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CMCs: The Future of Jet Engine Parts

Posted by Sarah Simonovich on

Things are really heating up in the world of jet engine parts

Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMCs) are exacly what you might expect them to be: they are composite materials made from ceramic fibers embedded in a ceramic matrix. Simple enough, right? 

But what does ceramic have to do with jet engines? 

Sure, you might not think about ceramics much outside of your morning cup of joe (or if you've ever been the recipient of a paint your own ceramic gnome statue), but ceramic is actually a very useful material--it's strong, lightweight, and can handle high temperatures. However, if you've ever dropped your favorite mug on a hard surface, you probably recognize ceramic's downfall: it does tend to break when it's dropped or hit (not a feature that makes for a good aircraft part, to be sure). 

GE Aviation

For more than 20 years, GE has been working with CMCs and to perfect their application in a number of industrial applications by utilizing their benefits while working around their relative fragility. And they did it. 

Working with CMCs constructed from a composite of thin silicon carbide fibers embedded in a matrix of silicon carbide, and then coated it with a thermal barrier coating to make it "tough like a metal, not brittle like a ceramic," GE was able to create the ideal material that is not only the best of both worlds, but even better. 

GE's CMCs are ultra-lightweight and incredibly heat resistant--they're 2/3 lighter and have a 20% higher temperature capacity than metal. This is why they are so ideal for use in jet engines: lighter weight materials reduce the overall weight of the aircraft (which ultimately helps fuel economy), and materials that can withstand extremely high temperatures require less cooling air (which also ultimately makes the engine, and therefore aircraft, more efficient).

GE is so enthusiastic about their CMC jet engine part manufacturing that they actually made a limited-edition hot sauce packaged in a silicon carbide tube with a jet engine part nickel alloy cap.

For more information on CMCs and their utilization in GE's jet engine manufacturing, check out the video below: