For military operators of Rolls-Royce-powered aircraft, technical assistance is only an e-mail or phone call away–24 hours a day, seven days a week. At the headquarters of Rolls-Royce Defence Aerospace in Bristol, UK, up to 15 engineers staff a defense operations center that has access to a vast range of data and toolsets on the OEM’s military engines.
Rolls-Royce already generates more than half of its military sales from engine support contracts. This percentage is likely to grow as more countries follow the UK’s example and offer incentives for their defense suppliers to provide through-life support.
According to the manufacturer, the operations center has already saved the UK Ministry of Defence an average of 20 percent in operating costs each year. It deals with all engines in British military service, as well as with three countries that fly Adour-powered Hawk jet trainers: Australia, Canada and the U.S.
According to Peter Kingston, head of service development, the center has reduced the company’s response times by 65 percent. It fields inquiries from Rolls-Royce technical managers and representatives, other companies handling support of Rolls-Royce engines and directly from customers. “The 24/7 availability is important; we’re dealing with inquiries from across continents,” Kingston said.
The engineers who run the center have instant access to the entire service history of each engine, now that Rolls-Royce has computerized all this information within a service data manager database. They also can explore another database called “resolve customer problem” for the history of specific technical issues, and they can access a third database containing defect deviation reports.
With this information available in one place, staff in the center are helping to predict potential problems and can make decisions quickly to maintain aircraft operations. This proactive approach can also help to manage engine maintenance schedules and the provision of spares, Kingston said. “We stitch lots of data together here and leverage it,” he added.
“Our tech reps in Australia think this is fantastic,” he commented. An equally enthusiastic response came from Afghanistan recently, where technicians were able to avoid a difficult, time-consuming engine change on a Royal Air Force Harrier combat jet thanks to liaison between the center and the field.
The Bristol center was modeled on one that Rolls-Royce opened at Derby in 2004 to support the company’s commercial engines in airline service. According to John Boughton, director of sales and marketing for Rolls-Royce Defence Aerospace, Boeing is copying the Rolls-Royce concept for supporting its forthcoming 787 airliner. “They told us we’re way ahead of the pack,” he said.
Kingston is looking forward to further developments made possible by today’s sophisticated IT and communications. “We could relay borescope inspections to the center in real time for our engineers to observe and interact with,” he said. But, he stressed, although Rolls-Royce expects the center to become the first point of contact for most customers, it would not become “a substitute for our deployed field service representatives.”