GE Aviation’s two-plant manufacturing site in Asheville, North Carolina, is among the first operations to mass produce ceramic matrix composite (CMC) components for commercial jet engines. Tough as their metal counterparts but lighter and more heat-resistant, CMC technology enables engines to save airline-fleet energy costs while boosting performance.
Four years after the Asheville CMC plant opened, manufacturing is thriving. Production rates for the engine turbine shrouds that the plant makes for the LEAP jet engine have more than tripled each year. Produced by CFM International, a joint venture of GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines, LEAP has a backlog of more than 15,500 engines. That translates to more than 300,000 shrouds for the Asheville plant to produce, following the delivery of its 25,000th shroud in August.
The CMC facility opened alongside the company’s longtime nickel alloy rotating parts plant. The CMC components are one-third the weight of metal parts and handle temperatures more than 500°F hotter. The newer plant is also the centerpiece of hundreds of millions of dollars that GE Aviation has invested to upgrade its four manufacturing and assembly sites in North Carolina in recent years, in part to meet the backlog of orders for its next-generation engines.
We recently spoke with Asheville Plant Leader Michael Meguiar about the facility’s growth.
Aerospace Manufacturing and Design (AM&D): Describe the Asheville operation and its importance to GE Aviation.
Michael Meguiar (MM): The Asheville operation has been around since the late 1940s and has always been known for its strong technical talent and the entrepreneurial spirit of its employees. This was the type of workforce and community GE Aviation was excited to expand to support the record-selling LEAP engine, as well as the GE9X – the world’s largest jet engine – now being developed for the Boeing 777X.
Our site produces some of the most complex rotating parts for all of GE’s jet engines, as well as the advanced material system of CMCs. The business continues to look to the Asheville site, which produces 15 critical LEAP components and eight GE9X components, to support its growth platforms.
AM&D: What is so special about the LEAP engine turbine shrouds?
MM: CMC is a much lighter material and more durable than its metallic counterpart, and it allows running the engine at higher temperatures while not requiring the same cooling air to be redirected to the core, thus improving efficiency and fuel burn.
AM&D: Why did GE Aviation choose Asheville, North Carolina?
MM: The Asheville team has always been very adaptive to change. They’re early adopters of technology, new approaches to manufacturing, and have an entrepreneurial approach. The team is very competitive and strives every day to get better in every area of our operation. We also have a very strong sense of family and community, whether it’s our self-directed work teams or our relationship to our local government and nonprofit organizations. This is a workforce that’s committed to seeing technology and job growth in western North Carolina, and that’s what motivates a lot of people.
Also, Asheville is a fantastic place to live, work, and play. Our community is a melting pot of ideas, innovation, and eclectic cultures, which we love and celebrate. Our local government, community college
AM&D: The Asheville plant groundbreaking was in November 2013, and it opened less than a year later. Can you explain the fast turnaround?
MM: Relationships with our local city and county officials could not have been better. We have a great partnership that helped with permitting, construction, and other hurdles associated with building a $20 million facility. Our partnership with the general contractor throughout the design and build process was exceptional. Their use of local trades and strict adherence to GE and Buncombe County standards allowed us to move so fast and ultimately complete in approximately 10 months.
AM&D: How has North Carolina helped your plant achieve its workforce needs?
MM: We established a great partnership early on with Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. We worked together to build a customized training program so that together we can hire technicians with little-to-no experience and give them the skill set to produce some of the most complex engine parts designed.
We also have a longstanding partnership with Pisgah High School, southwest of Asheville, with a formal apprenticeship program, allowing students to complement their schoolwork with real-world experience while building a pipeline of the next generation of machinists. Asheville has some of the best machinist workforces of all supply-chain sites across GE Aviation. Much of it is a result of our apprenticeship program with Pisgah High.
AM&D: Briefly describe the
role the three other North Carolina plant sites are playing for the LEAP engine?
MM: All our four sites across North Carolina are supporting the exponential growth of our LEAP engine and producing many of its parts. Our Wilmington and West Jefferson sites are producing
AM&D: In March 2018, GE Aviation announced it’s expanding its Asheville operation. Why is this expansion necessary?
MM: GE Aviation continues to win orders at a very high rate, specifically on LEAP and 9X. The Asheville site has built a brand of success around delivering for our
AM&D: What would you tell a company regarding why it should consider establishing a facility in North Carolina?
MM: I’ve spent the last 20 years with GE and have moved all over the country, and there is no better place to build a footprint than Asheville, North Carolina.
Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina