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GE Aviation Division, Aircraft Engines
This paper discusses General Electric Corporation (GE), specifically the arm which focuses on the production of aircraft engines. Until 2005, the GE Aviation division (GEA) operated under the designation of General Electric Aircraft Engines (GEAE). We will analyze GEA from a product standpoint, as well as from a business operations standpoint. We will firstly discuss the beginnings of GE as a maker of aircraft engines. We will discuss some of the products GEA has built which have resulted in its leadership position as one of the world's best makers of aircraft engines. The product related discussion will conclude with a look into what the future may hold related to engine technology and projects that GEA will focus upon. Secondly, we will examine GEA's unique business human resource management model. Specifically, we will examine GE's leadership education organization and its belief in the practice of rotating senior level personnel between different responsibilities, which it does to foster the professional growth of their key executive players by allowing them to gain a greater scope of experience.
GEA is an operating unit of the General Electric conglomerate of companies. It is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio in the United States of America. As of 2010, it employed approximately thirty-nine thousand employees in over eighty countries worldwide, with gross revenues nearing 18 billion dollars, which represented approximately one tenth of GE's overall business. GEA is one of the world's foremost providers of commercial and military jet aircraft engines and the complex integrated onboard systems which support them. These ancillary systems include electric power systems, mechanical systems and avionics interfaces. In addition, GEA operates a sophisticated global supply and service network operation to support its customer base.
GEA has a renowned history of technological innovation. This includes over a dozen "firsts" in jet engine evolution, such as production of the first jet, turboprop and stator types of engines in the United States, the first engine to achieve supersonic speeds exceeding Mach 2, numerous engine capability advances, and noteworthy world records for aircraft engine performance (GE Aviation, 2011).
It is meaningful to consider GEA in the overall context of GE, its parent company. GE operates in over one hundred countries, with a workforce of three hundred thousand employees worldwide. GE's prestigious origins began with Thomas A. Edison, inventor of the light bulb. Edison Electric Light Company (also known as Edison General Electric Company) was started in 1878 and subsequently merged with Thomson-Houston Electric Company in 1892 to create today's General Electric Company. GE is the only surviving company from the 1896 starting list of the Dow Jones Industrial stock market index. GE is presently comprised of fifteen core businesses, organized under four umbrella divisions which include Energy, GE Capital, Home and Business Solutions and Technology Infrastructure. GE Aviation (including Aircraft Engines) is part of the Technology Infrastructure grouping, where it is accompanied by GE's Transportation and Healthcare businesses. Without question, the overall size of the GE organization was a result of an intentional, considered business design that was core to the strategies enabling the success of the GEA division. In the words of CEO Jack Welch in GE's 2001 Annual Report,
"...we appreciate the one huge advantage size offers: the ability to take big swings, big risks, and to live outside the technology envelope, to live in the future. Size allows us to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in an enormously ambitious program like the GE90, the world's highest-thrust jet engine, and the "H" turbine, the world's highest efficiency turbine generator. Size allows us to introduce at least one new product in every segment, every year (Stern, 2002)"
GEA systematically makes large corporate acquisitions valued in the billions of dollars, such as the aircraft engine parts manufacturer Smiths Aerospace. One overall strength of GE has been in its ability to establish businesses which generate lucrative follow-on maintenance and service revenues, after the initial sale of equipment which itself commands substantially high prices and margins. Roughly one third of GE's industrial revenue is generated from the extremely high-margin services aftermarket in which the GEA aircraft engines division is a leader, generating service revenues that exceed equipment sales prices by a factor of six or more.
The present CEO and President of GEA is David L. Joyce, who simultaneously occupies the position of Senior Vice President of GE's overall organization. Joyce rose through GEA's ranks between 1980 and 2008, progressing through the organization in a multitude of significant leadership roles that exemplify the leadership development philosophy embraced by GE's renowned internal Crotonville school of management. Joyce spent the early years of his career as a product engineer, working on nine separate aircraft engine types that were used in more than a dozen aircraft models. In 1995, he began leading process improvement projects as a Six Sigma Master Black Belt in aviation engineering. In the following decade from 1998 to 2008, Joyce undertook progressively senior management roles, eventually leading up to his chief executive appointment in June 2008 (GE Aviation, 2011).
GEA was created at the beginning of the first World War, in response to the United States government's call for the first airplane engine turbosupercharger, or "booster." The booster technology was needed to enable piston-based engines of the time to operate efficiently in the thinner air of high altitude flight. The mechanism worked by redirecting the engine's hot exhaust emissions to drive an air compression turbine blade, which then augmented the engine's intake air temperature and pressure to augment the power output. Under veil of military secrecy, GE prevailed in a competitive bid with a second company to deliver its first aircraft engine, a 350-horsepower propeller-based unit known as the turbosupercharged Liberty. The Liberty was initially demonstrated at an altitude of 14,000 feet over Pikes Peak, Indiana, then considered a rugged environment which served to cement GE's superiority in the competitive bid. GEA did not relinquish its leadership in aircraft engines for over twenty years, entering World War II with stronger turbosupercharged engines which enabled progressively higher altitude flights with increasingly heavy payloads. GEA thus developed a deep base of expertise, credibility and innovation history in turbosupercharger and turbine technologies. This firmly established GEA's expertise so as to convince the U.S. Army's Air Force division to commission GEA to create the United States' first jet engine. Turbine-based jet engines shared the underlying design principles and production challenges that GEA had mastered with its earlier turbosuperchargers, contributing significantly to GEA's win of this historic military commission. The actual design and invention of the jet engine did not originate in America. GEA's first assignment from the U.S. Army Air Corps arrived in 1941, when they were commissioned to render the jet engine design authored by Sir Frank Whittle of Britain. Within six months following the award in April, 1942, GEA demonstrated a successful prototype of its 1-A jet engine, built in GEA's new plant located in Lynn, Massachusetts. After a further six months, the Bell XP-59A Airacomet made its historic maiden flight, powered by two GE 1-A engines, marking the entry of the United States into the age of jet powered flight. To provide an idea of the progress made since the Airacomet's 1942 flight, its first issue GE 1-A engines were each rated at 1,250 pounds of thrust capability. In comparison, GEA's current flagship jet aircraft engine, the GE90-115B, is rated at 115,000 pounds thrust, representing a thrust capability increase of nearly 100 times achieved over a seventy-year period. Since 1942, GEA's scope of business has expanded to encompass the design and manufacture of both jet engines and related integrated aircraft systems. GEA has expanded far beyond its roots in military operations, into commercial civilian transportation, business and general-purpose aircraft. In addition, GEA's advanced turbine technologies have found important applications outside of the realm of flight with marine-based uses, and in the numerous emerging power generation industries based upon alternative energy sources. Competitors of GEA in the twenty-first century consist primarily of two other aircraft engine manufacturers, namely Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce (GE Aviation, 2011).
We will now take a closer look at the evolution and market presence of GEA's principal aircraft engine product lines. GEA organizes its present line of engine products into four broad engine type classifications, including Commercial, Corporate, Marine and Military. For discussion purposes, these products may also be distinguished as designated for military and civilian target markets.
Following GEA's historic 1942 initiation of the American jet aircraft age with the 1-A engine, several successors to the 1-A were created to meet the needs of the U.S. Army Air Corps, known collectively as known as the J-series. In the five following years, the GE J33 model advanced the centrifugal-flow compressor technology introduced by the 1-A to generate over 4,000 pounds of thrust. This enabled several new aircraft models to break all prior speed records. In 1947, the GE J35 model introduced axial-flow compressor technology, and became the precursor to the compressor technologies used in all GEA jet engines since…[continue]
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