The company looks ready to spread its wings for another 100 years
By RAHIMI YUNUS / Pic By MUHD AMIN NAHARUL
The Rolls-Royce Trent 1,000 aircraft engine is a complex, powerful and crucial piece of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.
In that engine are 66 fan blades that rotate 12,000 times per minute at take-off power.
At that speed, each blade is carrying the equivalent of a double-decker bus and it is crucial that it works for the first time and every time.
Each dreamliner takes two of these turbofan engines, and the high demand for the new aircraft has meant that Rolls-Royce needed to produce a lot of them quickly — while still maintaining quality and safety.
The British company had to find 8,000 partners that could be trusted to produce parts to the highest specifications and deliver them on time.
That was when Rolls-Royce knocked on the door of Malaysian conglomerate UMW Holdings Bhd.
“When Rolls-Royce approached us and asked whether we want to do aerospace, we asked back: ‘Why us?’
“They said they wanted to make things faster as the world will need a lot of planes for the next 20 years. They said they liked how we can deliver things based on our experience making Toyota cars,” UMW manufacturing and engineering (M&E) division president Megat Shahrul Azmir Nordin said recently.
According to an aerospace outlook report by Frost & Sullivan, 32,428 aircraft deliveries are expected to take place in 20 years between 2017 and 2036, and 41% of those orders will come from the Asia-Pacific region.
The export of aerospace parts from Asean has also steadily increased over the past five years from US$24 billion (RM97.7 billion) in 2012 to US$27.5 billion in 2016, a compounded annual growth rate of 3.28%.
The June 2017 report also revealed that Asia Pacific will be the largest market for maintenance, repair and overhaul services by 2036. It said the sector will grow the fastest in Malay- sia at 8.9% per year clip.
UMW signed a 25-year agreement — with an option to extend another five years — to supply parts to Rolls- Royce, making its subsidiary UMW Aerospace Sdn Bhd the first Malaysian company to become a Tier-1 supplier for the British engine maker.
UMW will make the fan cases for the turbine blades in the Trent 1,000 700 engine at a purpose-built factory in Serendah, Selangor.
The transition from a long-running automotive parts manufacturer like UMW to start making things that are meant to fly more than 30,000ft in the sky was not easy.
That journey began with the alienation of a factory site less than a 10-minute drive from the current Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua Sdn Bhd headquarters and the company’s global production plant in Sungai Choh, Selangor.
Wholly owned subsidiary UMW Land Sdn Bhd was tasked to build the factory. The team carved out about 1.5 million cu m of soil from hills nearby, or about 600 Olympic-size swimming pools, to cover and flatten the side valleys for the greenfield project.
While the construction was ongoing, UMW began hiring 44 pioneer employees for the ambitious project.
Fast forward to 27 months later, a 1.82ha built-up area that consists of an admin office building, a pre-production facility and main production facility were successfully built on the 12.14ha site.
On Nov 29, 2017, the first fan case was delivered to Rolls-Royce’s final assembly plant in Seletar Campus, Singapore.
The 27-month record speed was the fastest — from the conception stage to delivery — in Rolls-Royce’s history, according to Megat Shahrul.
Now, the RM750 million facility can produce 250 units of fan cases per year for the Trent family.
Currently, the facility houses 119 employees (with 166 staff at full capacity).
The Trent 1,000 engines are assembled in separate modules with the fan case being one of it. Its 2.8m diameter case has approximately 4,000 components, making it one of the largest parts of the engine — which has 18,000 components in total.
The production of each unit is as complex as the process of building the production plant.
There are four main components of the titanium case, including a front fan case assembly, a mount ring assembly, a rear case assembly and an outer guide vane (OGV) assembly.
They are built as parts of the engine that power an aircraft weighing about 250,000kg for a distance of up to 8,000 nautical miles (14,816km) in temperature conditions ranging from -60°C to more than 40°C.
“The audit system for the aerospace manufacturers is the second-highest in the world after the nuclear plant. The third-highest regulated industry is oil and gas (O&G), which is so far away from aerospace.
“We had to get a lot of certifications in our operations,” Megat Shahrul said.
Among the certifications that the Serendah plant achieved include the European Aviation Safety Agency Airworthiness Standard and Civil Aviation Authority Approval.
The manufacturing facility has two assembly lines working in four cells.
“Cell A is to manufacture the front case. Cell B does the inner ring.
“Cell C is for welding processes and Cell D is for final assembly, all on two lines,” UMW Aerospace head of plant Trevor Peacock told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) during a recent media tour at the plant prior to the flag-off of the maiden delivery.
The highlight of the many advanced technology types of machinery in the facility is the Carnaghi AC46 machine that is used for turning and milling raw titanium imported from Italy.
The double-column machine is mounted onto a table base that is about 5m in depth to secure its stability for its rigorous operations involving hard metal such as titanium.
It works on the front case at an accuracy of 10 microns, or one-tenth of the human hair, the first of such installations in South-East Asia.
About 1,200kg of titanium is machined, turned and milled for about 50 hours in-house before it finally becomes the 600kg finished component by the AC46.
A front case and rear case are held together by a mount ring that is imported from the US. The 1.5m diameter inner ring comes in 250kg billet which is machined to become 70kg in 15 days.
The front of the case is designed to contain the fan blades and both the front and the rear cases contain acoustic linings that would reduce noise.
“In the very unlikely event that the fan blades get detach during flight, the fan case protects the blade from hitting the body of the aeroplane, while the debris of the blade will exit safely outside.
“The aeroplane can then fly with one engine to find the closest airport for emergency landing,” Megat Shahrul added.
The welding of the OGV is performed by one highly-skilled hard metal welder at a time at Cell C.
UMW has six welding experts who completed six months’ intensive training and eight qualification assessments before attaining their qualifications. Six more experts are expected to be part of the team in two years’ time.
The welding activities take about 18 days, which is the longest stage of the whole assembly process.
“End-to-end assembly of the fan case stretches to 29 days and the welding process accounted for most of the days because it is a manual and difficult process.
“Once welded, it goes through an X-ray inspection. Should any fault like cracks are found, it goes back to welding and the cycle repeats,” Peacock told TMR.
The fluorescent penetrant inspection line is under extreme inspection by a non-destructive testing (NDT) Level 3 personnel, and UMW employs the first of such talents in the country.
“An NDT Level 3-certified person needs to have experience on Level 2 with up to 800 on-the-job training hours.
“Then, there’s the training and examinations before we can be recognised as Level 3.
“Training was mostly in the UK for about two weeks,” 34-year-old Norhidayu Abd Manaf, the first NDT Level 3 in Malaysia, told TMR.
Her job is to ensure the integrity of the parts including the machining and welding quality, as well as checking for cracks and porosity of the fan case before the product is fit for delivery.
The service life of an aircraft engine is 30 years and it must be able to survive lightning, fire and cosmic radiation.
Once all the checks and other smaller processes are done, all the components are ready to be assembled in a fan case kitting process which takes approximately five days. The first fully-assembled fan case should be in Seletar by now, and UMW Aerospace is scheduled to
deliver five more by year-end. Another 80 is expected to be completed next year and before the production of cases for Trent 7,000 begins as early as 2020.
It might look like a long road ahead for the company that was struggling to regain firm standing after the demerger of its then unit UMW Oil & Gas Corp Bhd earlier this year, which had also dragged the group’s earning down.
By focusing on its current core businesses comprising automotive, equipment, M&E and catalyst investments, UMW’s net loss narrowed to RM29.4 million in the third quarter (3Q) ended Sept 30, 2017, from a net loss of RM128.8 million in the previous year’s corresponding period.
This was supported by bigger revenues from the equipment and M&E divisions.
Revenue was RM2.7 billion in 3Q and almost 80%, or RM2.1 billion, was from the automotive segment.
As the group finds the right revenue mix — and by not relying much on automotive — the M&E segment that operates the aerospace business could rise as the new hero for the loss-making company.
“As in any new startup, there will be a gestation period. We expect positive contributions from the aerospace business in 2019.
“Currently, the M&E division contributes about 5% to UMW’s group revenue and profit.
“With the aerospace business and the plans we have to boost the auto components and lubricants businesses, we expect the division to raise contribution to a double-digit percentage in the next five years,” Megat Shahrul added.
UMW is also set to transform its M&E division into high-value manufacturing (HVM) with an aerospace entry point — which would enable them to venture into HVM in other sectors like micro-electronics, health- care and power generation.
The world is watching as UMW moves on from the O&G business to chart its recovery journey back into the black.
That 412km inaugural transport journey from Serendah to Seletar, which would be regular after this, is only the beginning for the company that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
It now looks ready to spread its wings for another 100 years.