Research & Innovation
Innovation is an integral part of Safran Aircraft Engines's business as an aero-engine manufacturer. We invest heavily in innovation across the board to give our customers the highest-performance propulsion solutions on the market. Our 2,600 R,T&D experts constantly strive to develop engines that leverage innovation to enhance their performance, cost-effectiveness and environmental-friendliness. We share these goals with aircraft manufacturers and the airlines, armed forces and bizjet operators that use our engines, to continuously improve today's products and design tomorrow's.
Research and environmental policy
In the aerospace industry, developing new technologies and reducing the environmental footprint is a major challenge with political, social and economic repercussions. Safran Aircraft Engines has long factored these concerns into all operations and aspects of an engine's lifecycle, from design and manufacture to end-of-life recycling.
At Safran Aircraft Engines, we devote a large part of our R&T budget to programs aiming to reduce the environmental impact of air transport. Much of our research is conducted in light of the objectives set by the Advisory Council for Aviation Research and Innovation in Europe (ACARE). Safran Aircraft Engines is constantly improving its products and services by introducing new technologies, with a significant margin to anticipate the environmental objectives set for aviation and help ensure it meets them. These objectives are coordinated at international level with the key players in the aviation industry, including aircraft and engine manufacturers, airlines, airports and air navigation services:
- Safran and CFM International are represented within the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) to help define air transport strategy and maintain our growth and competitiveness.
- Safran Aircraft Engines is involved in the preparation and implementation of new international standards by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and is part of numerous research networks in France, Europe and worldwide.
- Safran Aircraft Engines is also working to replace materials subject to REACH and other European regulations, which aim to replace or restrict the use of potentially harmful chemical substances produced or imported into the EU.
- Safran Aircraft Engines is involved in and supports the development of sustainable biofuels. For example, we are partnering France's Lab'line for the Future initiative, which involves a weekly flight on the Toulouse to Paris-Orly route with an Airbus A320 using biofuel.
Our environmental policy also applies to all our industrial facilities. It aims to reduce their environmental impact by cutting energy and water consumption, processing releases, sorting and separating waste, reducing volatile organic compounds (VOC) and identifying cleaner processes as part of a continuous improvement effort backed by ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 certification.
Research and Innovation
At Safran Aircraft Engines, our 2,600 research, technology and development (RTD) experts are working hard day after day to develop ever-more innovative, fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly engines. Constantly improving products today and devising even better ones for the future is an ambition we share with airlines, armed forces, aircraft manufacturers and business jet operators.
Our design offices master the most advanced technologies and proven methods, and together with our networks of experts we give customers the full benefit of our skills and expertise. We protect this vital asset by pursuing a responsible and dynamic intellectual property policy, with a portfolio of over 16,000 patents and more than 450 new patents filed every year.
Expanding our R&T programs also means pursuing scientific partnerships with research organizations and laboratories in France (ONERA, CNRS, universities, engineering schools), Europe and internationally, as well as forming technology partnerships with other industry players.
Safran Aircraft Engines leads or takes part in various subject-specific networks and clubs bringing together industrial companies and research organizations to work on areas of interest. These networks typically comprise a number of ad hoc working groups focusing on more specific topics, which then set up research projects and identify sources of joint funding.
Our civil aviation projects
One of the most promising engine architectures of the future is the Counter Rotating Open Rotor (CROR), which is being developed as a full engine demonstrator as part of Europe's Clean Sky* research program. Safran Aircraft Engines, responsible for managing the project, has tested the demonstrator on the ground. The key objective of the test campaign was to validate the high value-added building blocks, such as the pitch control system, engine control system and overall dynamics. With all findings and technologies now validated, they can be incorporated into future engine architectures, in line with aircraft manufacturers' projected needs for 2030–35 and evolving regulations.
Ultra High Bypass Ratio (UHBR) type engines are also being studied by Safran Aircraft Engines. The UHBR is a conventional shrouded turbofan type configuration, but with a much higher bypass ratio of 15:1 or more. The main parts of the fan module use even lighter and stronger composite materials. In this type of configuration, the low-pressure turbine is optimized through the use of advanced 3D aero design and ceramic matrix composites. The Ultra High Propulsive Efficiency (UHPE) demonstrator will be ground tested as part of Europe's Clean Sky 2 program and will be used to validate these new basic technologies and their integration in a UHBR architecture.
Future engine concepts
Safran Aircraft Engines is studying even longer-term concepts (for 2040–50), such as distributed propulsion, hybrid propulsion and boundary layer ingestion. At the same time, aircraft manufacturers are working on innovative commercial airliner concepts. Because aircraft and engine architectures are so closely interdependent, future propulsion systems will need to be strategically located on the airframe to achieve the highest-performance and most fuel-efficient airframe-engine combination possible. The choice of future engine architectures will be made in close collaboration with aircraft manufacturers.
Innovation in defense applications
Developing the critical technologies underpinning the performance of engines for fighter jets and unmanned combat aerial vehicles is a top priority for our Research and Technology teams, with a particular focus on new high-temperature resistant materials, thermal barriers, etc.
On February 6, 2018, France and Germany launched the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program. The objective is to design the New-Generation Fighter (NGF) that will replace the Rafale and Eurofighter from about 2035. Safran Aircraft Engines is in charge of integrating the engine and developing the hot sections, while MTU Aero Engines is responsible for the cold sections and services. Other European companies could join the program, depending on the decisions of the countries involved.
This next-generation combat aircraft will combine high thrust for supersonic flight with low-speed cruising capabilities for long missions. Its engine will therefore need to be highly versatile. It will be compact for optimized integration and reduced weight, while its higher thrust rating will allow the NGF to be heavier than current-generation aircraft. The engine will be integrated in a way that does not compromise the plane's stealth.
Innovation in space
To increase the competitiveness of their satellites in a hotly contested marketplace, operators are calling for more efficient propulsion solutions in terms of operational performance and overall cost (manufacture and launch services). Plasma propulsion meets this requirement by achieving a significant reduction in weight coupled with a longer in-orbit service life. For example, a 6 metric ton satellite with all-chemical propulsion would weigh less than 4 tons with plasma propulsion. Launch costs would therefore be significantly lower for a given payload.
At Safran Aircraft Engines, technological expertise is the cornerstone of what we do. Thanks to Safran's significant investment in research and development — some 13% of revenues — Safran Aircraft Engines is able to offer customers highly innovative solutions that help them operate more efficiently while reducing operating costs.
Lighter, more robust composite materials
3D weaving, which forms a three-dimensional carbon fiber structure, enables us to produce complex parts in strong yet light organic matrix composites (OMC). This technology is used for the fan blades and cases on the LEAP engine, which powers the latest-generation single-aisle commercial airliners from Airbus, Boeing and Comac. It has been selected for the fan case on the huge GE9X engine designed for the Boeing 777X widebody commercial jet. Its use may also be extended to medium- or even low-thrust engines. 3D weaving will also be a real asset in the longer term for developing high-bypass engines such as the UHBR and Open Rotor.
New, higher-performance metal alloys
Titanium aluminide (TiAl) is an advanced and extremely high-performance alloy. It features high temperature resistance (up to 750°C) and allows us to halve the weight of a fan blade, compared to the nickel alloys traditionally used in low-pressure turbines. With the LEAP, it's being employed for the first time in the world on a single-aisle airliner. This technology contributes to the new engine's excellent performance.
New data-driven services
The SFCO2 service brings together the combined OEM expertise of Safran Aircraft Engines and Safran Electronics & Defense in advanced flight data analytics. It enables airlines and operators to reduce their short- and longer-term operating costs, thanks to better management of fleet fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
To help spawn new projects, Safran Aircraft Engines has set up agile structures, such as the Product Innovation Workshop, Module Innovation Workshop, R&T Innovation Workshop, Industrial Innovation Workshop and Services Innovation Workshop.
The idea is to promote employee creativity through participatory innovation, which fosters clever thinking in products, services, organization, operations, safety and working conditions, all driven by employees.
Safran Aircraft Engines is also strengthening its role as a responsible engine manufacturer by launching collaborative innovation projects involving selected partners on key technological challenges.