GE Aviation seeks to grow electrical power business in Dayton

GE Aviation doesn’t just make jet engines.

One of the Evendale-based company’s growing businesses is designing, testing and manufacturing power generators, distribution boxes, power convertors and energy management systems that create and move electrical power around an airplane. GE Aviation’s engineers also design the computer software programs that run a plane’s electrical system, according to the company.

Key to this segment of the aviation business is GE’s growing Dayton-area operations.

“Since the EPISCenter opened in December of 2013, we have won several military and civil programs engaged in both research and product development,” said Vic Bonneau, president of electrical power for GE Aviation. “These new business wins would not have been possible without the system modeling and test capabilities that the new EPISCenter laboratory provides.”

GE’s commercial jet engine deliveries are on the rise, and its partnerships with the military to develop new engines make one of Southwest Ohio’s largest employers a major defense contractor. Annual jet engine deliveries for commercial and military products have grown from 3,000 in 2010 to about 3,700 in 2014, according to GE.

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But a 2007 acquisition expanded GE Aviation for the first time to production of more than just aircraft engines, but other aircraft parts too. And the 2013 opening of the research facility in Dayton is an example of the company’s ongoing investment into the aircraft systems segment, according to the company.

The $53 million, 138,000-square-foot center opened two years ago in Dayton — now the headquarters of GE Aviation’s electrical power business — is poised to expand and add more workers after winning its single biggest electrical systems contract yet.

The order from Boeing is valued at $2 billion over the next 10-plus years, according to GE.

“As we look ahead to next year, we’re going to run out of space again,” Bonneau said. “I would expect our investment would continue to grow.”

Currently, EPISCenter has about 170 employees and has filled the office space, according to Bonneau and Manish Dalal, site leader and system integration leader in Dayton. If GE’s electrical aviation business wins new contracts in 2016, Bonneau said they will need to consider finding more space.

The Boeing Company has selected GE Aviation to provide the Electrical Load Management System, backup generator and backup converter for its new plane in development, the 777X. Plans are for the 777X to enter service in 2020. Supply agreements for development and production with GE Aviation’s electrical power business through 2030 are projected to top $2 billion, according to Bonneau.

Testing to begin in Dayton next year inside the approximately 90,000-square foot EPISCenter laboratory will be tasked with demonstrating the air worthiness of the company’s equipment against vibrations, shock, temperature and high altitude conditions, Dalal said.

Engineers will have to prove the reliability of its generators and electrical connections to meet customer requirements. One of the cells is dedicated to have a drive motor running two generators for three continuous years for the Boeing project.

Generators are manufactured at GE facilities in Vandalia.

Customers are making demands for new electrical systems for similar reasons as new jet engines: equipment that runs more efficiently and reliably for less cost and less weight. Meanwhile, the electrical loads on planes are growing due to more computerized controls, and chargers and entertainment for passengers, Bonneau and Dalal explained.

“We are growing our business though investments in critical components applied to our conversion, distribution and generation products and working with our customers and suppliers to build the most efficient systems, tested to a high level of maturity before being installed on new aircraft,” Bonneau said.

“Our customers are responding in a very positive way to the broad capabilities we have to offer, the most important being our top engineers’ and technicians’ ideas for the future of flight.”

Altogether, GE Aviation has more than 9,000 employees in the region including the Evendale headquarters in suburban Cincinnati; the West Chester Twp. headquarters of joint venture CFM International, which also makes jet engines; and various Dayton-area sites.

GE Aviation sales including engine programs, maintenance services and electrical products grew 9 percent in 2014 from the year before to nearly $24 billion.

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