Safran contributes to the production of the GE9X engine
Launched in November 2013, the Boeing 777X is already a commercial success, with over 300 orders placed to date. This comes as no surprise, since the American aircraft manufacturer's latest addition to its family of long-haul aircraft boasts several key competitive assets, including a 20% decrease in operating costs compared with previous generations. The key to the aircraft's performance is the GE9X, a next-generation engine designed by GE with the support of two Safran Group companies: Snecma and Techspace Aero. "The engine's fan diameter and compression ratio make it the largest jet engine ever made," explains Nicolas Potier, High-power Engine Program Director at Snecma. "However, it will consume 10% less fuel than the GE90-115, which is currently used on this family of aircraft. We are contributing to this improved performance by implementing technologies based on our developments for the LEAP* engine".
The major contribution of composite materials
Safran holds an 11% stake in the program, in line with the Group's strategy aimed at developing its presence in the high-power engine segment, alongside its historic partner, GE. Within the framework of the GE9X program, Snecma will be responsible for designing and manufacturing two key parts of the engine: the forward fan case and the turbine rear frame.
The fan case will be manufactured in 3D woven composite material, using the Resin Transfer Molding (RTM) process. "This breakthrough technology was developed for the LEAP engine and will enable us to manufacture stronger and lighter parts," says Nicolas Potier. "The major challenge on this new engine is the size of the fan case, which is twice as big as the one on the LEAP." The first tests have already begun at "Safran Aerospace Composites", a new production site in Rochester (New-Hampshire) in the United States. The composite fan blades will be manufactured by CFAN, a 50/50 joint-venture between Snecma and GE. The company has extensive expertise in this field, since it already produces the composite blades for the GE90 and GEnx engines.
Finally, the turbine rear frame will be produced in Snecma's plants in France, particularly at FAMAT, another 50/50 joint-venture with GE.
Techspace Aero is the second Safran Group company involved in this program. It is responsible for designing and producing the low-pressure compressor for the GE9X. "Low-pressure compression has been our field of excellence for the last twenty years," explains Jacques Smal, Strategy, Business and Programs Director at Techspace Aero. "To give you an idea of its importance, the GE9X program will represent around 15% of the company's production by 2020." In addition, the fan disk** designed by GE will also be produced on Techspace Aero's assembly lines. This part will then be assembled on the low-pressure compressor before being delivered to GE. "Delivering a complete ready-to-assemble module optimizes logistics and enables us to move up the value chain," concludes Jacques Smal.
* Designed by CFM International, a 50/50 joint venture between Snecma and GE, the LEAP will replace the CFM56 engine on the next-generation of single-aisle aircraft manufactured by Boeing, Airbus and Comac.
** Rotating part at the front of the engine to which the fan blades are attached.
CFAN, a partnership devoted to composites
CFAN is a jointly-owned subsidiary (50:50) of Snecma and GE, based in San Marcos (Texas). The company was founded in 1993 and the following year delivered the first composite fan blades for a civil aircraft jet engine: the GE90, which powers the Boeing 777. Specialized in composite materials, the company still makes the fan blades for the GE90 and was chosen to manufacture those of its successor, the GE9X. Since 2005, it has also manufactured the composite blades for the GEnx engine family.