Notre Dame To Open $36 Million Jet Engine Lab

June 27--SOUTH BEND -- In partnership with General Electric and others, the University of Notre Dame announced plans Thursday to locate an advanced jet engine laboratory at Ignition Park, bringing about 60 high-paying jobs to the city by the end of 2018.

"This is a big day," Robert Bernhard, vice president for research at Notre Dame, said at a news conference at the County-City Building downtown. "It's a very important day for the University of Notre Dame, the city of South Bend and the state of Indiana."

And a big day for GE, said Richard Stanley, vice president of Power and Water for the company and a Notre Dame graduate.

"This is big deal for us because it allows us to test some things we've never been able to test before ... to play with some new designs and try to make ourselves smarter," Stanley said.

Christened the "Notre Dame Turbomachinery Facility," the new lab will focus on research and testing related to the types of massive gas turbine engines used by commercial and military aircraft, power plants and the oil and gas industry.

"The testing is on what we refer to as aircraft engine components," Bernhard said. "So we'll be testing only parts of engines, but we'll be testing them under realistic conditions. So the right pressures, the right temperatures and so forth."

Thursday's announcement was the third major aerospace project unveiled in Indiana this year. Last month, Alcoa announced plans to expand its jet engine parts operations in LaPorte. In March, GE Aviation made plans to locate a jet engine assembly facility in Lafayette, Ind.

Here, the $36 million project will be a partnership between Notre Dame, the city of South Bend, General Electric, the Indiana Economic Development Corp., Indiana Michigan Power and Great Lakes Capital.

The partners have agreed to finance the project as follows:

Notre Dame: $7.5 million

General Electric: $13.5 million to fund research and testing for five years

South Bend: $4.4 million for equipment, land for a new power substation and tax abatements

IEDC: $600,000 in training grants and up to $2 million for infrastructure assistance

I&M: $2 million for a new substation to provide power to the facility

Great Lakes Capital: $6 million in upfront capital to construct the new facility

The centerpiece of the project is a $7.5 million, 10-megawatt jet propulsion engine rig for testing and research.

The city ($2.1 million), IEDC ($2 million) and Notre Dame ($3.4 million) have agreed to share in the cost of the rig. The city will make the initial $7.5 million investment. Notre Dame and the IEDC will then reimburse the city on the back end.

The 25,000-square-foot facility will be located in one of three planned multitenant buildings at Ignition Park. Great Lakes Capital plans to break ground on two of the three buildings next month, with a completion date of March.

The project is expected to create 57 jobs at an average of $38 per hour, or $79,000 per year, plus benefits, by the end of 2018.

Scott Ford, the city's executive director of Community Investment, said he's had conversations with other businesses that lead him to believe the lab will "be a magnet for additional companies to co-locate at Ignition Park."

The project comes on the heels of other recent jobs announcements in South Bend and brings the total number of new jobs announced this year to more than 1,000.

"This project represents a major investment in South Bend's economic future and speaks to the city's capacity to attract high-tech business," South Bend Deputy Mayor Mark Neal said.

Bernhard described it as a "transitional day for the university and the city."

In addition to increasing the number of employment opportunities in the city, the new facility also is expected to advance Notre Dame's research mission and attract top talent to the university.

"I would expect that this facility is going to be a real help in recruiting very good faculty here, and the facility and faculty will help us to create really good students," Bernhard said.

"In addition," he said, "we think it's going to significantly increase the size of our research programs."

The facility is expected to generate about $15 million in additional research funding for the university annually, Bernhard said. That's on top of the $100 million or so the school already receives for jet engine research.

'World class'

Joshua Cameron, a professor of aerospace engineering at Notre Dame, said the research and testing conducted at the lab will "help gas turbine engine companies develop new technology for engines that will differentiate them from their competitors."

"It's a very tight, tight market," Cameron said, "and it's an extremely lucrative market."

Notre Dame has been working with GE for about 10 years, Bernhard said. He said planning for the new facility began in November, when the company approached the university about expanding its current Turbomachinery Lab on campus.

"They approached us about basically building a rig bigger than the ones we have on campus," Bernhard said. "And we recognized this as an opportunity then to locate the facility in Ignition Park, because we recognize that, at the size and scale and complexity of the project, this would become a magnet for other engine manufacturers and suppliers."

Ford, with Community Investment, described such partnerships as "part of a larger trend where companies are looking to outsource some of their (research and development). And at the same time, universities are stepping up to do more advanced product development and late-stage research."

That said, GE is not an exclusive partner in the project. Notre Dame will be free to conduct research and testing at the facility on behalf of other clients as well.

"We expect to be working with multiple original equipment operators as well and first-, second- and third-tier suppliers in this effort," Bernhard said.

With five test bays for compressor and turbine rig testing, the new facility will advance previous work by testing engine components at pressures and temperatures higher than any that currently exist in the U.S. outside of NASA, Cameron, the engineering professor, said.

"In the U.S., at the university level, there currently exists nothing at this level of capability," Cameron said. "And the metric we use when we make those sorts of judgments is power consumed."

"Certainly, when it's done, it's going to be world class," he added. "It'll be recognized around the globe, which is a distinction we don't really (currently) have."

In addition to the industry and government partnerships, Notre Dame also plans to collaborate with researchers and staff at local and state colleges and universities in order to widen the educational mission of the new facility.

The lab also is expected to provide job opportunities for local graduates.

"A lot of the employees will probably be graduates of places like Ivy Tech (Community College) and the Purdue College of Technology" at South Bend, Bernhard said. "And the training money (from the IEDC), we expect some of that to go to (those schools) and Notre Dame."

 

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