The engine on Boeing’s forthcoming 737 MAX will incorporate several mind-blowing new technology features.
The most startling is the production of a small intricate part, the tip of the fuel nozzle that swirls fuel and air together in a labyrinth of tiny passages, then sprays the mixture into the combustion chamber in the core of the engine.
This nozzle tip is made from a nickel alloy, but it isn’t machined. It isn’t cast. It isn’t forged. It’s the first use of additive manufacturing in aviation production parts.
A layer of nickel alloy powder is laid down and in a computer-controlled process a laser traces the shape in the dust, melting the powder and forming the precise shape required. Then another layer is added on top and the process is repeated. Layer by layer, a 3-D shape is built up with a precision that’s as controlled as printing a document.
(Watch a cool CFM video showing the innards of the LEAP on the jump.)
CFM is a 50:50 joint venture between GE and Safran of France. In a media briefing at Le Bourget, the weekend before the Paris Air Show begins there, CFM showed an eye-popping 3-d, CGI video displaying the innovative technology inside the LEAP (a 2-D version below, with some proprietary details taken out).
Journalists also got to handle samples of the hardware to get the feel of it.
Gareth Richards, the LEAP program manager from GE, said the additive manufacturing process means a part that might have taken months can be produced in days. He expects its use to grow tremendously in the years ahead.
Other new features of the engine:
Each of the big composite fan blades on CFM International’s LEAP engine, shaped into an aerodynamic swirl of twisted scimitar, will be woven on a loom from carbon fiber. With 18 carbon composite blades and a carbon composite fan case, it takes 200 miles (miles!) of carbon fiber thread to produce one LEAP engine.
Inside the high pressure turbine in the engine core, a circular shroud – an added layer inside the case that seals the flow path at the tip of the turbine blades and provides a tight clearance between the blades and the case – will be made of ceramic composites, a material new to commercial aviation with immensely strong silicon carbide fibers.
The LEAP is the exclusive engine on Boeing’s 737 MAX, due to fly in 2016. Another version of the LEAP will power about half of the rival Airbus A320s, which should fly in 2015.
So far, CFM has been testing separate components of the LEAP. This fall, it’s scheduled to begin certification testing on complete engines.
And to cope with the aggressive ramp up planned by both Airbus and Boeing, CFM is expanding its plants as well as opening five new facilities (in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, France and Germany) with a goal to produce 1,700 LEAP engines per year by 2020.
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