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Engine movements on the pulse lines will be managed by touchscreens and an overhead handling system featuring a "swing cradle" that enables rotating the engine around the horizontal axis (a proprietary Snecma process), so staff won't have to work at heights.

New pulse lines for LEAP engine production

During the recent Paris Air Show, French engine manufacturer Snecma announced significant investment in a new assembly facility to meet the unprecedented level of customer demand for the new LEAP engine, which is being developed as part of the CFM partnership with GE to power the latest re-engined versions of the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families and the new Chinese COMAC 919 airliner.

At the time of the announcement, before another flood of 500+ orders were declared at Paris, there were already more than 8900 orders and commitments for the new engine, a year before entry into service.

The new LEAP is already the world’s best-selling new engine, while it is still under development, in the history of aviation. The challenge facing the engine manufacturers, and everyone else down through the supply chain, is how to produce enough units to satisfy what has grown to a backlog of well over 12,000 new aircraft.

Even with aircraft output at Boeing and Airbus heading toward 50 airframes every month, and possibly rising even higher, the need to supply the new generation engines (from CFM and Pratt & Whitney) that is making these 150-seat airplanes so popular has become a priority, certainly in the case of the LEAP engine, which is the sole source powerplant on the 737 Max family.

As a result, Snecma is preparing its supply chain and industrial capabilities for an unprecedented production ramp-up.

The LEAP's predecessor, the CFM56, saw its production gradually rise over a dozen years to an annual rate of nearly 1600 engines. The LEAP faces a much more daunting challenge, since it is aiming at an annual production rate of more than 1800 engines as early as 2020, in just four years. In line with the assigned workshares in the joint French/U.S. company, Snecma is responsible for the final assembly of half of all engines made by CFM, with this assembly being handled by Snecma's Villaroche plant near Paris.

To meet this huge challenge, Snecma is to build two new assembly lines dedicated to the LEAP, alongside the two existing CFM56 production lines. These new pulse lines will stretch 60 m long and 20 m wide (about 200 x 65 ft), and each line will offer a capacity up to 500 engines per year. They will be able to assemble all three versions of the LEAP: the LEAP-1A for the Airbus A320neo, the LEAP-1B for the Boeing 737 MAX, and the LEAP-1C for the Comac C919. These two lines will be up and running by January 2017 and early 2018, allowing Snecma to assemble up to 1000 engines/year at Villaroche—the equivalent to over four engines every day.

The two current CFM56 pulse lines, commissioned in 2009, had already enabled Snecma to reduce engine assembly time by 30% and the two new LEAP assembly lines will extend this initiative, while adding a number of innovations.

For example, engine movements will be managed by touchscreens, and an overhead handling system featuring a "swing cradle" that enables rotating the engine around the horizontal axis (a proprietary Snecma process), so staff won't have to work at heights. The positioning of components and subassemblies on the engine will use the latest laser projection and virtual reality assistance systems, while operators will use connected tools and other advanced devices.

The design of these pulse lines involves operator feedback and can accommodate recommendations. It is expected that this will significantly enhance the comfort and efficiency of operators at the various workstations throughout the production and assembly process. The new additions to the plant will allow for a third LEAP assembly line if this is eventually needed to increase production capacity even further. The GE partners in CFM are also expanding their own LEAP production facilities in the U.S. at West Lafayette, IN, which will see a new line open before the end of this year.

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