SINGAPORE: INTERVIEW: Rolls-Royce regional director Jonathan Asherson

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Jonathan Asherson is Rolls-Royce's regional director for Asia-Pacific. A chartered engineer, Asherson represents the UK manufacturer's activities in its four core sectors: civil aerospace, defence aerospace, marine and energy. Before moving to Singapore in 1999, he was regional executive for Rolls-Royce in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, having joined the company from Siemens in 1995. He talks to Flight Daily News about Rolls-Royce's flagship Trent engine assembly facility at Seletar in Singapore, which opened in two years ago.

Q: Can you describe progress with the factory since its official opening in 2012?

A: We’ve achieved all our key targets since the official opening of the Seletar campus in February 2012, all on time and on budget, despite very challenging timeframes. The facility delivered its first production engine – a Trent 900 – to Airbus in Toulouse in November 2012. Our wide chord fan blade (WCFB) manufacturing facility also delivered the first sets of Trent 900 and Trent 1000 blades in 2013.

Much progress has been made at the Trent aeroengine assembly and test facility and WCFB manufacturing facility at the Seletar campus, as we ramp up production to hit full capacity by 2016.

Since our regional training centre opened in 2011 we have delivered over 9,000 man days of training to both employees and customers in the region.

Q: How many engines have gone out since then? What types?

A: We are currently manufacturing the Trent 900 engine which powers the Airbus A380. By the end of 2013 we delivered more than 50 Trent 900 aeroengines from our Seletar assembly and test unit.

By mid-2014, we will be ready to begin production of Trent 1000 aeroengines, and we are on course to ramp up to full capacity of 250 engines a year by early 2016.

Over $11.5 billion of new orders received in 2013 were from customers in Asia and [the] Middle East alone. Our facility in Seletar has allowed us to double global capacity to cater to growing demand.

Q: How many people are employed there? Do you plan to add more? If so, how many and in what roles?

A: We currently have over 700 staff employed at the Rolls-Royce Seletar campus across various functions including assembly, manufacturing, research and corporate shared services – human resources, finance, purchasing and supply chain and logistics. Over 90% of these employees are Singaporeans and permanent residents.

We continue to grow our workforce in line with our production targets, and we expect this number to rise to approximately 1,000 by 2016, when production is at full capacity.

Q: How many engines are you producing monthly? What are your plans for ramping up production?

A: We are currently manufacturing the Trent 900 aeroengine at our Seletar campus facility at a rate of about one per week. Since opening, we have delivered over 50 Trent 900 aeroengines from our Seletar assembly and test unit. By mid-2014, we will be ready to begin production of Trent 1000 engines, and we are on course to ramp up to full capacity of 250 engines a year by early 2016.

Our fan blade manufacturing facility is currently nearing 35% capacity, and with the start of production of Trent XWB blades in a few months, [it] is also on track to reach full capacity of 6,000 blades per year by 2015, with phase two of capacity expansion being installed for circa 7,600 blades in 2016. We had produced just over 2,000 blades as of December 2013, for the Trent 900 and Trent 1000.

The original plan was for a capacity of 6,000 blades annually by 2015, but this has already been increased to a target of 7,600 fan blades in 2016. This increased figure of 7,600 wasn't in the original planning, and required additional investment in equipment, without an increase in space.

The current site is capable of expansion to an annual capacity of 9,000 fan blades. We've planned for it, but will do so dependent on demand.

With the Seletar campus we have looked at future growth and future-proofed key areas. For example, the state-of-the-art test cell is capable of accommodating future large engines of up to 140in [3.6m] fan diameter and 150,000lb-thrust [667kN).

Q: What are the logistics involved with moving a completed powerplant to Airbus or Boeing?

A: The engines produced at Seletar are delivered to the airframer’s location depending on engine type and whether it is fitted on to a new aircraft. Trent 900 engines are delivered to Toulouse for Airbus and Trent 1000 engines will be delivered to Seattle, Washington or Charleston, South Carolina for Boeing.

New engines which are assigned as spares have separate arrangements for direct delivery from Seletar to our customers.

In Singapore, we have a unique arrangement which allows for our engines to be directly delivered to airside from Seletar. Our regulated cargo agent has been granted term pass access to airside by the local authorities.

What this means is that by working closely and collaboratively with the Singapore authorities, we have managed to reduce the time between aircraft engine dispatch from Seletar and aircraft engine arrival at airside at Singapore Changi airport from about 33h to 5h – a full 28h saved per engine.

Since the Seletar campus will produce 250 aircraft engines a year by 2016, this translates into time savings of 7,000h – which is almost the equivalent of 300 days saved per year, every year.

All engines and cargo are 100% inspected, security checked and have a consignment security certificate issued all within the customer delivery centre at the Seletar assembly and test unit prior to despatch.

This tripartite relationship between Singapore authorities, Rolls-Royce business partners and Rolls-Royce has resulted in a number of additional benefits, including significant cost savings and more predictable deliveries to our customers.

Q: The Economic Development Board is very keen to develop Singapore as an aerospace hub. Can you discuss your experience with them?

A: Our relationship with the EDB goes back a long way. From the very beginning, the EDB has proven to be an excellent partner [which] understands what drives our industry and the complex linkages with our global network of partners.

The EDB is very focused on the requirements of industry and communicates regularly with us in order to target any support they may offer. As the co-ordinating agency for companies like ours, the EDB also ensures that activity is aligned to government policy and across its sister agencies, such as the Workforce Development Agency and others.

Over time this relationship has evolved into a strong, collaborative partnership built on trust and integrity.