|Program||# of Grants||EDA Funds|
|Economic Adjustment Assistance||3||$2,956,855|
Successful manufacturing is predicated upon innovation and implementation of new technologies that will support long-term competitiveness. While this is true in all industries, it is particularly true in aviation manufacturing. Increased pressures by consumers for engines that are fuel efficient and more powerful have led GE, a leader in aircraft engine manufacturing, to develop the new LEAP aircraft engine. This fourth generation aircraft engine is the most technologically advanced engine that the firm has ever produced and is stimulating significant investment in a number of GE manufacturing plants across the country to develop, assemble, and test parts for the new engine. As GE ramps up to begin full production of the new engine in 2016, the company has been examining how they can streamline operations to meet the growing demand beginning on day one.
At the GE facility in Asheville, North Carolina, engineers and workers have been examining how the rotating seals and blades of the LEAP engine could be manufactured more efficiently, which will enable the company to manufacture more engines in a manner that is safer for employees. Currently, these components require manual deburring, or the removing of sharp metal edges to reduce friction and eliminate stress points in the engine. This process can take a skilled technician upwards of nine hours of extremely repetitive motion for a single rotating seal.
In order to meet demand by customers and fulfill preorders for the LEAP engine, the process for deburring these components needs to be significantly reduced. As GE engineers at the Asheville, North Carolina plant considered this challenge, they partnered with Western Carolina University’s (WCU) Center for Rapid Product Realization, an EDA-funded University Center, to secure a team of engineering students to design and build an adaptive, automated system to deburr and contour the edges of the GE90-115B Forward Outer Seal. Through this partnership, the team has designed and programmed a robotic arm to automate the deburring process and has demonstrated how the technology could be utilized in the GE facility.
The initial demonstrations have been positive, and GE is working concurrently to acquire a similar robot to use to begin testing applicability on the manufacturing floor. By adapting this technology, GE anticipates being able to automate and expedite this portion of the manufacturing process soon, which means it will be able to deliver more engines in a timely manner with consistently high quality. Importantly, this innovation also enables GE to redirect the workforce currently focused on deburring to other parts of the manufacturing process that will require less repetitive motion, thereby reducing risk for employee injury.