Wednesday, January 11, 2023

GE’s India engineers are at the core of its new-age aviation engines

In the year 2000, the then CEO of GE, Jack Welch, came to Bengaluru to inaugurate an extensive R&D centre that went by his own name – John F Welch Technology Centre. Welch had previously been instrumental in outsourcing substantial software work to Indian IT services companies. The R&D centre represented another huge commitment by him.

Welch retired a year later, and passed away two years ago. Meanwhile, the pioneering facility in Bengaluru has grown into one of GE’s largest multidisciplinary R&D centres, doing cutting edge work in aerospace, energy and healthcare. This space is too small to go into all of those, so we focus here on the work in aerospace.

Alok Nanda, CEO of the GE India Technology Centre, took us around the labs, including one in which a massive GE aircraft engine dwarfed everything around, and told us that 60-70% of the team that has designed its latest GE9X engine sit in the India centre. The GE9X is what is going into Boeing’s latest generation aircraft, the 777X, which is currently doing test flights, and is likely to enter into commercial service in 2025.

Nanda says it is 10% more efficient than its predecessor, GE90, and it’s the first engine to be completely digitally enabled. “It is designed with enough sensors to get data access in a much better form than any other engine that anybody has ever designed. When you get all that data, you have so much power in your hands,” he says.

The India team, Nanda says, was involved in everything from the conceptualisation of the engine, to its certification, and including work on materials technologies, digital technologies, the aerodynamics. Nanda says the centre’s capabilities had been built over the years following work on the designs of previous generation engines, including GEnx, LEAP, and G90. “The team has matured by seeing these design cycles, and the beauty of our team is that nobody can beat them in physics,” Nanda says.

That expertise in physics, digital and engineering has meant that the India team is also now a core part of GE and French company Safran’s programme called RISE (Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines), an effort to dramatically reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions. One of the major technologies GE is working on for this is the open fan. The duct that covers the engine and fan is a big drag on the aircraft, and removing it will improve efficiency. But it also means the noise level rises, there’s greater possibility of bird hits. Sanjeev Jha leads a 225-member advanced technology organisation that’s working on the design of the engine and the acoustics to deal with these issues. Jha says the open fan will increase fuel efficiency by 20%.

11/01/23 Sujit John/Times of India

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