The LEAP engine, in versions 1A and 1B, is the latest generation jet engine by CFM International (the joint venture between GE Aviation and the French SNECMA) and which will replace bestseller CFM56 in the next brand new long-range aircraft: A319neo, A320neo and A321neo will have the LEAP-1A version installed, while Boeing 737max will be powered by the version 1B.
The LEAP is an engine with an extremely high propulsive efficiency, with technologies that can reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, and is made with cutting-edge materials used to manufacture various components (e.g. the case and the fan blades in composite carbon fiber). The LEAP-1A was also one of the first engines to have our TiAl blades installed during development; these blades are manufactured in Avio Aero, Cameri (350 rotor blades manufactured around three years ago). After an initial flight qualification test in May of 2015 on an A320neo, it was just in the first ten days of last February that the LEAP-1A flew on another member of the Airbus family, the A321neo. The first deliveries of the A320neo are expected in 2017.
The LEAP-1B, instead, flew for the first time (after thousands of hours of bench tests and flight tests on a modified B747 last year) on a Boeing 737max at the end of last January in the state of Washington, in accordance with the program's schedule that should see the official enter into service with Southwest Airlines by 2017.
Avio Aero, a leading partner in the LEAP program from the start, is responsible for the design and manufacturing of various components for the low-pressure turbine: the stator blades for the third, fourth and fifth stage, the 5th stage disc and the outer casing of the turbine, made in Brindisi in the Frames area, under the guidance of Damiano Mazzotta and specialized in manufacturing cases and frames (the former for large civil aircraft engines, like the GEnx and GE9X, the latter for the famous turbines of the LM family).
It is here that we visited the new automated line, especially made for the LEAP program, installed following the cutting edge and technological ambition of the program itself. The new line has been operative since last November, and consists of 6 machines (2 vertical lathes, 2 milling lathes and 2 machining centers), also equipped with 22 pallets, 2 loading and unloading stations, an up-ender, a washer and a central tool room with 600 tools that serve the entire line.
Thanks to this new line - specifically an FMS cell (Flexible Manufacturing System) with automated in-process measurements, central robotic tool changer, Wi-Fi connection between the Supervisor software and the cell hardware - it will be possible to satisfy our customer’s demand and achieve results such as a DPU (Defects per Unit) of zero.
The LEAP case arrives at the Brindisi factory in the form of a pre-machined forged piece: at the start of the process this forged piece weighs 220 kg; after a series of processing (turning, milling and drilling) it will weigh around 45 kg. The LEAP-1A undergoes six types of operation, while the 1B only undergoes 7.
The casing is made of a material called Waspaloy, a nickel-based super-alloy, and at the end of processing it has a maximum diameter of around 1200 mm, a minimum diameter of around 900 mm, and a height of around 400 mm.
A view of the new cell in Brindisi dedicated to the LEAP LPT case manufacturing
The project for this new line, whose investment was around 15 million Euros, was launched in 2013 with the research and selection of suppliers; design was completed in the first half of 2014 and installation began last August. To date, the line is complete and operating, and includes a team made of operators (the majority), technical supervisors and engineers. Recently, the construction of a second FMS cell (similar to this first one) has started and it will be part of the total 4 cells that are going to be realized by 2018 in order to meet customer’s needs. In the meanwhile, in order to fulfill the ramp up safely for our customers, GE Oil & Gas and GE Aviation have partnered to execute operations for the LEAP-1B casing at Brent Avenue plant in Montrose, Scotland. This is just one good example of how the GE Store is driving sustainability for our business.
In 2016, 193 casings are expected to be processed, increasing to 570 in 2017 and reaching 1980 units in 2019: in Brindisi, everything is good to go.