Rolls-Royce Powers Up New Singapore Site for Leading Role

 - February 14, 2012, 7:30 AM
For the first time ever, Rolls-Royce has transferred the sophisticated technology to manufacture wide-chord fan blades outside the UK.

The new Rolls-Royce factory in Singapore could be producing half of the company’s large commercial engines by the middle of this decade. The 1.65-million-sq-ft campus at Seletar Airport has cost more than $450 million to build, with some of the funding coming from the island republic’s Economic Development Board. Rolls-Royce managers expect to assemble engines and make fan blades more efficiently here than in the UK, thanks to the clean-sheet, all-under-one-roof building designs.

Assembly of Trent 900 engines for the Airbus A380 is to begin in the huge Seletar assembly and test unit (SATU) in middle of this year, followed by Trent 1000s for the 787. By the end of 2013, the company predicts 250 engines will leave Singapore for Seattle or Toulouse every year. Three of the eight Trent 900 modules are also planned to be built here, starting next year.

In a second large building next door, preparations to manufacture the company’s signature wide-chord fan blades (WCFBs) with their hollow titanium design are well advanced. Production is to start next October, and output is expected to reach 6,000 blades per year by 2015.

About 500 people are to be employed in the new operations at Seletar. Rolls-Royce has attracted employees from other aerospace companies in Singapore, but is also working closely with the island’s Institute of Technical Engineering (ITI) and Polytechnics to train new young engineers. The company’s goal is to employ 80 percent local talent, with the other 20 percent coming from abroad, including elsewhere in Asia.

A Regional Training Centre forms an integral part of the Seletar “campus,” and will eventually offer courses to 4,000 people each year, including airline customers. The RTC has attracted funding support from Singapore’s Workforce Development Agency (WDA). During the commissioning process at Seletar, various employees have been drafted in from the UK, and the newly appointed local production managers have spent up to eight months in the UK learning the processes there.

The assembly process at SATU will begin with the logging of inbound modules and components by CEVA Logistics, the supply chain manager that Rolls-Royce has appointed. The fan cases and vertical cores are built up on separate, six-position flow lines starting from opposite ends of the building. They move forward at a rate of one position per working day. On the seventh day, the fan and core are joined, tilted and moved by overhead moving gantries to a horizontal line, where four more stages are taken to complete the assembly.

Trent 900s and 1000s can be assembled on these lines interchangeably. The gantry system is flexible enough to move one engine ahead of another if an assembly problem holds up any one unit.

The completed engines are then moved onto one of four gantries where they are prepared for test runs. The single test cell was built by Sanco, a Safran company, and is due to be handed over next month after proving runs using a Trent 900 engine built in Derby, UK.

Rolls-Royce has not previously manufactured WCFBs outside the UK, so the Seletar factory is another high-tech landmark for Singapore. Blades for the Trent 900, 1000 and XWB will all be produced here, as a second source to the company’s Barnoldswick facility in the UK.

Diffusion bonding, superplastic forming and geometrical optical measurement (GOM) techniques are all part of the process, organized into six stages (or cells) of production. The layout is an improvement on Barnoldswick, and so is the target cycle time: 21 days to manufacture. But the output must exactly match that of the UK site, with any new processes introduced here also introduced there.

So much for manufacturing. Rolls-Royce will continue its two well-established engine overhaul joint ventures with SIA Engineering Co. at Changi and Loyang near the airshow site. Singapore Aero Engine Services Ltd. has been handling Trent engines for 11 years, and now employs 800 people. International Engine Component Overhaul employs a further 200.

A study commissioned by Rolls-Royce concluded that, by 2015, the company’s activities in Singapore will contribute nearly $1.2 billion and sustain nearly 25,000 jobs in the wider economy.