Everything is almost ready for entry into service of all versions of the LEAP engine: the new generation engine based on state-of-the-art technologies and materials (including the 3-D printed fuel nozzles and the carbon fibre fan balde and case, the Twin-Annular, Pre-Swirl combustor, and the TiAl (Titanium Aluminium) low pressure turbine blades). The LEAP-1A is already in commercial service powering the Airbus A320neo family: the maiden flight from Istanbul to Antalya, with the Turkish owned Pegasus Airlines took place last August. The LEAP 1C (the twin of the 1A, designed for the Chinese airliner COMAC C919) obtained EASA and FAA certification last December and will be ready to take off very soon. The LEAP-1B, which powers the new Boeing 737 Max, also passed the certification tests last year with flying colours and is ready for entry into service. The LEAP engine is a product of CFM International, a 50/50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines.
The figures clearly show this programme was "born lucky", with over nearly twelve thousand orders already on order with more than 100 airlines around the world, and the volumes to be produced are considerable: over 500 engines in 2017, which will become 1100 in 2018 and as many as 2000 by 2020.
CFM is a high-profile client for Avio Aero - as the collaboration for the CFM56 (a bestseller for passenger aircraft) demonstrates – and our business is also fully committed for this NPI to succeed, as it’s ready to take on the considerable challenge of manufacturing each module and component in every factory, based on their technical expertise.
The company will work on the LEAP programme at all its facilities in Italy and at its centre of excellence in Bielsko Biala, Poland, where it manufactures the nozzles for the low-pressure turbine and the stator stage 3, 4 and 5 turbine blades for all three versions of the engine (LEAP-1A, 1B and 1C).
We own the rights to the design of all these components and to the technological processes used to produce them, notably the EDM (electrode discharge machine) technology: this vastly reduces machine throughput time, significantly increases quality and improves overall cost-effectiveness.
In Italy, the biggest and most highly complex challenge, above and beyond the huge commitment in terms of the production volumes required from each Avio Aero facility - will be faced by the Combustors & Frames product centre in Pomigliano. For the first time ever, this centre of excellence, which has made combustion systems (and their components) for well-known aircraft engines like the SaM146, CFM56, PW800 and PW308, will manufacture an entire combustor module with the innovative twin-walled (Twin-Annular) combustor exclusively for the LEAP engine. The internal and external components (inner and outer liners) of the combustor are unusual as the two parts are assembled rather than cast to form a single cylindrical component (as shown in the animated gif image).
The combustion chamber walls are also innovative: they have "shaped cooling holes" of a very special, unconventional form.
The combustor module is composed of about 27 assembled parts, nearly 10 of which are entirely made at the factory in Naples. Emanuela Genua, the Manufacturing Engineer at the Centre of Excellence, told us: "The inner and outer liners, and the dome through which the flame passes, are certainly the most technologically advanced and complex parts we are working on, and perhaps have ever worked on, using processes such as laser drilling and plasma treatment with six brand new processes introduced to the workshop by our skilled operators."
In addition to the combustor module, this CoE makes the seal that stays between the combustor module and the turbine module. Giovanni Ferrara, the new leader of the Combustors & Structures centre of excellence, remarked: "We will deliver the first combustor for the LEAP-1A, the version that we'll focus on all year, and will start work on the 1B by the end of 2017. We are working tirelessly to meet this challenge and are savouring the opportunity: investing in new machines and dedicated production cells, using advanced models of lean manufacturing, dividing major volumes of work between all the CoE’s teams, and qualifying each new technological process developed by our engineers."
The contribution of the factories in Southern Italy to the LEAP engine program is truly impressive as can be said in particular of the Frames & Cases centre in Brindisi. In March 2016, we spoke of considerable investment in technology beginning with the construction of the first automated cell for the production of cases for the low-pressure turbine (for the 1A/C and 1B versions) in nickel-based metal superalloy.
The area dedicated to the LEAP programme at the centre in Brindisi has now increased its technological potential, and will continue to do so. Giacomo Visaggio, Manufacturing Engineering Manager for Avio Aero Brindisi, explained: "Two cells (for a total of 12 machine tools) are currently operational, and we are working on the foundations and installation of another two cells, which will be the last for the total of four dedicated lines. The third line will be completed in April and the fourth by November 2017."
The LEAP cells are cutting-edge technology, able to communicate with the line supervisor software and the hardware via a Wi-Fi connection, and ensure a high level of precision and repeatability in the interest of exceptional quality. In addition, the team is working to enable supervisor software to talk with the Predix cloud platform, moving closer toward a Brilliant Factory.
Damiano Mazzotta, the Frames & Cases Leader for Avio Aero, said: "By the end of last year we had delivered 136 cases for the LEAP-1A/-1C and 56 cases for the LEAP 1B, with a line of balance for both of 0. In 2016, the first-time yield (the number of good units produced divided by the number of total units produced in a certain time) was 87% for the -1A/-1C and 92% for the 1B. And to think that we have only just begun! The year 2017 will present us with an incredible challenge: we are looking at 600 cases, almost three times the number of LEAP cases produced in 2016."
Finally, at the headquarters in Rivalta di Torino we produce discs for the fifth stage of the 1A/C version of the low-pressure turbine (LPT) (which has a total of 7 stages) as well as for the fifth stage of the LEAP-1B version (with 5 stages). We also produce the rotor and stator seals for all three versions. Federico Bosio, a Manufacturing Engineer at the facility in Rivalta, told us: "The rotor seals are for the HPT (installed between the two stages of the high-pressure turbine, HPT) and help reduce load losses. The other three stator seals (one for the -1A/-1C version and two for the -1B) serve the same purpose and are fitted between the high and low-pressure turbines, forming bearing points."
Record numbers of LEAP parts are also being produced at the facility in Rivalta (which has taken part in several outstanding product launches). Ezio Dadone, the Senior Manufacturing Manager, said: "The LEAP engine involves some very challenging target volumes and costs, and the highest volumes per PN we've ever had to handle. We have invested up to 15 million euro in dedicated cells for this job."