Archive For The “Turboprops” Category

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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Turboprop review through 3Q17

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Turboprops have had a good year in 2017.  We take a look at the market and provide some insights to be found in the data.

The turboprop market is big but not as exciting, perhaps, as the single-aisle market.  We can see that the number of parked aircraft has risen from about 9% of the fleet to over 16%.  Does this indicate something odd going on?

Reviewing the parked aircraft we find that they average over 20 years old.  Because of OEM changes, there is another pattern: parked aircraft reflect the state of the OEM’s fleet.  BAe, Embraer, Fairchild/Dornier,  Fokker, and SAAB are all out of this market. Moreover, the number of parked aircraft vary by world region.

Looking at the more recent history, we can see how the departure from the market has impacted the in-service fleet.  Turboprops, despite being workhorses, don’t die easily.  In 2015 the in-service fleet average age was  19.7 years and as of 3Q17, the in-service fleet averaged 19 years.

Taking a look at the in-service fleet as of 3Q17, we find the following.

Asia/Pacific and the EU are the primary markets for turboprops.  North America (combining Canada and the USA) creates the third biggest market. The CIS and the Middle East do not look like promising places to trade.   (Which begs a question about the GE and UEC deal, doesn’t it?) Africa and Latin America look promising though.

These could be exciting times for OEMs though.  The table lists in-service aircraft.  The light blue columns show models no longer in production.  Eventually, even these need to be parked and replaced.

Is there any surprise that Embraer is pondering a comeback?  Looking at the wide range of aircraft sizes that fall into this market, it would seem the focus on 90-seaters may not be the best place to look.  There are literally hundreds (about 43% of the market) of 30-50 seaters that need replacing, and you do not need to make as tough a business case as you do with 90-seaters.

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Pratt & Whitney Canada – pre-EAA outlook

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Pratt & Whitney Canada provided us with two guests to discuss the upcoming EAA event in Oshkosh.  We discussed their market outlook.  Our guests were: Nicholas Kanellias, Vice President, General Aviation Programs, P&WC and Geoffrey Corbeil, General Manager, Aftermarket Commercialization, P&WC.

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GE’s additive manufacturing

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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.

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