This past week was quite a milestone for GE Aviation as it opened two new advanced manufacturing plants.

The company invested $130 million to build a composite factory in Ellisville, Mississippiand a “super-alloy” plant in Auburn Alabama. 

By 2017,  GE will hire 550 workers to staff these plants.

This new capacity is necessary to serve the growing world aircraft fleet which is estimated to double over the next twenty years reaching 40,000, according to GE.

Along with an increase in demand is an increase in the use of  advanced technology, including lasers. “Manufacturing workers will soon be like Jedi Knights, wielding laser tools that cut, weld and scribe advanced metal and ceramic materials into complex parts,” says Hongqiang Chen, lead laser processing engineer at GE Global Research.

“Advanced manufacturing has arrived and we’re beginning to see laser technologies move from specialty applications to common tools used by workers on the plant floor,” Chen added.

In fact the workers at the Alabama plant, which opened on Tuesday, will be using lasers to drill tiny cooling holes in jet engine blades made from heat-resistant super-alloys that serve inside the high pressure turbine.

“This is one of the most critical and sophisticated components in our jet engines,” says David Joyce, GE Aviation CEO. “They are perfectly shaped aerodynamically, with laser-drilled cooling holes because they operate at extraordinary temperatures. We consider them a work of art.”

The Auburn facility will manufacture high-pressure turbine airfoils and will deliver its first parts later this year. GE invested $75 million and will hire 300 workers when fully staffed.

The  Auburn location was selected in large partdue to its access to a skilled work force and its proximity to Alabama’s university systemm, the company said. GE has partnered with AIDT to develop pre-employment training programs for the facility. Southern Union State Community College, a member of the Alabama Community College System, will handle the machining portion of the pre-employment training. And to develop a pipeline of young talent, GE has worked with Auburn University and Tuskegee University to create internship and co-op opportunities for students.

The other plant, a new 344,000-square-foot composites manufacturing facility in Ellisville, Miss., known as GE Ellisville Composites, is a $56 million company investment that will create 250 new jobs.

This facility will produce advanced composite components for aircraft engines and systems.

GE Aviation opened its first Mississippi composites manufacturing facility in Batesville in 2008.

“GE Aviation’s growing partnership with the state of Mississippi is creating long-term economic growth,” said David Joyce, and chief executive officer of GE Aviation. “We couldn’t be happier with our Batesville operation, and we look forward to the growth of our new Ellisville operation.”

GE  now has four composite plants, including one in  Batesville, Mississippi, which already employs 350 workers.