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State partners with GE-Aviation to build jet engine parts at MSU

Starkville — The expertise of the Mississippi State University (MSU) Bagley College of Engineering in working with composite materials led to its selection as the site for an incubator to manufacture jet engine parts for GE-Aviation.

In announcing the project expected to lead to the establishment of a jet engine part production facility somewhere in Mississippi in about 18 months, Gov. Haley Barbour said there was a time when companies came here looking for strong backs and low wages.

“GE’s decision to locate this facility in Mississippi is another example of how people come to Mississippi now looking for strong minds and expect to pay high wages for those talented workers,” Barbour said. “This announcement is about more than jobs. This project brings an advanced, high-technology capability to the State of Mississippi.

Fabricating these state-of-the-art materials requires specialized manufacturing capabilities, and our state is the beneficiary of the intellectual capital it will provide.”

On the cutting edge

Tony Jeff, chief operating officer of the Mississippi Technology Alliance, said in addition to the great paying, highly-skilled jobs in the manufacturing plant, the state will benefit from the development activity that goes into such a high-tech product.

“It’s great to see development and manufacturing of such a cutting-edge product in Mississippi,” Jeff said.

The incubator program’s purpose is to demonstrate the necessary capabilities for producing composite components for commercial and military jet engines.

“It is easy to make the first part perfect,” said Rick Kennedy, manager of media relations for GE-Aviation. “What is difficult is making each additional part perfect, as well. That is the challenge. Mississippi State University was selected as the site for the incubator because the university has done a lot of work in composites. If the parts can be manufactured from composites, then we will consider a manufacturing site in Mississippi.”

GE develops and produces the advanced composite components in jet engines which provide greater durability and valuable weight savings. GE introduced the first composite fan blades in jet travel in 1995 with its GE90 engine on the Boeing 777. The GEnx, a new GE engine under development to enter service in 2008, will be the only jet engine with both composite fan blades and a composite fan case. Composite components are also in GE’s advanced military engines.

Demand growing

GE-Aviation officials said due to the great sales success of the GE90 and GEnx engines, the production of GE’s composite components is growing. The Mississippi facility is expected to produce composite fan blade platforms (made of carbon fiber and epoxy resin) for the GEnx engine. These platforms are installed in between the front fan blades at the base of the blades.

The Mississippi facility will also produce composite components for GE military engines, including components for the F136 engine for the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter program.
An early press report said the manufacturing facility would be located in Northeast Mississippi. However, officials with the Mississippi Development Authority later said the site has not been determined yet and could be anywhere in the state.

Kennedy said the most important thing about the selection of a site for the factory will be access to transportation for distribution of the parts. The second most important element will be access to skilled labor. The factory would open sometime in 2007-2008, and would employ approximately 200 people at peak.

Deep roots

Barbour said the new facility would broaden and deepen GE’s roots in Mississippi. “GE showed its commitment to this state in the aftermath of Katrina when the GE Plastics facility in Bay St. Louis was nearly destroyed,” the governor said. “All 129 employees there are back at work, and the plant is up and running. The GE family continues to support many of our colleagues who are still rebuilding their lives, and we are inspired by their resilience.”

Dr. Anthony J. Vizzini, P.E., Bill and Carolyn Cobb Chair and head of Aerospace Engineering, MSU, said the university was selected for the incubator because of its long history of working with the aviation and aerospace history.

“We also have an extensive history of working with composites,” Vizzini said. “We have built and flown aircraft made out of composites back in the mid-1980s and 1990s, when we worked with Honda to build their composite aircraft. Composites provide higher strength and stiffness for the same weight as metal materials. Or you can be lighter with the same strength. You can tailor composite materials to specific needs.”

While there has been some work done in the past using composites to produce jet engine parts, Vizzini said this is a fairly new technology application. The composites are made from base polymer materials with the addition of fibers.

While the University of Southern Mississippi is considered one of the leading colleges in the nation in polymer research, MSU’s work is targeted more towards applications using polymers.

Research partner

Vizzini said the decision of GE-Aviation to site the incubator in Starkville validates the quality of the whole program at the College of Engineering.

“We are being seen by business as the place to come to have a research partner,” Vizzini said. “It benefits this part of

Mississippi when the university is bringing in companies and economic development. It will benefit the state to have more high-tech jobs in the aerospace industry.

“A few years ago there were few aerospace jobs within the state. Stennis Space Center on the Gulf Coast was about it. We have seen a change in the past few years with American Eurocopter in Columbus and Aurora Flight Sciences, which is also working out of our aerospace research center, and now GE-Aviation. It is good for our students to increasingly have options to stay more local than they have in the past.”

Another aerospace development in the state is the production of unmanned aerial vehicles by Northrop Grumman at the Trent Lott International Airport in Pascagoula.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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