is counting on large productivity gains to ensure it gets a sizable return from its S$700 million (US$558 million) investment in Singapore.
The U.K. engine-maker has built an engine assembly plant, wide-chord hollow-titanium fan blade factory, training center and a research laboratory at Singapore’s Seletar Aerospace Park. It is the company’s first such fan blade factory outside of the U.K. and its first engine assembly plant outside Europe.
The plant will assemble, and engines, accounting for half of Roll-Royce’s global production capacity for the three powerplants. These are the largest and most important in its commercial aircraft engine product lineup, powering the , and Airbus , respectively.
Rolls-Royce Singapore is due to complete assembly of its first production engine, a Trent 900, in mid-2012. The first Trent 1000, meanwhile, is due to be completed by early 2013. Production will be ramped up steadily for five years until it reaches maximum annual capacity of 250 units, says Jonathan Asherson, Rolls-Royce regional director for Southeast Asia.
Singapore has some of the highest wages in Asia, but Rolls-Royce plans to generate profits through high productivity. Rolls-Royce Singapore Operations Director Tin Ho says it takes “20 something days” to assembly a Trent engine at the company’s Derby, U.K., headquarters, but the Singapore plant aims to do the same job in 14 days. It will achieve that by changing the workflow at a single, purpose-built building that can handle all phases of production; in the U.K., engine assembly passes through five buildings.
Also, in the U.K. the technicians have a larger work scope, while in Singapore the comparable workers will focus on a few specific tasks in the assembly process. By specializing on certain tasks, the technicians get better at their jobs and can work faster, says Ho.
The same goes for the wide-chord hollow-titanium, fan blade factory, with Rolls-Royce expecting the four- to six-week process at its Barnoldswick, U.K., plant to be reduced to 15 days in Singapore, where the factory will have capacity to make 6,000 blades a year for the Trent 900, Trent 1000 and Trent XWB. There is a plan to increase annual capacity to 7,600 blades, but that has yet to be approved by Rolls-Royce’s board of directors.
By comparison, Barnoldswick has capacity to produce only 4,000 blades per year, but the U.K. plant, at the moment, has the distinction of being the only Rolls-Royce factory that makes hollow-titanium, wide-chord fan blades, so it will continue to make blades for other engine types, in addition to the Trent 900, 1000 and XWB.
The Singapore factory aims to start building its first two sets of fan blades in October and have these completed toward the year-end. These will be for the Trent 900, while the first Singapore-made fan blades for the Trent 1000 will be completed in 2013.
Rolls-Royce Singapore already has recruited 23 technicians to work in the fan blade factory and is recruiting a further 27. It expects to have 89 technicians when work on production fan blades begins. Asherson says production volumes will reach 6,000 units within five years.
In Singapore, the company has been sourcing technicians mostly from the maintenance, repair and overhaul sector, although a few recruits also come from the electronics industry. All new technicians are put through vocational courses, mostly organized by Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education and designed to train the technicians for their specific tasks at Rolls-Royce’s factory.
The company also has established a regional training center next to the assembly plant that will be used to train technicians for the engine-assembly line and wide-chord fan blade factory, but also airline maintenance and other divisions of Rolls-Royce, such as marine engineering.
This is the first regional training center Rolls-Royce has established in Asia-Pacific and one of only five it has in the world. The others are in Alesund, Norway; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Bristol and Derby in the U.K.
Rolls-Royce Singapore also will locate a “life management planning” research center at the training facility to conduct mostly non-destructive testing of engine parts in service with various airline operators to ascertain if the parts and materials are performing as designed.
Predicting the wear and tear of engine parts–and the related maintenance costs–is vital if Rolls-Royce is to profit from its power-by-the-hour maintenance programs.