In this Supply Chain Matters posting, we provide some background to our prior commentary noting that Airbus is in the process of evaluating a further ramp-up of the production cadence of its A320 aircraft. The most significant suppliers involved in these ramp-up decisions are often aircraft engine suppliers, fuselage and airframe A320neo-Interstiticomponents suppliers as well as the myriad of avionics and electronic component suppliers. A recent commentary from General Electric’s GE Reports, provides added perspective on how the prime aircraft engine provider for the new A320 NEO model is preparing.  It further reflects on the challenges for ramping-up newer materials sourcing and production process technologies, including deployment of 3D printing techniques.

The new next generation A320 NEO aircraft will be offered with twin LEAP jet engines supplied by CFM International, a 50/50 joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran (Snecma). To date, CFM has recorded a backlog of more than 2500 orders for the LEAP-GE-CFM CFM56 LEAP engine1A model that powers the new A320 NEO. Other versions of the LEAP power plant will be available as engine options for the newly designed Boeing 737 MAX as well as the Comac C919.  Thus, with a total combined backlog of 8900 orders related to the LEAP engine, CFM is indeed a strategic linchpin for commercial aerospace supply chain output planning. The first operational LEAP engine is scheduled to enter service sometime next year.

The GE commentary reports that the newly designed LEAP engine will include 19 3D-printed components to include fit-to-print fuel nozzles and static turbine shrouds produced from super strong ceramic composite materials. There are currently 30 prototype LEAP engines supporting all OEM three manufacturers, going through final assembly or testing phases among global based facilities.  The report provides a rather fascinating photo of the flying GE Aircraft test aircraft as the engines are tested for operational performance.

As noted in our prior A320 focused commentary, Airbus has already announced plans to increase its monthly A320 production rate to 50 aircraft by early 2017, but is now actively evaluating an even larger 60 per month cadence.  As the LEAP engine moves through its initial prototype assembly and testing phases this year, and operational service in 2016, CFM must gear-up its own production volumes to match both Airbus and Boeing production volumes, while incorporating new leading-edge processes such as custom 3D printing.

It’s a tall order which obviously palaces CFM International as being one of the most key commercial aerospace suppliers to observe in the coming months and years. If further provides perspectives on how challenging such commercial aircraft output volumes will become.

Stay tuned.

Bob Ferrari