Transatlantic manufacturing by Rolls-Royce

  • 24-Mar-2009 06:09 EDT
R-R SEAL pic Indy.jpg

Workers at Rolls-Royce's new facility in Indianapolis build engines for small helicopters.

Although Rolls-Royce’s main base remains in the U.K., it is a growing industry player in North America and employs nearly 8000 people at more than 66 U.S. locations in 26 states and seven sites in six Canadian provinces.

An important part of its engine portfolio is that aimed at the helicopter market. Late last year, Rolls-Royce opened a state-of-the-art Small Engine Assembly Line (SEAL) to assemble and test the company’s Model 250 and RR300 turboshaft engines. The new line, at its Indianapolis, IN, facility, will have the capacity to meet the anticipated market demand for these products over the next decade. The Model 250 powers more than 170 helicopter and fixed-wing applications in both the civil and military markets. The RR300—the newest member of the Rolls-Royce helicopter engines—will power the R66, a Robinson Helicopter Co. five-seat rotorcraft.

According to Ken Roberts, President of the Rolls-Royce Helicopter business, Rolls-Royce has invested around $5 million into the SEAL project.

"The line incorporates all of the latest lean technologies including built-in error-proofing; foreign-object damage preventative processes; direct part marking; electronic build instructions; and smart tools," said Roberts. "Overall, we anticipate a reduction in a total engine build time and improved quality of the finished products."

The Small Engine Assembly Line facility is housed in approximately 24,000 ft², including its support function area. It consists of 16 individual workstations, each designed to maximize the quality and efficiency of a specific assembly function. In addition, two new automated test cells, capable of running all RR300 and Model 250 variants, are now operational.

Back across the Atlantic, at Bristol, U.K., where Rolls-Royce employs around 3500 engineers and technicians at its military engines plant, the company has just invested approximately $90 million in the redevelopment of its main manufacturing site. This site includes a new assembly building for its defense propulsion programs and helicopter engines and also covers the refurbishment of existing test beds and office space, with new engineering halls and service facilities and training workshops.

Occupying 25,000 m², the hall houses assembly lines for a large range of production engines including the EJ 200 fitted to the Eurofighter Typhoon; the Adour for the Hawk trainer; RTM322 engines for the NH90 and EH101 helicopters; and the VTOL LiftSystem for both F-35 propulsion systems, as well as other components for the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team’s F136.

Also serving as a center for developing future engine technologies, the hall houses a specialist design-and-make facility for advanced research and development. All under the same roof, there is an integrated logistics center and production support offices. Transition from the old plant to the new facility was accomplished in 17 weeks with no disruption to manufacturing performance or customer deliveries of completed engines.

The new factory was planned to incorporate the principles of lean engineering throughout the site, reducing occupied floor space by 47%, costs by 7%, and product lead times by 20%. Operator efficiency was increased by 13%.

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