The opening of the Rolls-Royce campus at Seletar Aerospace Park in Singapore is a major boost for Asia's aviation industry
The eve of the Singapore Air Show saw a milestone in not just the City State's, but Asia's aviation history. Rolls-Rolls gave an official opening to its facilities in Seletar Aerospace Park on the northern fringe of the island that will undertake not just engine MRO, but also the manufacture of wide chord fan blades and Trent engines.
Singapore has already built itself up as an MRO centre of global importance - ST Aerospace is the largest maintenance provider in the world. Singapore Airlines Engineering (SIAEC) is also in the top ten, and the likes of GE, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce and others already have a presence on the island, often through local joint ventures.
But manufacturing is still a relatively small part of Singapore's aerospace repertoire - accounting for around ten per cent of output according to the Association of Aerospace Industries (Singapore), or AAIS. The new Rolls-Royce facility will substantially change that.
The WCFB manufacturing facility at Seletar is the group's first facility outside the UK to produce the hollow titanium blades, a key part of the Trent engine. At full capacity, the facility could produce 6,000 blades per year, once production is fully ramped up in a few years.
The Rolls-Royce campus also includes the Seletar Assembly and Test Unit (SATU) which, when it is fully ramped up, will produce up to 250 engines per year, or around one per working day. The unit will initially concentrate on the Trent 900 that powers the Airbus A380 and the Trent 1000 that powers the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Eric Schulz, president civil large engine programmes - civil aerospace at Rolls-Royce says that once it is fully ramped up, which will take a year or two, Seletar could be producing around 90% of the manufacturer's Trent 900s, effectively making it a centre of excellence for the type. The manufacturer's Seletar facility will take the lead in important decisions on the Trent 900. "Whichever site has the biggest volume will take the lead on the supply chain," explains Schulz, although the processes at Derby and Singapore will be identical.
The Trent XWB being produced for the Airbus A350 will initially be concentrated in Derby. "We like to transfer programmes that have some level of maturity. It's not a bad idea to initially have everything close to your engineering centre," explains Schulz. The Trent XWB will, however, likely be added to the Seletar portfolio once it has been bedded in.
The introduction of engine assembly in Singapore is being carried out in a phased approach. Initially, the Trent 900 engine modules will be built in Derby, with Seletar taking care of final assembly. By the end of the year, Seletar will also be building the modules. The Trent 1000 will go through a similar process but with a lag of around 12 months. "We're taking a phased approach to de-risk the process," says Schulz.
This year is very much a bedding in year. The first production unit will be shipped to airbus in Toulouse in the third quarter of this year, and Schulz says that 10-to-12 engines "would be a success." Next year could see this increased to around 45-50, with around 180-200 be produced by the middle of the decade, says Schulz. Around 80 of these would be Trent 900s and 120 Trent 1000s - although Rolls-Royce has developed Seletar so that there is a system of "flexibility" with Derby on production.
This would see Seletar beginning to approach the 300 Trent engines produced in Derby. "We'll probably keep Derby at around 300 units or so," says Schulz, adding that Seletar will be the focus for future growth.
There could be further opportunities for manufacturing. Although Rolls-Royce is 100% responsible for the product integration, around 75% of the engine is sourced from partners and suppliers. Seletar Aerospace Park, which will eventually cover 320 hectares, has plenty of space to cater for companies that could reduce logistics costs by taking advantage of the "over the fence" nature of the park to reduce logistics costs.
In any case, Schulz says that there, "has been a tendency to grow the supply chain in Asia," in recent years, although the list of supplier countries is very much a global affair, including the likes of Spain and Japan. "This is a long term commitment. The ripple effect through the supply chain system will be felt region-wide," says Jonathan Asherson, regional director South-East Asia at Rolls-Royce.
Mike Terrett, chief operating officer of Rolls Royce, notes that the manufacturer has doubled in size over the last decade and expects to do so again over the next decade. "This is growth - not replacement," he says.
The manufacturer looked at other locations before plumping for Singapore. "It was a competitive tender," stresses Terrett. Singapore came out top of the pile - the manufacturer's positive experience with SAESL was clearly a reason for confidence. Singapore's educational system, in which around 40% of graduates have technical qualifications, is another plus point. "The availability of skills is one reason why we developed this campus," says Terrett.
"We also had an enormous amount of support from the local authorities. The Singapore Government and its various agencies' business approach is very business-like. They are a model for the rest of the world. Their approach and attitude to solving problems is a key differentiator."
Singapore also benefits - once Seletar is at full steam it will be worth S$1.7 billion (US$1.4 billion) to the local economy and account for 0.5% of GDP. Rolls-Royce will at that stage account for 2,000 high skill jobs in the City State.
Another plus point picked out by Terrett is the cooperation between the Singapore and UK workforces. Rolls-Royce has had various Derby personnel in Singapore helping to gear up Seletar. Some of the processes being used in Seletar, meanwhile, will serve as a blueprint for Derby. "We have access to a rich seam of talent and people with a different perspective."
There will also be benefits for SAESL, which will have access to various facilities at Seletar, such as laboratories and training. The Seletar campus will also include a Regional Training Centre (RTC) - the first such facility in Asia. This will benefit Asian carriers, giving them a top-notch training facility in the region.
Also on campus is the Advanced Technology Centre (ATC), tasked with developing advanced technologies to support core business areas. four key areas of research will take place within the ATC; materials support technology, computational engineering, electrical power and control systems, and manufacturing technology research.
The material support laboratory within the ATC is focussed on specialist forensic investigation capability through materials assessment and failure analysis as well as non-destructive testing support for in-service engines in the region. It will soon begin research and development on advanced materials.
The laboratory is also designed to provide materials support for the Trent aero engines assembly and test unit and WFCB manufacturing facilities on site. It will also support SAESL and International Engine Components Overhaul (IECO).
The computational engineering research facility will help develop technologies in optimisation, data mining, modelling and simulation that are used to improve the design of products as well as business processes.
On electrical power and control systems, the facility will carry out research into the increasing electrical technology requirements from all Rolls-Royce business sectors. There will also be research into advanced health monitoring and the interaction between electrical and mechanical systems.
The manufacturing technology research unit, meanwhile, will support the WCFB facility in Seletar, as well as research into surface modification technologies including robotised finishing, media finishing and sub-surface. Areas of interest will include automation, increased standardisation, and health, safety and environmental concerns.
There are also various partnerships with educational institutions in Singapore, including the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS).
The Seletar Assembly and Test Unit (SATU), meanwhile, will also have a test unit capable of handling engines up to a fan size of 140 inches and 150,000 lb of thrust - will in excess of the most powerful civil aerospace engines built today. The Trent 900 has a fan diameter of 116 inches and can produce 80,000 lb of thrust. A measure of Rolls-Royce's ambitions at Seletar and the wide world, perhaps.