During this year’s Singapore Air Show, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, officially opened the first Rolls-Royce manufacturing facility for large civil aircraft engines outside the U.K.
Occupying a 65,000-m² site at the Seletar industrial campus, the new plant is a highly visible sign of the growing value to Western aerospace companies of the huge Asia-Pacific civil aircraft market that is now looking for an increased share in high-quality design and manufacturing and sustainment in advanced engineering sectors, and is no longer content to just take a maintenance support role supporting U.S. and European airframe and engine suppliers.
This new site contains research and training, wide-chord fan blade production, and assembly and test facilities, along with other resources to support the 1000 staff who will work there. Over USD 500 million has been invested in the facility to bring the company closer to one of its biggest markets. Over half its current orders (worth around USD 80 billion) are from Asia-Pacific regional customers, and it is expected that the value-added contribution in Singapore will increase to 0.5% of the GDP by 2015.
The new facility is the most modern in the Rolls-Royce Group and was built on a greenfield site in just two years. It allows simultaneous assembly and testing of Rolls-Royce Trent engines under a single roof and when at full capacity will be able to produce up to 250 engines a year, initially Trent 900 and Trent 1000 engines.
Wide-chord hollow titanium fan blade manufacturing has until now only been carried out by the company in the U.K., but the rising demand for Trent engines on A330s, A380s, 777s, and 787s has led to the need for additional production facilities. Singapore was identified as being an attractive option, with its high local skill levels and education, stable political and financial background, and its location as a natural economic hub for the whole of Asia. Over 6000 advanced blades can be produced each year.
The plant’s Advanced Technology Centre is a key component in the Group’s global network of R&T centers that develop advanced technologies to support core business activities. In Singapore it is planned that four key research areas will take place: materials support technology, computational engineering, electrical power and control systems, and manufacturing technology research.
Alongside is a regional training center, the first for the company in Asia, where its purpose is to develop high-value skills and encourage talent for the future. This initiative, on such a scale, is confirmation that Asia-Pacific is getting more established, through Western inward investment, as a long-term global partner at the cutting edge of new aerospace programs.
If the sales growth forecasts for international civil air transport are accurate, then more of such facilities are going to be needed to cope. This should not harm aerospace companies in their traditional homelands in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, so long as they maintain their own high levels of innovation and enterprise, but it should also act as a warning that markets wait for nobody to catch up.
Staying ahead technically is the only recipe for long-term survival, and in the aero engine sector the progress in composite manufacturing now under way suggests that this message has not been lost in corporate boardrooms.