Rolls-Royce robots help build greener jet engines

January 13, 2020
Rolls-Royce Bristol composite
The composite technology hub in Bristol will develop light-weight fan cases and blades. Photo: Rolls-Royce.

A new hi-tech Rolls-Royce facility in the UK aims to develop composite fan blades and fan cases aimed at significantly reducing the weight of jet engines.

The composite technology hub in Bristol will from January work on fan blades and cases for Rolls’ UltraFan engine designed to be 25 percent more efficient than company’s first-generation Trent engines.

The UltraFan has been hailed as the British manufacturer’s biggest step in engine architecture in half a century and is expected to power aircraft from the mid-2020s.

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The use of carbon composites to reduce engine weight equates to less fuel used and Rolls-Royce estimates a fan system made of the material can save almost 700kg per aircraft, or the equivalent of seven passengers and their luggage.

Rolls-Royce composite UltraFan
The new facility uses state-of-the-art automation. Photo: Rolls-Royce.

Rolls says the composite system for the new engine is taking shape and its different parts have completed aerodynamic performance, bird-strike, containment and water ingestion tests as well as ground and flight testing.

The fan blades are made from hundreds of layers of carbon-fiber materials prefilled with a tough resin and then heated under pressure. Each blade is finished with a thin titanium leading edge to battle erosion, foreign objects and bird strikes.

The new Bristol hub is designed to take composite manufacturing to the next level and means 150 jobs for the British city.

This includes the transfer of an existing manufacturing technology facility from the Isle of Wight along with about 30 employees.

And like the engine parts it produces, the facility is designed to reduce emissions and consumption with the latest low-energy, very low emissions processes with state-of-the-art robotics.

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This allows it to maximize the use of raw materials while reducing waste as Rolls-Royce moves towards its target of zero emissions by 2030.

“This incredible new facility exemplifies our commitment to creating cleaner, more efficient forms of power,’’ said Rolls-Royce director aerospace technology and future programs Alan Newby.

“Our highly-skilled employees will use the latest technology, materials and manufacturing techniques to develop components that will contribute to lighter, quieter, more powerful jet engines with fewer emissions.”