As part of a larger commitment by GE Aviation to invest $195 million across its North Carolina operations through 2017, the company announced yesterday that it will break ground this year on an advanced composite component factory near Asheville in Western North Carolina.

The new 125,000-square-foot facility (next to an existing GE Aviation machining plant) will produce engine components made of advanced ceramic matrix composite (CMC) materials. 

“GE has been investing in CMC technology for decades, and we are mastering the manufacturing of CMCs at our laboratory in Delaware.  Asheville would be our first factory involved in the mass production of CMC components,” said David Joyce, CEO of GE Aviation. “We believe the future Asheville plant will be on the ground floor of a new technology that will change aviation.”

Within five years, the workforce at the plant is expected to grow to more than 340 people.  GE Aviation has more than 1,300 employees in North Carolina at sites in Durham, West Jefferson, Wilmington, and Asheville.

The introduction of CMC components into the hot section of GE jet engines represents a significant technology breakthrough for GE and the jet propulsion industry, the company said.  

CMCs are made of silicon carbide ceramic fibers and ceramic resin, manufactured through a highly sophisticated process and further enhanced with proprietary coatings. The ultra-lightweight CMC material supports extremely high temperatures in the high-pressure turbine. CMC benefits include: reduced weight, enhanced performance and improved durability that provides longer time on wing, translating into lower fuel and maintenance costs for customers.

The specific CMC component to be built in the new Asheville facility is a high-pressure turbine shroud, a stationery component that directs exhaust gases through the high-pressure turbine.   More importantly, this CMC component will be on the  LEAP jet engine, being developed by CFM International, a joint company of GE and Snecma (SAFRAN) of France. The LEAP engine, which will enter airline service in 2016, will power the new Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 MAX and COMAC (China) C919 aircraft.

CFM to date has logged total orders and commitments for more than 4,500 LEAP engines.  There will be 18 CMC turbine shrouds in every LEAP engine produced.

GE worked closely with the North Carolina Department of Commerce (NCDC) to secure the proposed Asheville location and investments in existing facilities. The NCDC, along with several local agencies (the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, Buncombe County, City of Asheville, Ashe County, the Golden Leaf Foundation, the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, and Wilmington Business Development) have provided technical support and incentives to ensure a smooth and successful start-up.