GE Aviation details plans for statewide investment

Jun. 17, 2013 @ 01:04 PM

GE Aviation confirmed Monday a plan to add 50 jobs at its engine assembly plant in Durham to boost capacity for assembly of a new jet engine, the Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion, or LEAP engine.

The company formally announced the plans to add capacity at the plant here as part of larger announcement of a $195 million total investment package that would add about 240 jobs at four sites in Asheville, Wilmington, West Jefferson as well as Durham. The company currently employs about 1,300 people across the state.

City and county officials from around the state have worked on a multi-jurisdictional effort to provide incentives for GE Aviation’s investment, while trying to keep details of the business deal under wraps.
According to previous reports in The Herald-Sun, local government leaders have pledged millions in incentives for the company, which is a unit of GE. Durham city and county leaders pledged $600,000, with $200,000 from the county and $400,000 from the city.

Previously called “Project X” by local officials, the plan for GE Aviation’s investment in Asheville detailed in the company release on Monday would add a 125,000 square foot manufacturing facility across from an existing manufacturing facility.

At the plant, the company would produce engine components made of advanced ceramic matrix composite materials, or CMCs, initially for the LEAP engine. 

The new LEAP engine is being developed in by CFM International, a joint company between GE and the French company Snecma.

The engine, targeted to enter service in 2016, is targeted to power aircraft including the new Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 MAX and COMAC China C919 aircraft.

Kelly Walsh, a GE Aviation spokeswoman, said in an email that the new CMC material, which the company sees as a “differentiator” for its next-generation aircraft engines, is planned to be incorporated into all of its new engines, but the company is starting with the CFM LEAP engines.

The specific component to be built with CMC material in the new factory in Asheville will be a high-pressure turbine shroud, which is a stationery component that directs exhaust gases through the high-pressure turbine.  

The factory would be the company’s first involved in the mass production of CMC components, David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation, said in a statement in a news release.

The CMC material is lighter weight and more durable, allowing for lower fuel and maintenance costs for customers. The material is able to support extremely high temperatures in the high-pressure turbine, according to the release.

GE Aviation has orders and commitments for more than 4,500 LEAP engines. There will be 18 CFM turbine shrouds in each LEAP engine produced, which the company said means a high, long-term production volume at the Asheville plant.

“We believe the future Asheville plant will be on the ground floor of a new technology that will change aviation,” Joyce said in the release.

The workforce at GE Aviation’s current manufacturing site in Asheville, where the company now employs 290, would gradually transition to the new CMC components plant. The company is planning for an additional 50 workers at the new site.

Across the next decade, the current machining work at the site could be transferred to other GE plants.
The deal with GE's expansion in North Carolina is still subject to final approvals of state incentives.

The planned investment in the company’s assembly plant Durham, which has been called “Project Bull” by local government officials, is for new tooling and equipment for the LEAP engine, Walsh said.
The company is also planning for an additional 105 workers and an 80,000-square-foot expansion in West Jefferson. It’s also planning 35 additional jobs in Wilmington.

The proposed investment in the West Jefferson facility, which currently does machining of rotating parts, would allow for increased capacity for additional machining work.

The 540,000-square-foot facility in Wilmington will continue to manufacture medium to large rotating hardware. The investment would allow for the purchase of next- generation equipment for the plant.