Rolls-Royce marked the official opening of its new £100m advanced aerospace disc manufacturing facility with a ceremony conducted by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Business Secretary Vince Cable.
When fully operational in 2016, the 18,000m2 facility in Washington, Tyne and Wear will have the capacity to manufacture 2,500 fan and turbine discs a year. These discs will feature in a wide-range of Trent aero engines including the world's most efficient aero engine the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB. Fan Discs and Turbine Discs are at the heart of the engine, operating in extreme conditions providing the engine's thrust.
Ground-breaking manufacturing techniques include the introduction of robotics and automation for shot peen, painting and chemical processing operations as well as latest advanced platforms for machining, grinding, broaching and inspection processes. This has reduced the time it takes to manufacture a disc by 50% while producing a step-change in component performance. The state of the art facility makes use of manufacturing methods developed at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in Rotherham. The AMRC is part of a network of research centres which aim to work with businesses to apply university research to accelerate the commercialisation of new and emerging manufacturing technologies.
Tony Wood, Rolls-Royce, President - Aerospace, said: "Rolls-Royce is committed to investing for future growth in order to deliver for our customers. We invested £687m in facilities and equipment around the world last year. This facility will use ground breaking manufacturing techniques to produce discs for our Trent engines including the world's most efficient aero engine, the Trent XWB."
There are two types of disc manufactured at the Washington plant: fan discs and turbine discs. Located at the front of the engine, the fan disc holds the fan blades. There are typically 20 blades in each engine. They rotate about 2,700 times per minute and move 1.25 tonnes of air per second, the equivalent of the volume of air in a squash court. The fan discs remain in service for over 20 years.
The turbine discs hold blades in the hottest part of the engine where the operating conditions are at their most severe. The disc is made of some of the strongest materials available, created using refined powders which are specially processed and machined to the accuracy of a fraction of the thickness of a human hair. The blades that these discs hold each generate the power of a Formula 1 racing car and there are 68 of them in, for instance, the Trent XWB. The temperature within the high pressure turbine is 1,700 degrees centigrade, hotter than the melting point of the turbine blades themselves so they have to be coated with a special ceramic and cooled with air passed through the discs and out of a series of precise holes in the blade.