Solvay has been a long-time partner of airplane engine manufacturer Safran. This collaboration has led to groundbreaking new composite technologies making for a new generation of lighter, more efficient and less noisy engines.

During the 2018 Farnborough International Airshow, Solvay and Safran announced a new supply agreement by which the chemical Group will continue supplying the engine manufacturer with its composite materials for the construction of the LEAP engine, co-developed with GE via their jointly-owned company CFM. “The LEAP engine's design fully leverages the benefits of composite materials to reduce fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, noise levels and maintenance costs,” sums up Carmelo Lo Faro, President of Solvay’s Composite Materials Global Business Unit. 

Far reaching and integrated collaboration

The signing of the new supply agreement is just the latest step in a collaboration between the two companies that has been active for some years. “Safran has been using our resins for over ten years, and we have worked closely with their R&D functions over much of that time to build upon the success of Solvay products at Safran,” explains Jonathan Meegan, Principal Scientist at Solvay. “Several collaborations in the areas of liquid molding resins, prepregs, adhesives and computational modelling have been initiated with the purpose of taking the Safran and Solvay product offerings to the next level.”

“We also needed to work closely with Safran from a procurement and operational standpoint, to make sure we could support the kinds of volumes they will need,” explains Etienne Collart, Aerospace Account Manager at Solvay’s Composite Materials GBU. “We made the necessary investment ahead to support this program’s needs. Further investment will follow to ensure we make good use of our latest operational technology and mitigate risk.”

The many advantages of using composites

LEAP engines are already available on the market – its various design versions were introduced to power the COMAC C919 in 2017, the Airbus A320 in 2016 and the Boeing 737MAX in 2017. The engine makes use of a number of composite components including a composite fan blade, case, platforms and spacers to achieve a significant weight reduction in comparison to non-composite designs. This weight reduction translates as a reduction in fuel consumption and engine emissions, amongst other benefits, all of which have made the LEAP series of engines desirable to aircraft manufacturers.

“As Safran launches new engine developments onto the market, Solvay is proud to be a part of that process, as well as contribute to the development and advancement of the composite materials industry towards a cleaner future for everyone,” says Jonathan. 

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In it for the long haul

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Test bench of LEAP-1B, Copyright Béa Uhart / CAPA Pictures / Safran

“Composites have been used in plane engines in the past,” says Etienne, “but not on this scale of industrialization. A high-volume engine such as LEAP is driving the market to implement automated solutions with composites, and that’s a real game changer. This is significant for Solvay who is historically the leading supplier of resin for this market.”

“Safran have been working on this technology since 2000,” adds Etienne. “Engine technology maturation is a very long process, and no one can afford to be late on this market. But these engines will be around for the next 30 years at least.”