"Turbomachinery will continue to play a major role in aviation."

MTU engineer Harald Schönenborn was on the organizing committee for ASME Turbo Expo 2019. He talks to AEROREPORT about what’s going on in the global turbomachinery industry.

08.2019 | Text: Eleonore Fähling

Eleonore Fähling has been on the AEROREPORT editorial team since 2014 and in charge of the MTU employee magazine since 1999. As an aerospace journalist, she specializes in aviation history and market topics.


Dr. Schönenborn, what is ASME? Who’s involved and why?

ASME stands for American Society of Mechanical Engineers and is the U.S. and international counterpart to the Association of German Engineers (VDI). Once a year, ASME organizes ASME Turbo Expo, the largest conference of the turbomachinery industry. The location switches back and forth between the U.S. and Europe. The conference brings together companies and institutions involved in the development, manufacture or operation of aircraft engines, stationary gas turbines or wind turbines, providing an opportunity to exchange information on new developments in thermodynamics, combustion, structural mechanics and more. This year, the five-day conference took place in Phoenix, Arizona.

**Dr. Harald Schönenborn** Technical Program Chair on the Organizing Committee of ASME Turbo Expo 2019 and compressor aeroelasticity specialist at MTU Aero Engines. Hover over the image for a bigger view

Dr. Harald Schönenborn Technical Program Chair on the Organizing Committee of ASME Turbo Expo 2019 and compressor aeroelasticity specialist at MTU Aero Engines.


Dr. Harald Schönenborn Technical Program Chair on the Organizing Committee of ASME Turbo Expo 2019 and compressor aeroelasticity specialist at MTU Aero Engines.

How did you first get involved?

Every university researcher who works on these topics dreams of presenting their work at ASME Turbo Expo. All papers are examined by at least three reviewers, so the quality of the publications is very high. It was the same with me when I did my doctorate at RWTH Aachen University. Later, I organized sessions and spent six years on a committee leadership team. Last year, I was appointed Technical Program Chair of the ASME organizing team.

The ASME Turbo Expo 2019 conference covers a wide range of topics—the program is 240 pages thick! Where do you even start?

Most people come to the conference with a specific focus already in mind—for example, blade vibration—and seek out related events in advance. There is a conference app that you can use to plan your visit, which will replace the printed program in the future.

You were one of the curators of the conference. What were some of the main considerations in selecting the topics?

The conference chair and the organizing committee decide on a key topic that will be discussed in greater depth in the keynote speeches and panels. This time the key topic covered clean propulsion for gas turbine engines and clean energy for stationary turbomachinery. These were discussed in a keynote panel and in two plenary discussions.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, ASME for short, has set itself the goal of promoting cooperation and development across all engineering disciplines through a worldwide network. The not-for-profit organization was founded in 1880 by several U.S. industrialists and today has more than 100,000 members in over 140 countries, including around 32,000 students.

ASME organizes more than 30 conferences annually, among them ASME Turbo Expo, which focuses on the development and manufacture of turbomachinery and takes place alternately in North America and Europe. In June 2019, around 2,500 engineers, scientists and students from many companies and institutes worldwide gathered in Phoenix, Arizona. The program included more than 1,000 discussions, lectures, workshops and presentations over five conference days.

How do you decide what topics to propose for the conference? Are you overwhelmed with papers or do you have to actively seek them out?

No, we really don’t have to search actively. We receive about 2,000 abstracts each year, resulting in some 1,000 papers that get presented at the conference.

Were you also a speaker at ASME Turbo Expo? What was your topic?

Not this time, but two years ago I spoke there on my area of expertise, aeroelasticity, which deals with the interaction between aerodynamic forces and flexible (elastic) structures in the engine. Other MTU colleagues attended this year, giving presentations on probabilistic methods, combustion and performance, and MTU Aero Engines North America and the brush seal team were represented at the exhibition.

In the internet age, you can put all this information online and access it there. So why host or attend a live conference?

The papers go online one week before the conference, but they can be looked at in more depth and discussed at the event itself. And you get so much more out of it by talking to people face to face and networking, including in the breaks.

Turbomachinery for environmentally friendly power generation and drive systems was the focus in 2019. What does that mean exactly?

In my view, we must move towards renewable liquid fuels, because batteries will be too heavy for scheduled passenger flights for the foreseeable future. The general feeling at the conference was that turbomachinery will continue to play a major role in aviation and power generation.

Turbomachinery will continue to play a major role in aviation and power generation

Dr. Harald Schönenborn

What’s the latest regarding digitalization in development simulation?

Simulations, especially their computing times, are becoming increasingly important and more and more complex. However, they won’t replace practical tests, as there was also consensus at the conference that safety is the top priority. NASA, for example, is planning its own test facility for a hybrid aircraft engine.

And what happens now in the run-up to the next ASME Turbo Expo 2020 in London?

The organizing committee for 2020 already met for the first time in Phoenix. This time I will be the Vice Review Chair; that means I’ll help ensure that the time-consuming reviews of the papers we receive are carried out properly. Abstracts for 2020 can be submitted until early October, when the review process begins.

Harald Schönenborn (51) has worked at MTU Aero Engines since 1999 as a development engineer specializing in compressor aeroelasticity. Prior to that, he began his career at MAN Turbo in Oberhausen, Germany. He studied at the renowned RWTH Aachen University, where he received his doctorate in 1996, and wrote his previous degree thesis in 1992 at the Politecnico di Torino in Italy. In 1990–91, he studied abroad at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, USA.

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