Innovation occurs at the speed of flight in the aviation industry, and Unison Industries is one of the best at setting the pace.
The aviation industry is constantly evolving, and to stay ahead of the competition at any given moment, OEMs must continuously invest in new innovations – proven and otherwise. Unison Industries – a subsidiary of GE Aviation – always is on the lookout for the next technological advancement that will help its complex gas turbine engine components stand up to the harsh conditions encountered within an aircraft’s infrastructure.
“We categorically invest a lot back into our business and being prepared for what’s next,” says Giovanni Spitale, president of Unison. “There are a number of small bets put in every year. Some we choose to accelerate with funding to bring to the marketplace, so the power of our investment profile is significant for our customer base.”
Unison Industries has origins as a machine shop known as Magnetos, which primarily produced ignition parts for general aviation. Since 1980, Unison has been a manufacturer of complex engine systems and gas turbine engines. Unison was acquired by GE in 2002.
Today, Unison is among the leading global suppliers of complex gas turbine engine components and electrical and mechanical systems. The company is a supplier to almost every engine and airframe program for a variety of markets, including commercial aviation, business and general aviation, industrial, space and defense.
Since Unison Industries continuously invests in new technologies, the company constantly has new products to bring to market.
One such product is the company’s Acclimate™ ignition system, which builds on Unison’s solid-state ignition triggering system. According to Spitale, the Acclimate™ ignition system eliminates the traces of radioactive material typically found in a conventional spark-gap system.
“This delivers the right amount of energy at the right time for what the engine needs,” Spitale says.
The launch of the Acclimate™ ignition system is an example of Unison Industries’ dedication to continuous improvement in existing products as well as launches of new technology. Spitale says customers often will have more patience with an initial launch product, but for items like the Acclimate™ ignition system, they will expect perfection since it is a derivation of an existing product.
“A little bit of research can push the boundary of what components can do, so a big thrust is development of new pieces of technology and bringing them into existing product lines where customers expect and demand a product to be highly reliable like it was yesterday,” Spitale says. “Contrast that with introducing something for the very first time – there’s always a crowd of early adopters to go with you into something new. The bulk of customers will want to wait to see if the early adopters are successful.”
In 2013, Unison Industries introduced its LifeBoost System, which increases the life of locomotive batteries by putting the majority of the loading on a super capacitor bank.
“In the rail industry, there has been a significant problem with stress on batteries driven by green initiatives and tactics to combat the rising cost of fuel,” Spitale says. “Operators now use systems to shut off the engine when operators don’t need it instead of it idling. Where they used to start the engine once a day, they now start it up to five or 10 times, and this introduces dramatic stress to the battery and reduces its life significantly. Our solution uses capacitor-stored energy to absorb some of that stress and prolong the life of the battery.”
Spitale also says LifeBoost still is in the testing phase this year with hopes Unison can increase battery life four to five times the average after additional R&D is completed.
“There is a big savings to be had in avoiding replacing the battery as frequently,” Spitale says. “When a train is stuck on the tracks, nothing on the tracks is moving because that train is in the way.”
On the mechanical side of the business, Unison Industries is building on its mechanical product legacy of traditional air-to-fluid heat exchangers. The company is evaluating what can be done with additive manufacturing techniques to reduce weight and volume while maintaining equivalent heat transfer.
“It depends on the system, but generally speaking we are finding reduction in the weight for equivalent level of both thermal and mechanical performance,” Spitale says. “In the case of load-bearing systems, we find significant reductions in size and weight while maintaining the same structural integrity.”
As long as Unison Industries maintains a diverse customer base that ranges from the railroad industry and aviation to industrial clients, there will be room for ongoing R&D for new and existing technologies. With the amount of time and money Unison pours into its R&D, Spitale believes Unison Industries will be ready its clients need in the future.
“We will continue to support our diverse customer base by investing in products that fit our mission profile,” Spitale says.