Printed headline: Digital Drive
As a company driven by technology, Rolls-Royce continuously looks to new innovations to drive positive change. In recent years, these have ranged from exploring the potential of engine health monitoring to using tools such as virtual reality for training and robotics for engine inspection.
The company also is looking to accelerate its aircraft electrification strategy, as demonstrated by its recent agreement to acquire the electric and hybrid-electric aerospace propulsion activities of Siemens.
While focusing on new ways to both manufacture engines and service them, Rolls is combining these innovations with a commitment to advance existing digital capabilities to better handle data generated from powerplants.
Much of this is centered on using data and digital technologies, which Rolls is developing through its R2 Data Labs division, established in late 2017 as an acceleration hub for data innovation.
“Our industry is being reinvented and will change and deliver new capabilities and new levels of efficiency and performance because of digital technology,” Dominic Horwood, Rolls’ chief customer officer for civil aerospace, told the media at its headquarters here in late May. “We want to drive forward our culture and improve the capabilities of our people. As we think about investing in digital and electrification and broadening out from the gas-turbine investment, the people and skills that we need are going to change.”
Some of these digitally driven innovations are expected to become more prevalent in an aftermarket where the engine-maker holds an estimated 31% share of the global widebody fleet. As Rolls has been growing its maintenance and spare-parts programs, its services revenue also has become a more valuable contributor to its bottom line, increasing 15% year-over-year to £4.2 billion ($5.3 billion) in 2018.
Further growth is expected across its service network, with Horwood stating that Rolls is aiming to lead the expansion of aftermarket services. “Our MRO network has evolved significantly over the past few years,” he notes, alluding to additions of authorized service centers (ASC) in which Rolls holds no equity taking places in its network alongside joint-venture businesses and customer-service centers. “Companies like Delta TechOps will be taking an increasingly significant role in our network as authorized service centers,” Horwood says, following Delta’s induction of the first Rolls engine into its Atlanta shop last October. “Others such as AFI KLM E&M and StandardAero are also coming into our business. Through the growth of our ASCs, we are changing the footprint of our MRO.”
Another key part of Rolls’ commercial engine future is its Trent 1000 program. The Boeing 787 powerplant option entered service in 2011 as a rival to GE Aviation’s GEnx. However, since early 2016, several technical issues related to the engine’s Package B model followed by the Package C variant have caused disruptions.
Rolls is working to resolve the issues, with the company reporting earlier this year that it aims to reduce the number of grounded 787s with Trent 1000 engines to fewer than 10 by the end of 2019. There were 31 in March. “We are working intensely with our customers every day to support the recovery of their fleets,” Horwood says of the “unacceptable” level of disruption.
He says good progress is being made regarding technical fixes to the engines, centered on improvements to the intermediate-pressure (IP) compressor on the Package C version along with modifications to the IP turbine and fan seal. Horwood says the company is also confident that issues related to blade deterioration are unique to the Trent 1000 and will not occur in other engine types.
The engine manufacturer is looking to learn from these issues and feed lessons into future designs, too. “The lessons from an engineering [standpoint] are very much in the detailed design of the components and in a greater understanding of potential mechanisms that can cause deterioration of those components that we now see in service,” Horwood explains. “It is not about mistakes or things people got wrong, it is about getting a detailed understanding of what caused the behavior.”