When you look at Istanbul for the first time as the plane approaches the Ataturk Airport, what’s striking is not just the vastness of the city stretching below your eyes. It is equally impressive to fly over that sea stripe drawn in the Bosphorus Strait, with the Asian continent to the left and Europe to the right, and where the two points seem to almost touch where the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles are aligned. I thought about this image as Aybike Molbay, the GE Turkey Technology Center Site Leader, explained that “here we are MENAT (Middle East North Africa Turkey) from a Corporate stand point, while we’re Europe for GE Aviation.”
GE Aviation has been present in the country since 1985 through TEI, the joint venture with Turkish Aircraft Industry that boasts over 30 years of success, in this incredibly crucial area – an area where dozens of communities and cultures have lived, and four different empires have reigned over the last 6500 years. But GE’s very first installation in Turkey dates back to 1948—a light bulb manufacturing facility. Today, with 2000 employees, TEI manufactures core components (turbines and compressors) for the latest-generation engines, such as GEnx and LEAP, and is the world’s leading hardware manufacturer for these two programs after the USA.
Most of the high technology embedded in these components is, in turn, developed by the Turkey Technology Centre (TTC) located to the southeast of Istanbul, on the outskirts of Gebze, the place where Hannibal – just one of the greatest generals and emperors in history who came along these parts – died. The TTC is located within the green spaces of Marmara Research Center, built in the 1970s by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (Tubitak), and which extends across the promontory overlooking the Sea of Marmara. This sort of nature reserve has all the appearance of a university campus, even though it’s only occupied by hi-tech companies with their offices, facilities and laboratories: a small Silicon Valley on the Mediterranean. The only building within the Marmara Research Center that resembles a university campus, in terms of architecture and foot traffic, is the TTC.
“We host many young people here, including undergraduates, and the percentage of women is quite high (27% of the total, representing a significant percentage in the MENAT region, ed.): in Turkey, Engineering is still a highly sought-after course of studies and profession,” continued Molbay. “In total, the TTC has 400 engineers from Europe and Asia, with the vast majority of whom are obviously Turkish, but we have a highly marked diversity which we find completely natural.” Every word of Molbay is evidenced by details that I can glimpse in every one of the open spaces located on the four floors of the campus-like TTC building. A typical atmosphere delightfully bustling and furnished, there are posters and whiteboards with scribbled formulas, as well as digital dashboards to monitor the progress of projects involving multiple teams (even in other countries), which can be found near the coffee break areas. Even color reproductions of engine parts and scaled components’ cross sections, created by 3D polymer printers (there are 6-7 of those here), can be found on desks, sitting on shelves, as well as in the break area. Here, Rapid Prototyping is as usual as bicycles in Amsterdam, and they don’t have a regular canteen: the sign at the entrance says Technocanteen!
“We want to give the best talent the opportunity to work with very, very, very smart senior engineers and leaders, living somewhere which allows them to learn as much as they can”.
In 2007, the center established a design team dedicated entirely to aircraft engines, thanks to its strong skills with turbomachinery design and aero-derivative engines; in 2012, it celebrated the inauguration of a new building, naming it the Advanced Manufacturing & Repair Technology Development Center. The center houses machines and robots for advanced manufacturing and an additive manufacturing laboratory (the official inauguration of TARLA, a renovated lab equipped with GE Additive machines is scheduled for this fall). Today TTC is a mix of research, design and development for many engineering disciplines (Mechanical, Aeronautical, Materials, Electrical & Electronics, Computer Engineering and Physics) mainly dedicated to Aviation business, with Additive and Digital teams as well as supporting GE Power business. Since its inception, the TTC has generated something like 3 million hours of engineering dedicated to Aviation.
“In addition to working within a global team inter-linked with Aviation central engineering at Evendale, we are part of Federated Europe Engineering. Aircraft engine design requires a lot of experience and a great deal of technology; here we work on both the engineering of components for the GEnx, LEAP, LM series and CT-7/T700 in production, and on the development of the new GE9X and GE Catalyst. LM turbines have always been central to our growth. Oguz Aytekin is the Product and Technology Leader and oversees initiatives within the context of R&D at the service of Aviation, or those of engineering in support of the manufacturing carried out by its critical partner, TEI. The young talent at the TTC measure themselves, both mechanically and at a design level, against real hardware: there is a large room, with windows overlooking a garden, where the entire cross section of a CF6-80 is on display while, in the next room, you can find a disassembled CT7-8 which is used for the study and practice of engineers.
The young workforce at the TTC is the hard core at the center of Digital. I noticed this when I met Tugba Kinaoglu, Sr. Software Engineer, and Onat Bas, Sr. Technical Product Manager: young engineers who conceive and develop digital solutions for aviation, as well as for other industrial sectors, making them available on the Predix platform for the other GE businesses. For these engineers, data, digital transformation and analytics are their daily bread, along with creating and writing software or apps, as well as technologies such as machine learning: the latter allows machines to increase their intelligence and interact, in an increasingly advanced manner, with humans or real objects. The iPhone owners who uses Siri has a common example of machine learning in their hands already.
Onat develops so-called vertical digital solutions, because they are designed and built for aviation or airlines. “Everyone of us has spent hours at the airport or experienced frustrating flight cancellations due to the technical problems suffered by airlines,” said Onat talking about one of the latest projects, “and in our team, we have created an app that revolutionizes the management of passenger safety and crew optimization, facilitating precisely those kinds of situations. In contrast, the work of Tugba and the rest of his team moves in a horizontal direction: “We have realized projects that help the work of manufacturing engineers with the work cycles in the workshop, another instrument for testing, to allow certain dynamic parameters to be viewed in real time and, finally, a flow simulator, which we are even marketing for external customers.
Even inventors can be found among the young people of the TTC, in true Edison style (GE’s career program for young engineering talent at the TTC is widespread). Caner Eksioglu is from Istanbul, but he completed his degree in Vancouver, Canada, leaning toward aeronautics and, for the last six years, has been working in the TTC team of Machining and Model Based Manufacturing. “We design and develop improvements for processes aimed at removing material from blank, or closely formed, shapes to create or repair aircraft engines and aeroderivative engine parts. My daily job is 50% engineering and planning on the computer (Design, CAM, calculations, programming etc) and 50% hands-on (machine validation, cutting tests, inspections etc). One of Caner’s latest innovative engineering solutions is software which calculates the optimum stock for LEAP, GE9X and GEnx blisk parts machining: the latter are engine turbine parts where blades and the disk are integrated. “Probably, ten years from now, we will be designing new engines not in years but in just a few months. We will be manufacturing parts not in months, but in just a week,” he said talking about future perspectives. “Engineering teams like us will put more emphasis on digital technologies (math-physics based quick solutions, digital twins), smart factories (robots, industry 4.0) and new fast manufacturing technologies (additives)”.
Advanced manufacturing is a line of research and development which has been in use at the TTC since 2001 and, consequently, additive manufacturing is something on which work has been done since 2008 at the Advanced Manufacturing & Repair Technology Development Center, a few steps from the central TTC building. “We started using laser-fed Direct Energy Deposition technologies, first concentrating on small parts, then bigger ones,” said Onur Onder, Additive Technologies Manager. I remember his surprised expression when he saw my amazement in learning that, among the different additive modalities adopted by his team, the wire-fed laser deposition had been used for some time at TTC. “It is a technology that is certainly very fast, even though we are working to improve its resolution rate which, for example, can be achieved with Direct Metal Laser Melting,” explained Onur while we visited the brand new Turkish Additive Research Laboratory (TARLA). This autumn, there will be an opening ceremony here with illustrious guests, though it is already operational with two M2 Cusing Concept Laser (GE Additive) machines and several other complementary machines.
There are engineers who welcome into their world, made up of complex techno-wonders and extraordinary innovations, people who have never had a strong relationship with the study of science and technology. That’s exactly what I thought when Volkan Kenaroglu, TTC Senior Operations Leader, discussed the legendary GE90 engine in the training room (which features a vibrant street art wall): “It’s made of more than four thousand parts, and, when it runs, you could even put a glass filled with water on it and it won’t move. That’s the most interesting part of engineering.”