From working parents to military veterans, GE would not be the company it is today without its employees. We created “Quick Six” to celebrate our diverse talent by asking employees six questions that uncover the unique ways that they contribute to GE and the world.
In our next installment of Quick Six, we sat down with Jordan Kovacs, Manufacturing Engineer at GE Aviation in Asheville, North Carolina, where employees produce engine parts from an advanced material, Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMCs). When the LEAP engine entered service in 2016, it debuted CMC material in the hot section of a jet engine. Each LEAP engine contains 18 high-pressure turbine shrouds.
Asheville is GE Aviation’s first site for mass producing CMCs, which consist of silicon carbide ceramic fibers and ceramic matrix made through a proprietary process. The material is lighter and can withstand hotter temperatures than the metal engine parts CMCs replaced in the LEAP turbofan, helping improve fuel efficiency.
What is your current role at GE Aviation and where are you based?
I’m a manufacturing engineer here in Asheville, so currently, one of my co-workers and I own a ‘fleet’ of 10, soon to be 12 autoclaves. Autoclaves are like big kilns used to cure CMC parts.
The purpose of this role is to empower the technician team on the shop floor and make sure they have all the tools they need, and they have the knowledge they need to do their jobs as safely and efficiently as possible. We’re constantly looking for better ergonomic solutions, we’re looking to make things faster, we’re looking to get better visual indicators, so things don’t take as long.
The ultimate customer for a process engineer is the team that’s working the process. We’re ramping up in production, but, at the end of the day, if you’re not supporting that technician team, you’re not doing your job. They’re not going to be able to hit any of these numbers or delivery goals if you’re not supporting them.
I’m constantly training new people and making sure that the same message is getting received by everyone on the team.
Why did you want to join the Composite Technical Track program and can you explain the program?
I have a background in material sciences engineering, that’s what my degree is in. There are two big branches I see material science expanding in right now and one of those is composites, specifically Ceramic Matrix Composites. The other one is additive manufacturing. When I had an idea of what I wanted to do for work, I definitely wanted manufacturing. I like the shop floor, I like interacting with technicians, the hands-on component of that, but I also wanted to work in a challenging space where there’s more than just following a process. You’re truly learning as you go here in the CMC space.
The composite technical track includes three, 18-month rotations. One of those is in a CMC shop. Another is a PMC shop, and the third one is usually in a lean lab or raw material site. That third rotation is up to you.
Polymer composites are more established, so the idea is if you work at a PMC shop (Polymer Matrix Composite), there’s more technical expertise and robust processes versus CMCs, which is newer. If you work in a lean lab for CMCs, that can transition the processes to the CMC shop. A lot of research and development work spills into production.
This is my first-ever rotation. It’s a very dynamic environment. When I first started at Asheville in March 2018, we were making maybe 350 parts a week and now we’re making 1,200 parts a week and growing. The challenges are completely different than when I started.
How does your rotation in Asheville touch on scaling CMC manufacturing processes for the LEAP and other engines?
A lot of it has to do with going back to overall equipment effectiveness; how well your equipment is operating and the quality of parts coming out. We’ve been looking a lot at downtime, and how we can reduce it and how we can take better care of equipment. This also requires looking at how we can improve the quality of the parts coming out of our area to make sure we’re not having any issues. A lot of that comes down to training and instilling a culture of taking care of the equipment and setting your routine up to constantly be checking that things are working the way they’re supposed to.
I never thought I would know this much about autoclaves. It’s a good thing, because it’s one of those skills that will spill over into any other rotation I would pick up, understanding that your equipment needs to be taken care of, and there is routine maintenance and a routine culture you really want to instill with the production team. To say, ‘Hey, at the end of the day, we’re going to wipe down all of this equipment, we’re going to clean this, we’re going to replace these,’ so when the next shift comes on, this is going to work the way it needs to for them.
This is a collaborative environment. We do really rely on the technicians who’ve been here longer than us for advice and the maintenance team is absolutely phenomenal.
Why did you want to become an engineer, and would you encourage other women to pursue STEM careers?
I really like on-the-fly problem solving and I think that fits a manufacturing environment well. Monday morning, you never really know what you’re going to walk into and your priorities are constantly shifting. You have certain tasks you have to do everyday and you have certain projects that you want to drive.
I like juggling all the different tasks, having a lot on my plate, being able to work with a bunch of different people just to figure out different solutions.
Regardless of your gender, if you’re interested in problem solving, working with your hands, working with a team of people, then I think this job would be a good fit for you. There shouldn’t be any barriers due to gender.
What accomplishments, personally and professionally, are you most proud of?
The thing that I feel the most accomplished about is we had two autoclaves purchased when the Asheville CMC facility first started that fell out of production.
We had a revival project and got them retrofitted with new controls. We brought them back into production after more than two years of sitting on the shop floor not working. With these machines back on line, we increased production capacity 20 percent and saved money for the company.
Now they’re running full production, keeping up with new equipment and running just as well, and are now part of everyday production flow.
Is there a hiking trail you’d recommend in Asheville?
Dupont Triple Falls. It’s shorter, so you can do it in about two hours or less and see three waterfalls. There’s a good “views to effort ratio” when it comes to hiking this trail. The Triple Falls trail is a low effort for great views.
Learn more about job opportunities at GE Aviation Asheville online here.
Did you know Quick Six is a series? Read our previous features:
- Quick Six with Kusha Ansari, Engineering Technology intern in Evendale, Ohio.
- Quick Six with Savannah Frazier, XLP program participant (Accelerated Leadership Program) in Evendale, Ohio.
- Quick Six with Jack Cohen, Sourcing Commercial Leader in Evendale, Ohio.
- Quick Six with Tiffany Liang, Materials Leader for the LEAP-1A and -1B Core Assembly in Lafayette, Indiana.
- Quick Six with Katie Schafer, Quality Engineer in Asheville, NC.
- Quick Six with Carlos Duenas, lead mechanic at GE Aviation Flight Test Operations, located in Victorville, California.
- Quick Six with Bryne Berry, Environmental Barrier Coating Engineer at GE Aviation in Evendale, OH.
- Quick Six with Dale Hughes, Assembly & Test Technician in Durham, NC
- Quick Six with Terrance Brand, Staff Engineer for GE Aviation in Hooksett, NH.
- Quick Six with Flavio Caciuffo, engineer at GE Aviation business, Avio Aero.
- Quick Six with Phil Woniger, Senior Account Sales Manager, at GE Aviation in Savannah, Georgia.