French President François Hollande has officially opened a new plant in France making cutting-edge composite components for the next generation of fuel-efficient jet engines.
The first application of the production plant in Commercy, a partnership between French aerospace firm Safran and US materials experts Albany, will be to produce fan blades and cases for the LEAP jet engine made by CFM International, a joint venture between Safran subsidiary Snecma and General Electric, which will power both the Airbus A320neo and the Boeing 737 MAX.
The joint production plant, which opened in May, has already recruited more than 90 employees and by 2018 it will have 400 employees on a 10 hectare (25 acre) site, featuring 27,000 square metres of floorspace.
"This new plant reflects a deeply anchored and shared vision and mutual trust between industry and government," said chairman and CEO of Safran Jean-Paul Herteman during the inauguration ceremony attended by Hollande yesterday.
"For manufacturers like us, a new plant is a door into the future. I think that the 400 jobs to be created in this region are definitely a sign of our confidence.
“It also clearly illustrates our strong commitment to R&D and innovation, with the aim of developing products that offer ever-higher performance, capable of meeting our customers’ economic imperatives while also satisfying increasingly stringent environmental requirements."
A twin plant in Rochester in New Hampshire, USA, which will produce the same 3D woven composite parts for the LEAP engine, was also inaugurated yesterday. Safran and Albany have invested a total of $200m (£160m) in the two plants.
They will use an automated 3D weaving process to build the blades out of specially designed composite fibres, which is both more reliable and cost effective than the process for making comparable laminated composite blades as less manual labour is required.
The composite parts created are both strong and light, helping to reduce LEAP’s fuel consumption by 15 per cent compared with current CFM engines. The engine has already recorded over 7,800 orders to date, which equates to more than five years of production for Safran.
President and CEO of Albany International Joseph G Morone said: "This plant, the concrete symbol of the partnership between Safran and Albany, is the first of its type in the aerospace industry.
“The manufacturing technology that is being applied here on an industrial scale, and the products designed with this technology, are truly innovative. And this specific capability is the exclusive property of Safran and Albany.
“So today is more than just the inauguration of a modern new plant. It marks the deployment of a unique technology that will have a considerable impact on the market for many years to come."