Imagine the calm in the center of a whirlwind. There sits David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation and vice-chair of GE, as future technologies, new materials and the developing world of digital flash by at blurring speed. Ceramic matrix composites, additive manufacturing, titanium aluminides, digital twins and artificial intelligence blaze new trails of opportunity.

“Before I think about future disruptions, we must digest everything we currently have on our plate,” says Joyce. “We’re going through the fastest ramp-up of new-product introduction in history.”

GE and its partner Snecma will deliver close to 500 Leap engines this year for the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX, with the number climbing to more than 2,000 a year by 2020 (the engine also powers the Comac C919). Joyce’s team has devoted a huge effort to preparing the supply chain for the massive increase in production, with redundancy to ensure it can handle any potential issues that occur anywhere within the supply base. “We’ve done the most comprehensive failure modes and effects analysis on our supply chain,” says Joyce. That preparation was illustrated earlier this year when a batch of faulty castings in France caused a big scare but just a brief ripple in the well-oiled machinery.

But that attention to execution doesn’t stop Joyce from thinking about the future.

“We’ve all been very, very busy over the last eight to 10 years. I’ve probably spent eight and a half billion dollars in commercial research and development” to bring the Leap, GE9X (for the Boeing 777X) and Passport business jet engine (for the Global 7000) to fruition.

“So when people say, ‘Gee, it’s kind of disappointing there aren’t too many commercial engine programs going forward,’ I’m thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I’m kind of happy that we’ve got to start delivering what we committed to, and can reload our technology portfolios for what it’s going to take in the out years, the way-out years. Taking a deep breath right now is not a bad idea. Just take a look at where we’ve been.

“But stay tuned. I’m more excited about material technology development now than I have been at any time in my 37 years in the industry.

“I look at titanium aluminides and I look at all the metal powders for additive, I take a look at ceramic matrix composites, it’s a whole family of material systems, and what those will all enable in terms of the way we think. Its the beginning of a new material system journey for this company for the next two to three decades.

“And then architectures, you know, there’s lots of different engine architectures that we’ve all looked at in the past, and there’ll be a time with these other enabling technologies, when they earn their way on, easily. And so, although I don’t think I’d want to relive it, I kind of wish I was a 35-year-old senior engineer in one of these companies. The innovation and the level of application going forward is very exciting. Super exciting.”

Asked about technologies for the next-generation narrowbody-size airliner mooted for service around 2030, Joyce replied: “The last thing I want to talk about is that when I’m just barely getting this generation in the air,” But, he added, the projected timetable “will give us time to mature some very, very exciting technologies that we’re looking at for that product.”

As new-product development for commercial engines enters a lull, so GE has transferred 760 engineers from commercial to military, which will take over the lead in new technology for the next several years with the advanced helicopter engine (ITEP) and the adaptive-cycle engine for sixth-generation fighters.

 

GE Adds an Additive Business

GE is so enthused about additive manufacturing that it launched GE Additive, led by David Joyce, as a company to attract third-party business. It aims for revenues of US$1 billion by 2020, and in the last year bought controlling shares of Arcam of Sweden and Concept Laser of Germany, two leading additive equipment and material suppliers. Joyce says additive technologies are expected to result in US$3 billion to $US5 billion dollars in cost savings throughout GE by 2025.