Business is brisk for blisks at MTU. The German engine specialist is months from completing an investment in what it describes as the biggest facility in the world for milling bladed disks. By the turn of the year, the last of 24 identical machines will be lowered into position to complete a production line that began life in April 2013. It will, by 2020, be turning out 4,000 blisks a year, most of them for the high pressure compressor of the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engine family, for which MTU is responsible as part of its risk-sharing contribution to the programme.

The level of automation in hall 77 of MTU’s extensive Munich complex is almost automotive-like. Pre-formed metal is moved on overhead gantries into each of the 20 machines to be crafted into blisks. The process can take up to 40h of precise computer-controlled milling. Just two technicians stand guard over the two rows of machines. The state-of-the-art plant is just one indication of MTU’s massive commitment in the geared turbofan, a product in which it has a 15-18% stake, depending on the version of the engine.

MTU is part of a global network of first-tier partners for the series of geared turbofan engines that will be installed on the Bombardier CSeries, Mitsubishi MRJ and Embraer E2 family, among others. However, the PW1100G-JM variant – one of two engine options for the Airbus A320neo family – has added significance for MTU. The German company is responsible for final assembly of three in every ten of the engines – P&W’s own factories in Middletown, Connecticut and West Palm Beach, Florida between them assemble the remainder.

In a few weeks’ time, an A320neo PW1100G-JM will roll off the assembly line, the first complete commercial engine to be produced by MTU in Munich after 80 years of assembling military powerplants, including the Europrop TP400-D6 for the Airbus Defence & Space A400M. Although final assembly represents a fraction of the overall value of an engine, being responsible for signing off each PW1100G-JM has tremendous significance for MTU, says chief programme officer Michael Schreyögg. “Final assembly is not something an OEM provides easily to a risk share partner,” he says.

The final assembly line for the newly in-service PW1100G was temporarily behind partitions and off-bounds to us when we visited MTU in early May, but stations are in place for full-rate production, and the ramp up has begun. “So far, reliability has been good, and the orderbook is solid,” says Schreyögg. “It has been an excellent product development and introduction.”MTU expects to assemble 16 engines this year, rising to 100 in 2017, and the target is about 250 a year by the turn of the decade, effectively one engine per working day.

Unlike the single-dock, lower-volume TP400 final assembly line alongside it, the PW1100G will be assembled on a flow system. Once at full rate, at any one time, 10 to 15 engines will be in various stages of completion, with partially-assembled engines moving from one station to the next on specially designed wheeled bogies. This is the only key difference from Pratt & Whitney’s Middletown and West Palm Beach set-ups, where the up-to 6t engines are transported using an overhead monorail.

Schreyögg makes no secret of the fact investment in automation, coupled with Germany’s high labour rates, makes Munich an expensive factory. For this reason, MTU has located parts of the PW1000G programme, as well as its International Aero Engines V2500 predecessor, at its plant in south-east Poland, which it is expanding. Poland is responsible for manufacturing vanes, blades, discs and other “mid-tech” parts, says Schreyögg, as well as final assembly of engine modules. All military work – maintenance, repair and overhaul as well as production – remains in Munich.

While P&W is these days MTU’s main customer, the German firm remains partner agnostic, working with General Electric, Rolls-Royce and Snecma on a series of manufacturing and aftermarket programmes. It has collaborated with GE since the mid-1950s and produces the turbine centre frame for the GEnx, GE90 and GP7000, although strict internal firewalls mean work for the two US companies is kept apart. “With GE, we focus primarily on widebody engines and different technologies,” says Schreyögg.

MTU also competes directly with all the original equipment manufacturers on the aftermarket, offering its independent service contracts to commercial operators on V2500 and its rival engine, the CFM International CFM56. “We responded to the trend for airlines to take on long-term service contracts and we changed our organisation last year by integrating our OE [original equipment] and MRO businesses,” says Schreyögg, who maintains MTU is the largest independent engine repair and overhaul provider in the world.

MTU has MRO bases in Vancouver for GE CF6 and CFM56 engines. A facility in Zhuhai owned with China Southern specialises in the V2500 and CFM56, and there are sites in Hanover and Berlin. The move to power-by-the-hour arrangements is a result of airlines “wanting to fly and not wanting to have to manage their engine maintenance”, says Schreyögg. MTU has even got involved in sale and leaseback. “We are keen to offer lease and asset management solutions,” he says. The era of the “mom and pop” repair shop, offering ad hoc maintenance, is coming to an end, he believes.

While 70% of MTU’s MRO revenues come from independent contracts with airlines – it claims to have a 10% global share of the CFM56 market – the company has also had to work with the OEMs on the specific repair and overhaul of engine modules. The emphasis in the independent market is on understanding and responding to the airlines’ needs, says Schreyögg. However, when it comes to partnering with the manufacturers “we need to continue to industrialise our processes to get our costs down,” he says.

The military sector – once the cornerstone of MTU’s business – now represents just over a tenth of revenues with maintenance contracts on the likes of the Panavia Tornado’s Rolls-Royce RB199s and its workshare on the TP400, as well as the Eurojet EJ200 for the Eurofighter, the main contributors. Export successes in the Gulf, initally with Oman and a recent deal with Kuwait, have provided a boost for the European fighter programme, while Schreyögg holds out hope of a follow-on deal, with Saudi Arabia and new customers such as Malaysia opting for the Eurofighter.

The A400M and its engine remain a headache for all programme participants, with more problems emerging following the fatal crash of an aircraft in Spain last year. “Today, the core engine is fine,” says Schreyögg. “The power gearbox [made by GE’s Avio subsidiary in Italy] needs modification. We have a fix. However, we are still working on that,” he says. One positive development with the engine programme, believes Schreyögg, is that the engine partners are working better together and with Airbus. “We are much more integrated than a year ago,” he says.

While its geared turbofan successor moves into service, the V2500 – which powers around half the current generation A320s in service – remains vital for MTU, which has a 16% share of the programme. “We built 7,000 engines and 6,000 are still in service. We have the highest maintenance workshare, with 40%,” says Schreyögg. He expects aftermarket demand to continue growing to a peak in 2024, with Embraer’s selection of the engine for the KC-390 transport giving the V2500 a new lease of life. “We will be keeping the production line open for that,” says Schreyögg.

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Source: Flight Daily News