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No Two Alike: Each Jet Engine Delivery Comes With its Own Digital Thumbprint

March 15, 2021 | by Chelsey Levingston
Before any airline flies its first GE9X jet engine, GE Aviation’s newest certified commercial aircraft powerplant, a digital copy is built down to every part number.

That means when GE9X engine hardware starts assembly on a shop floor, there’s also a digital version starting its lifecycle on the computer screen of record keepers like Fleet Support Operations Manager Wade Frame.

It’s crucial, behind the scenes work for GE Aviation’s next widebody commercial engine program for the engine maker and aircraft operators. Both groups rely on engine data for tracking flight departures, status of Service Bulletins and managing engine assembly configuration, as well as maintenance needs and other activities throughout an engine’s lifecycle.

Every GE and CFM engine has a digital twin, including the newly FAA certified GE9X, seen here.

As one of the experts behind the digital records, Frame has tracked engines and parts at GE Aviation since 1989—when the records were still on paper. He was part of the inception of digital data management at GE Aviation, beginning with the GE90-115B and later, saw the migration of GE’s and its partners’ older jet engine programs to digital versions too. The files have since been made electronic and accessible to operators using GE Aviation’s customer web portals and to various GE application users.

Frame and others in Fleet Support now maintain complete engine histories for the GE9X, as well as other engine programs, including GE Aviation’s GEnx, GE90, CF6 and CF34 engines and CFM International’s* CFM56 and LEAP engines. The digital records allow both GE and customers to track when parts need replacing, monitor engine flight cycles and follow the engine’s service history.

“The data that starts when we build our digital version is the source of truth for what happens to that engine from its birth through its retirement,” Frame said.

So far, there are more than 600 orders and commitments for the GE9X engine, commercial aviation’s most powerful turbofan, ahead of its entry into service installed on the Boeing 777X aircraft. Each of these GE9X engines will have a digital replica built.

In fact, the GE9X engines that are currently part of Boeing’s flight testing for the 777X airplane have digital twins that will help inform the engine’s key operating instructions.

“Digital records allow us to better support our customers’ engines in the field by having more insight into the configuration of each engine. The extra clarity of what’s flying in the air allows us to give recommendations to our customers for inspections or part replacements that are more precise and less impactful to their operation,” said Ashley Bartowitz, product support engineering director for GE Aviation’s GE9X engine program.

The GE9X engine achieved Federal Aviation Regulation Part 33 certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in September 2020.

*CFM International is a 50-50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines.

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GE Aerospace is a world-leading provider of jet and turboprop engines, as well as integrated systems for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft.