramic-Matrix Composites
CMCs are a unique set of composite materials that are formulated with silicon chemistries and have unique high-temperature applications in aircraft engines.  GE is utilizing CMCs in the LEAP engine, which requires a massive ramp-up of CMC production for the first high volume civil application.  With the same weight and strength benefits of composites over metal, plus an additional 400 degrees in temperature resistance, these components will prove valuable as future aircraft engines increase pressure ratios and operating temperatures.

Advanced Avionics for Autonomous Aircraft Operations
While we aren’t quite ready to eliminate pilots from aircraft, the aviation industry has the capability today to take off, navigate, and land aircraft without a pilot.  The drone industry is growing substantially, and the ability to remotely control an aircraft provides the potential for safety improvements.

The aviation industry pioneered autonomous operations and remains well ahead of the auto industry in this leading-edge technology.  Autopilots and flight management systems are complex avionics systems that are becoming more and more sophisticated, and could soon provide the fail-safes that will enable single-pilot plus computer/ground backup operations.  The technology is ready, although passenger and union (not to mention regulatory) acceptance remain in the future.

The Bottom Line
Technology integration into commercial aerospace is accelerating, with a focus on materials, manufacturing process, control systems and IT.  The next generation, currently in R&D, will provide even more advances as nanotechnology and quantum computing bring new possibilities.  We are entering an exciting time of change for our industry.

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GE’s additive journey

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Near the year end, we had an opportunity to visit GE Aviation’s Additive Technology Center in Cincinnati. It was an eye-opening experience. The progress the company has made in developing this technology is remarkable. The visit left us in no doubt that GE will deploy additive wherever it can because its value is so compelling.

The Additive Technology Center is a testbed of sorts for GE Aviation. If a part is appropriate for additive, they figure out how to build the part using the additive process, then they start to work on industrializing the process.

While we were under a strictly “no pictures” visit, GE did share some images with us for this story.

As this chart demonstrates, additive manufacturing is a relatively new technology. It was GE Aviation that saw the advantages of moving into this business. The company bought a local additive leader called Morris Technologies and never looked back. The team at Morris was small but had a culture where experimenting with machines was encouraged to help improve the additive manufacturing process. Truly along the lines of “you need to break eggs to make an omelet,” this small team quickly rose to industry prominence because they did not fear trying new ideas and methods, pushing machines to greater limits and making geometries once thought impossible. GE Aviation was an early customer and readily saw the vast potential for additive manufacturing.

The chart also shows how GE as a company moved up the learning curve. This started with the development of the LEAP fuel nozzle through to the Advanced Turboprop engine, which is comprised of approximately 34% additive parts.

The Additive Technology Center is a testbed of sorts for GE Aviation. If a part is appropriate for additive, they figure out how to build the part using the additive process, then they start to work on industrializing the process.

Based on GE’s experience and success in additive manufacturing, the company launched a new company. GE Additive is dedicated to offering machines, materials and engineering services to companies interested in using additive manufacturing. The chart shows the recent acquisitions of Arcam and Concept Laser – these firms allow GE Additive to sell existing metal-based machines and develop and build machines internally. In addition, through their AddWorks program, GE Additive offers design, materials development, and industrialization services to take advantage of GE’s experience and shorten the learning curve for introducing additive.

GE’s confidence in this group is summed by the next chart. GE has developed a global network with 24 locations. These locations cover R&D, production, and support.
GE Additive’s mission for the new business is outlined below.

 

 

These three data points are big numbers. The first two are self-evident. The third is just amazing. All GE businesses see additive manufacturing as an opportunity to reduce the costs of making products and are working toward some lofty cost-out goals.

The disruptive impact of GE’s additive process is moving ahead also with the Arcam and Concept Laser teams developing larger machines – bigger machines allow for bigger parts. GE is reluctant to discuss the impact of these parts in the supply chain. Using a GE engine may end up being cheaper to own and operate because of this technology. The impact from GE’s first experience with Morris Technologies will reverberate for a long time and may change how we understand commercial aero engines.

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First ATP Engine Run

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Just before Christmas, on December 22, GE Aviation undertook the first run of its new ATP engine at its Prague facility. The launch application for the ATP  will be the Cessna Denali. The aircraft is scheduled to fly in late 2018, while the ATP certification testing starts early in 2018.

We recently had a visit to the GE facility in Cincinnati where we were briefed on the engine.  Its numbers are impressive.  With a 16:1 overall pressure ratio the engine is expected to deliver a 20% lower fuel burn and 10% higher cruise power compared with competing engines (read PT-6).  Time between overhaul is planned for 4,000 hours. The ATP, we were advised, is going to be a family from 1,000- to a 1,600-shp range.  This means the engine can be used in several current programs.

The program is estimated to be 6-8 months ahead of schedule. This has been leveraged by rapid prototyping using additive manufacturing for tooling and prototype parts. The combustor design was seven months ahead of schedule, shortening the development timeframe considerably.  GE introduced 79 new technologies into this engine class, many of which have been proven in other large engine programs. Additional technologies are expected to migrate into the program sustain competitive advantage once the program is up and running. There are 168 new technologies being applied to current programs that will be available to other programs for performance growth and cost reduction. Other technologies are being evaluated for future versions of ATP. These data points underscore how much of a big deal the ATP is for GE.

GE noted that the ATP is the first turboprop engine in its class to introduce two stages of variable stator vanes and cooled high-pressure turbine blades. The engine is at 35% additive. The ATP is GE’s heaviest use of additive in aero engines to date.  855 individual parts have been reduced to 12, providing lower costs and assembly efficiency.  Additive manufacturing lowers engine weight by 5% and is limited to non-rotating parts. But that can change as GE works with new metal oxides for stronger additives.  Additive improves airflow and this saves, according to GE, up to 2% specific fuel consumption.

An early identified need was simplifying the flying experience. “Fly the plane, not the engine.” This also taught them to think beyond simple mechanical operations. The goal was to get the ATP to reduce a pilot’s knowledge base workload by 65-70%. For example, by having full FADEC the pilot sets one item at start-up and the system will ensure no over speed, etc.  Integrating the propeller control provides true cockpit simplicity.

Bottom Line: ATP is a new technology competitor that will leverage additive manufacturing in its first iteration to put some distance between itself and the PT-6. The 20% performance improvement over the PT6-67P is their shot across the bow. GE recognizes the PT-6 reliability and reputation. They have proposed a FADEC and electronic propeller control, both of which are technologies that are well known, but GE is putting them out there to differentiate themselves as technology leaders to counteract the PT-6 ubiquity and reliability reputation. They want to “one-up” the technology game and be known as the innovators. Additive, maintenance, and later, CMCs for improved thermal efficiencies are at the heart of their strategy.

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Moravian Aerospace Cluster wants to be link between East and West

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Deep in the heart of Europe, lays the historical region of Moravia, together with Bohemia one of the constituent parts of the Czech Republic. Moravia may not come up to your mind first when you think about the European aerospace industry, yet, this is a region has a long industrial tradition that has found in aviation one of its most promising areas of specialization.

While Moravia is nowhere near rivaling Toulouse or Hamburg, the nearly thirty aerospace companies that form its local aero cluster, the Moravian Aerospace Cluster, have quite a few things going for it.

Our biggest advantage is complexity and flexibility. All our skills are concentrated in a relatively small area. That means we are able to react really quickly and effectively to solving complex requirements and supplying complex components. Also we are able to provide special processes and technologies (like heat treatment, surface treatment, composites, etc) and testing capabilities, without need to send the part across the Europe” explains Petr Tomášek, the executive manager of the Moravian Aero Cluster ”our cluster is, therefore, a great one-stop-shop and middleman for OEMs and Tier 1 companies. We can provide them with initial screening for potential suppliers and also establish for them consortia for complex assemblies”.

For example, the Moravian Aerospace Cluster boasts about the fact that it is one of few aircraft producing regions in the World able to develop, manufacture, test and certify aircraft completely in its territory.

Did I say manufacture aircraft?  Yes. There are two segments of the aircraft manufacturing industry where Moravia shines with its own light.  One of them is ultralight aircraft. One in every four aircraft in the ULL category in the World is manufactured locally.

And another major area of specialization, that gets the Moravian cluster a foot in the larger commercial aircraft market, is the commuter aircraft category, for up to 20 passengers.

 

Here the star is, undoubtedly, the Let L-410 aircraft, an admittedly old design that traces its roots back to the 1960s, but one that is still popular in its category, particularly after successive modernizations.  LET Aircraft industries currently markets and services two versions of the type, the L-410 UVP-E20, and the L-410NG, that is also manufactured under license in Russia. It is in Russia where the L-410 has found its largest markets, with the model being popular among regional operators that connect isolated and remote communities throughout the expanses of this vast country.

The development of a modernized, larger version of the L-410, a project that was already considered years ago under the designation L-610, is not off the table. This new aircraft would move LET into a bigger league, that of aircraft for up to 90 passengers, but it is no more than an idea at this stage.

In fact, the Czech aerospace industry traditional links with the East, partly a legacy of the communist era but also facilitated by a common Slavic cultural and language heritage, are now being leveraged by the local cluster in its aim to position itself as a sort of industrial nexus between Western and Russian aerospace industries.

The current geopolitical tensions do not help in this enterprise, but Mr.Tomášek remains optimistic “We exhibited at MAKS 2017 and we are collaborating with GE aviation Czech in the organization of the Czech aerospace conference in April in Moscow and we are also preparing the Czech-Russian aerospace forum in May in Kunovice, Moravia. The aim is to showcase the capabilities of the Czech aviation industry and eventually sign up cooperation agreements with Russian companies, such as, for example, the United Engine Corporation”.

But Moravian aerospace companies are not only looking east. This year the Moravian Aero Cluster has been involved in trade missions and in the signing of cooperative agreements with the likes of Airbus, Leonardo, Rolls Royce and Embraer, that have found in Moravia opportunities for strategic procurement.

A small aero cluster with the ambition to fly high.

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