Alongside its Pearl engines, Rolls-Royce is exploiting digital technologies to enhance reliability and customer experience. Andy Robinson, SVP Customer & Services for business aviation, explains
“Whatever we do, our decisions must always protect the brand,” says Andy Robinson, SVP Customer & Services for Rolls-Royce business aviation engines. “If we have that mindset, we’ll do the right thing. The brand is hugely important and perfectly aligned to business aviation. Our customers relate to it because it represents quality, excellence in design, excellence in engineering and excellence in service.”
A Rolls-Royce aeroengine ran for the first time in February 1915. Delivering 300hp, it was a technologically advanced design masterpiece known as the Eagle. The marque’s reputation for excellence had already been established through its automobiles and although the aeroengine and car businesses split in 1971, today’s Rolls-Royce engines continue the tradition of combining cutting-edge technology and excellence.
Insofar as a modern business jet engine is concerned, customer satisfaction is derived from two quite distinct areas. First, an engine, especially an engine new to market, must exceed current capabilities for fuel burn, emissions, noise, maintainability and other parameters and it must be, as far as possible, future-proofed. Second, it must be subject to a comprehensive support regime. With the advent of the connected engine, that can mean assisting the customer with a problem before it occurs.
All that is a long way from the Eagle and the line of piston engines, mostly named for birds of prey, that followed. In the turbine era, Rolls-Royce named many of its turboprop, turbojet and turbofan engines for British rivers, a tradition partially upheld with its latest offering, named for China’s river Pearl. The choice of moniker reflects the Far East market’s importance for Rolls-Royce and its airframe customers, which have chosen members of the Pearl engine family to power the Bombardier Global 5500 and 6500, Dassault Falcon 10X, and Gulfstream G700 and G800. Nonetheless, the US remains the largest business aviation market and is therefore where Robinson is based.
A 45-year Rolls-Royce veteran and former apprentice, he was born in Burton-on-Trent (Trent turbofans power Airbus A330, A340, A350, A380 and Boeing 777 and 787 models), has a fierce appreciation of exactly what Rolls-Royce’s heritage means to its workforce and the expectations it engenders among customers, and a ready smile. The latter appears at the suggestion of the next Rolls-Royce engine being named Potomac or Mississippi, before he takes great pleasure relating how the US actually has its own river Pearl, flowing through Mississippi into Louisiana.
“Our headquarters for business aviation is in Berlin, but I lead the customer-facing organisation globally and I’m based in North America, as is the majority of my team,” Robinson says. “Close to 70% of our business aviation customers are here and most of our aircraft manufacturer customers are here – Bombardier, Embraer, Gulfstream and Textron – apart from our latest success – Dassault. Europe is a close second, followed by Asia-Pacific and then Latin America. We believe that having our Pearl 10X on Dassault’s Falcon 10X will open up a new market, since Dassault customers are very loyal to the company and it could help us grow our European customer base.”
The fact that business aviation has global reach is among its many attractions, but also poses challenges when it comes to providing support. Robinson acknowledges that Rolls-Royce must maintain its own global reach, offering service wherever its customers fly. “We have a dedicated business aviation team. We do that because our customers are so very different to the airlines. They don’t have the infrastructure, network, parts, spare engines or technicians of an airline, instead buying these from others.
“We formed a Corporate Customer Council community in which we sit with key customers, management companies and service centres to talk about what’s important and how best we can provide it. It was clear that speed and aircraft availability was critical. That led us to create a network of more than 75 authorised service centres, the largest in business aviation, that allows us to respond quickly. We support it with spare parts located in nine stores and 160 lease engines distributed across almost as many places.”
This wide geographic coverage helps alleviate some of the logistics headaches plaguing the MRO industry post-pandemic, but Robinson candidly admits that there are still issues to overcome. “Under our CorporateCare and CorporateCare Enhanced packages it’s our obligation to ensure parts are where they are needed. We have to get the parts there to avoid a customer missing a trip, and we do. Last month [March 2022] we achieved 100% averted missed trips, but the cost and logistics are difficult. We’ve partnered with a logistics provider that’s embedded within our 24/7 Availability Centre and we rely on them to identify delivery routes and options. Then we have a sophisticated software capability that shows where our parts are stored and the quickest routes to move them from the warehouse to the customer, even considering delays that might be caused by weather.”
Delivering the best engine…
How does Rolls-Royce ensure its engines are technologically advanced and reliable? Robinson explains: “During flight test we have maturity metrics that we track to ensure the engine, its components, performance data and the manuals we provide hit a level of maturity that enables us to go into service with confidence. Much of this is accomplished through engine health monitoring, which we’ve been doing for decades in the airline and submarine worlds but is less well understood in business aviation.
“With the newer engines, we’re introducing an Engine Vibration Health Monitoring Unit, or EVHMU, an aircraft-mounted box that measures about 10,000 parameters per engine and transmits that data to us. We use the data to create a digital twin. We know exactly what the engine was like when we delivered it and we can compare that condition with the digital twin, allowing us to track anything that’s changing. At that level of data integrity we can even see when engine accessories are beginning to fail. It’s all part of our IntelligentEngine vision.”
As an example, Robinson cites the fuel metering unit, a component that measures fuel flow into the engine and without which the aircraft is AOG. On an aircraft without EVHMU, there is no warning of a failure until the accessory quits. “With the EVHMU, we can monitor the response time of the fuel metering unit torque motor. When the electronic control unit ‘tells’ the motor to move and its response is slower than expected, even by a millisecond, we can see that through the EVHMU data. That tells us it will fail and we can replace it before it does.”
Even more impressively, the EVHMU facilitates two-way communication. Robinson continues: “It means we can reconfigure it to examine other aircraft parameters. If there were a starting issue, for example, we can monitor a start remotely, reconfigure the EVHMU to look at APU duct pressure and other pressures relevant to starting, and troubleshoot remotely.”
Every engine in the fleet will have a digital twin, primarily fed by EVHMU-collected data, but also with information about operations, operating environments, maintenance and more. Thus, Rolls-Royce creates a network of digital engines in which trends can be identified across the whole fleet, in one engine compared to the rest, or even in batches where, say, the same component is not performing as expected. The net result is not only a powerful predictive maintenance tool, but also a massive resource for engine improvement and future development.
Delivering the best service…
Robinson is therefore confident that Rolls-Royce engines are the best they can be. But how do he and his team ensure they deliver service to match? How do they communicate with owners and operators when the only times they are likely to connect are post-failure or when an issue is imminent?
Considering customers subscribing to the CorporateCare or CorporateCare Enhanced support packages, Robinson explains: “We work with the aircraft manufacturers, because customers typically call them first. When there’s already a problem, we’re notified and launch our availability service. We work to understand the problem, then send parts and technicians to fix it.” Robinson makes the process seem simple, but notes that on at least one occasion Rolls-Royce has chartered a C-130 cargo aircraft to deliver a replacement engine and all required tooling to a remote island. “It’s just what we do.”
Rolls-Royce is increasingly proactive in its support, contacting customers with emerging faults they had not suspected. It could even be a case of ‘bad news’ – a component has just failed, followed immediately by ‘good news’ – a technician and part are on their way already. It is, Robinson agrees, bad news delivered really positively.
The Pearl 15 is already operational with Bombardier, while certification of the Pearl 700 is expected over the coming months and the Pearl 10X test programme is proceeding well. These are digital engines for the latest generation of digital aircraft. They will be served by a new breed of technician informed like never before. So, how is Rolls-Royce equipping and training them?
Robinson responds: “We already used VR during engine design, to ensure that parts can be replaced in a certain time, that there’s space for the technician to work and the engine can be maintained effectively. Then, in July/August 2020, fortuitously given the pandemic, we launched VR training. Our instructors in Indianapolis train people at their home bases and we’re growing the courses so that now people can ‘sit’ in the cockpit, start the engines and interrogate the central maintenance computer. It’s very powerful.” And it is one more advanced solution enabling Rolls-Royce to maintain its tradition for delivering excellence.