GE’s India engineers are at the heart of its new-age aircraft engines

In 2000, then-GE CEO Jack Welch came to Bengaluru to inaugurate an extensive research and development center that bore his own name – Technology Center John F. Welch. Welch was previously instrumental in outsourcing large scale software work to Indian IT services companies. The R&D center was another major commitment of his.
Welch retired a year later and died two years ago. Today, the pioneering Bengaluru facility has grown into one of GE’s largest multidisciplinary R&D centers, delivering excellence in aerospace, energy and healthcare. This space is too small to go into all of that, so here we’re going to focus on aerospace work.
Alok Nanda, CEO of GE India Technology Centre, took us through the labs, including one where a giant GE aircraft engine dwarfed everything around, and told us that 60-70% of the team designing his latest GE9X engine has developed, that’s where the India Center is located. The GE9X will be installed on Boeing’s next-generation aircraft, the 777X, which is currently conducting test flights and is expected to enter commercial service in 2025.

GE

According to Nanda, it’s 10% more efficient than its predecessor, the GE90, and it’s the first engine to be fully digitally supported. “It’s equipped with enough sensors to get data access in a much better form than any other engine ever made. When you get all that data, you have so much power in your hands,” he says.
The Indian team, says Nanda, was involved in everything from the conception of the engine to its certification, including work on material technologies, digital technologies and aerodynamics. Nanda says the center’s capabilities have been built over the years after working on the designs of previous generation engines, including the GEnx, LEAP and G90. “The team has matured through these design cycles, and the beauty of our team is that nobody can beat them in physics,” says Nanda.
This expertise in physics, digital technology and engineering has led to the Indian team now also being a key part of GE and French company Safran’s RISE (Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines) program, an attempt to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 -Drastically reduce emissions. One of the key technologies GE is working on for this is the open fan. The duct covering the engine and fan is a major burden on the aircraft, and removing it will improve efficiency. But it also means that noise levels increase, there is a greater chance of bird strikes. Sanjeev Jha leads a 225-strong advanced technology organization working on engine and acoustic design to solve these problems. According to Jha, the open fan will increase fuel efficiency by 20%.
His team is also working on hybrid electric powertrains and an even longer-term project to use hydrogen as a fuel for combustion, nearly eliminating CO2 emissions.
For hybrid electric vehicles, Jha’s team works with another team led by Suma MN. Suma’s team conducts fundamental research to mature the technologies surrounding hybrid electrics, including motor, generator and converter. Suma notes that airplanes require a lot more electricity than hybrid electric cars. “So we’re trying to build a really compact and powerful motor, generator and power electronics architecture. We have knowledge of power electronics, control and overall system understanding,” she says.
All of the engineering work done by Jha’s team, as well as by GE’s teams in the US and elsewhere, requires simulation tools. Much of this comes from a team called the Advanced Design Tools Organization, led by Vidya Venkataramani. Venkataramani says that they have to develop completely new tools, for example to evaluate the open fan project. “We are designing tools that would help us evaluate design performance, what happens when a bird hits, what happens to the rotor blade when the plane flies through an ice cloud. We need new methods of analysis (because the open fan is a completely new concept),” she says.
Her team includes materials engineers, mechanical engineers, thermal engineers and those familiar with engine systems. “And they are people who are also interested in programming and software. So if I know the physics, how do I translate that into code that can manifest itself in a tool so the designer can click a button and do the analysis,” she says.

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