Rolls-Royce last week began building a state-of-the-art Advanced Blade Casting Facility in Rotherham, England, where it will produce up to 100,000 single-crystal turbine blades annually for its large civilian aerospace engines. The cost of the new plant was not announced. Start-up is expected in 2014.
Mike Mosley, exec. vice president for turbines, stated: “Rolls-Royce invests in world-class technology and infrastructure to expand the scale and efficiency of our operations, and to deliver our promises to our customers.
“In the last five years,” Mosley continued, “we have invested over £950 million (est. $1.48 billion) on infrastructure in the U.K. alone. The Advanced Blade Casting Facility will use cutting-edge manufacturing techniques to produce single-crystal turbine blades, which play a critical role in jet engines and must withstand incredibly harsh conditions.”
Rolls is one of the world’s largest producers of aerospace, marine, and gas turbines engines, which require large volumes of the critical components. For example, the Trent 900 engine installed in the Airbus A380 wide-body aircraft features as many as 65 turbine blades that withstand the high-heat, high-pressure, and high-speed operating conditions of a jet aircraft.
“One single-crystal turbine blade extracts around 1,000 horsepower from the gas flow towards the rear of the engine … to drive the engine’s compressors,” Rolls explained in its announcement. “Single-crystal turbine blades operate in temperatures up to 200°C (392°F) above the melting point of their alloy, and sit in a disc that rotates at more than 12,000 rpm,” it explained.
“Single crystal” refers to the metallurgical grain structure of the superalloys in an investment-cast part: A very high degree of process control is maintained so that the thousands of alloy grains form a single elongated structure through the length of the blade. Other “groundbreaking” manufacturing capabilities to be adopted for the new plant will include “3D structured light” for inspecting the geometric quality of finished turbine blades.
The 14,000-m2 investment casting operation is located in South Yorkshire’s Advanced Manufacturing Park that also is the site of Casting Technology International, the metalcasting R&D center.