Archive For The “GE ATP” Category
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.
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.
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.
It is nothing short of eye popping: 855 parts reduced to 12? GE’s ATP is going to be an amazing piece of technology. It certainly will show case the company’s additive manufacturing capabilities.
Lower weight and better fuel burn are equally impressive – indeed these numbers along would attract a lot of attention.
But consider this. If an operator had an ATP in service, and needed parts, where could he or she go? It looks like only GE will have the parts. Moreover, if a small part needs to be replaced, does this mean that a number of other parts also get replaced at the same time? After all, with part consolidation it appears that replacement might mean a lot change when there is a replacement part is needed.
This is really a very good strategy for GE. They can eliminate an entire supply chain in the MRO field. Rather than allow each member of the supply chain make a profit, GE as sole source, gets a better profit and in all likelihood can offer parts cheaper than they do now. No more grey market parts. No more loss of control. GE is the source and that is all there is to it. Quality is built in and guaranteed. Nobody is going to be able to replicate a GE part with GE’s say so.
For operators of turboprops the GE solution could seem very attractive. It seems simpler and, potentially, cheaper. GE seems focused on pushing the simpler is better message as they are making a big splash of their single lever technology on the ATP as well. For an operator, this all sounds like an attractive solution. GE has to be creative to break the hold of the PT-6 on the market. The approach they are taking looks like it could be effective as it hits key hot buttons.
But a thought occurs to us that may not be so apparent to operators. Once your aircraft is GE powered, how does the lifetime cost add up? Having a sole source for spares might not be as cheap as it seems. GE built its enormous power in aero engines by being smart with technologies and business. GE’s future seems tied to its growing additive manufacturing. It appears GE is heading towards even greater power as it controls the spares business. How much of the benefit will GE share with its customers? This strategy is going to be fascinating to watch.