November 25, 2013 Jason Ethier

What is Dynamo Series, Part 3: What is the innovation?

Dynamo is developing a new type of turbine engine, but what is the innovation?
We did not invent a new type of manufacturing process, nor a new super alloy, nor a new bearing technology. 

We developed a new approach to gas turbine design that steps beyond traditional industrial turbine design, and we took key learnings from the automotive industry, the silicon industry, and the computer industry. 
The one thing the other three industries have in common is the ability to build a range of products in high volume and deploy them annually.  Every year there is a new laptop, a new CPU chip, and a new model year car.  Much of this change is market driven, but the results are enabled by technology.  While the products are functionally commodities (A chip, a computer, a vehicle), they are differentiated at the product level with broad ranges of prices ranging across an order of magnitude; this is brought about by specific engagement with customer needs.   

By contrast, the turbine industry typically deploys an engine once every 10-20 years and builds anywhere from 10-1000 engines a year—a far cry from the high cycle high volume markets I just described, which routinely deploy tens to hundreds of thousands of units of product a year. 

This is achieved through driven development cycles where new architectures are routinely built then continuously updated over several years.  This is enabled by a high volume market where engineering and manufacturing overhead can be monetized over many units of production.  Low costs are maintained however, by leveraging a common manufacturing platform, with interchangeable components which can be easily adjusted to adapt to customer needs.  

To enable this type of rapid innovation, the traditional turbine needs to be broken up into its constituent parts.  Doing so creates a system that is less finely balanced, but necessitates a product that is more robust and more resilient than existing engines.  To enable this, Dynamo has developed a modular turbine that enables us to scale the product on a unified manufacturing platform.  The components of the turbine share a standard interface, but can be tuned within a range of operations to enable different functions.  This is similar to how modern computers are built, where in the CPU, hard drive, and RAM can be changed; by selecting a combination of these components the computer can be customized for different user experiences.  For example we can offer different variants of the same generator; by changing the compressor we can tune the efficiency, or by swapping the combustor we can change the fuel to be used.  This allows us to customize the product on a component level to meet the customers’ specific needs.  On the lab bench it also means we can engineer and improve these components independently of the rest of the engine. 

Ultimately this means we can develop new engine architectures every few years and deploy component level improvements to the engine to keep design and performance fresh as customers demand them.