Engine OEMs On Service Entry And Supply Chain Problems

How GE, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce are ramping up new engine programs with a strained supply chain.

Printed headline: Engine Teething


If the adage “you only have one chance to make a good first impression” is true for new-engine entrants, the industry could be in trouble. New-generation aircraft engines—CFM’s Leap and Pratt & Whitney’s geared turbofan and Trent 1000—are capturing quite a bit of attention for their problems rather than the fuel savings and efficiencies their new technology promises.

To put the market in perspective, there is a huge ramp-up going on: The global commercial aircraft fleet is forecast to grow by 50% within a decade, says Oliver Wyman’s Cavok group. That takes the fleet from 26,307 this year to 37,978 aircraft in 2028.

For the CFM Leap engine, that translates to delivering 60 engines in 2016, 459 in 2017, 1,200 this year and 2,200 in 2020, says Bill Dwyer, GE Aviation general manager for engine services marketing. CFM is producing four engines per day, but that will increase to six per day by the end of the year, seven by 2019 and nine by mid-2020. “The rate is intense,” says Dwyer, which is one reason its production is behind. General Electric and partner Snecma are planning to be back on track by roughly the third quarter, he says.

During a panel discussion at the MRO Americas conference and exhibition with Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce, Dwyer said the OEMs’ supply chain strategies have “really taxed the technical resources at some sources,” which has perpetuated ramp-up problems. In addition, in 2015-16 CFM received more orders for the CFM56-5B that it hadn’t forecast, further taxing its supply chain as it prepared for production of the new-generation engines and forcing it to continue producing parts for existing models.

  The pace of new-program introduction is typically much more gradual, agrees Lewis Prebble, Rolls-Royce senior vice president for customers in the Americas. “We’re at immediate cutovers, as the industry is red hot,” he says, and on the front end, “getting an entire supply chain ready to move over to a new program at that rate is challenging for all of us.” To make matters worse, several aircraft and engines that were forecast to be retired by now are seeing a strong secondhand market, so suppliers and the aftermarket are dealing with very different demand signals than what they forecast even a few years ago.

This also means OEMs are evaluating their service networks to ensure adequate support for both new and existing product lines. As an example, in mid-April Pratt & Whitney contracted Delta TechOps to became part of its geared turbofan MRO Network, which makes it the second facility in North America capable of repairing and overhauling the GTF. The other is a Pratt & Whitney shop in Columbus, Georgia.

In 2015, Delta TechOps became the first Rolls-Royce-approved Trent engine maintenance center not owned by the manufacturer.

The OEMs’ infrastructure and support networks have been a crucial part of entry into service (EIS) as each has dealt with engine reliability problems. For instance, GE has been scheduling certain Leap engine removals to address turbine-shroud coating loss that adversely affects exhaust-gas temperature margins. Despite teething issues such as this, the Leap 1A and  1B are flying on 96% of available days, says Dwyer.

While the XWB’s EIS was fairly smooth for Rolls-Royce, “we haven’t had the same happy experience on the Trent 1000,” says Prebble. Like GE, “we have a similar intensive period for EIS,” he adds. Last year, the Rolls engine completed 30 million flying hours, and that will double in 2024.

“One unique thing about Rolls-Royce is that we are predominantly a large engine player. We’re talking about widebody international operations, and they have their own unique challenges. It’s difficult to ship a fan with a 97-in. diameter” when there’s a problem, says Prebble. This makes it important that the company’s global infrastructure has the right competencies and tooling to match operators’ requirements.

Pratt & Whitney’s installed large commercial engine fleet numbers about 12,000, and it is bringing five new product lines to market. About 140 aircraft with 22 customers are in service powered by geared turbofans, and this year it is gaining 12 new customers, says Joe Sylvestro, vice president of aftermarket operations.

Sylvestro says a Pratt & Whitney EIS team starts working with customers about 18 months before delivery, and then it intensifies “T-minus 18 months until the aircraft is flying.” Several weeks before delivery, the team is on the ground, living at the customer’s site and supporting it. This support process can last a couple months or longer, depending on the operation and customer.

Each of the OEMs has rigorous EIS plans and processes, but there is always a lot of learning for a new program—especially one with an intense ramp-up rate such as these powerplants. “The area we have to work on is reducing the burden on the customer to keep the utilization as high as it is from the flight line inspection perspective,” says Dwyer. 

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