The Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 turbofan engine, pictured here on a Boeing 787-9, was the subject of a fleet-wide scheduled maintenance program once the engine-maker was notified of replacement part-related operational issues.

Rolls-Royce's next move

It seems that every large Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) aerospace group has now realized that over the long term, there is enhanced profitability to be gained by offering customers a total package that bundles acquisition of a new product with all aspects of maintenance, repair, servicing and product support.

Boeing is increasingly looking towards global domination of the total service support market with an aggressively active expansion policy that is making it easier for customers to plan for fleet renewal by having the engineering support costs, including the rapid availability of spares and routine maintenance provided “as needed”, without the conventional huge financial investment in expensive new ground facilities, specialized equipment, spares storage and personnel. Airbus has the same ambitions, thought is not progressing as quickly as Boeing.

Engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce is in many ways the leader in such support packages and was so even before the arrival of the digital revolution that allowed a transformation in support capability. This support extends into every aspect of operations, control, analysis of performance and through life maintenance and repair. Over the years, Rolls-Royce has consolidated its lead in comprehensive customer support activities alongside the continuous development of new advanced specification aerospace engines, and on February 5, it announced its latest initiative, a vision entitled IntelligentEngine.

Through-life task

This new move is precipitated by the fact that it is becoming very difficult to separate developing, building, and selling new engines from the through-life task of supporting them in service, keeping them safe and reliable, and operating with maximum efficiency, allowing customers to reap the best commercial gains. In years past, most airlines had their own engineering bases and retained large numbers of highly skilled engineers and administrative managers to keep everything running on schedule and to plan accordingly for routine maintenance needs as well as short-notice repairs. This way of doing things in-house has become very expensive in people terms and the cost of providing the fixed assets, which are also in need of frequent maintenance and modernization.

Independent Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) companies have boomed as airlines concentrated their management efforts on operations and outsourced the MRO activities. But now the OEMs are making a major push to take on a much bigger share of the overall support market for themselves. Some of this is done in partnership with airlines who still retain in-house engineering facilities, some with MROs, and also some with acquired or newly built engineering facilities. The support packages can thus be tailored closely to the individual needs of the customer to deliver the best bespoke business solution. Rolls-Royce is developing through its IntelligentEngine initiative a vision for the future that is looking at a highly integrated customer service, fully exploiting the power and flexibility of digital communications.

The worldwide operation of Rolls-Royce engines is monitored and analyzed on a 24/7 basis and is linked to customer operating centers and partnered service centers so that any urgently needed technical issues or replacement parts or modules that have been identified during a flight or at a stop-over, can be ready for attention without delay. The company underlines the scope for future advances in engine reliability and efficiency by quoting “Three Cs:” Connected, Contextually aware, and Comprehending.

Connected refers to the relationship between the engine and other engines and its support ecosystem and with the customer, allowing for regular two-way flow of information between many parties. Contextually aware is the engine’s operating parameters, constraints, and the needs of the customer, allowing it to respond to the environment around it without human intervention. Comprehending is the engine’s ability to learn from its own experiences and from its network of peers to adjust its behavior and achieve best performance. Dominic Horwood, Rolls-Royce Director Customer and Services for Civil Aerospace, said “We are determined to pioneer the power that matters for our customers and our IntelligentEngine vision will allow us to do this. We have the right people, the right skills and right infrastructure to grasp this opportunity and deliver world-beating digital insight, helping to deliver even greater value.”

Rolls-Royce states that this initiative is enabling the company to find new ways of pioneering power, whether it is through the engines already installed today, through the newest models just coming into use, and the future UltraFan engine design, or even through to the hybrid-electric concepts under investigation.

Rolls-Royce’s R2 Data Labs, an acceleration hub for data innovation, which was launched in December 2017, will play a key role in achieving the aims of the IntelligentEngine. Using advanced data analytics, industrial Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning techniques, R2Data Labs develops data applications that unlock design, manufacturing and operational efficiencies within the company and creates new service propositions for customers. Further details of the IntelligentEngine vision will likely be revealed at the Farnborough International Air Show in July.

The Rolls-Royce order book stood at $114.44 billion and $1.80 billion was invested in research and development at the end of June 2017

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