Pratt & Whitney executives say they will open two new factories over the next six months to get delayed geared turbofan engine deliveries back on track, but they also appeared to lower the bottom range for planned deliveries in 2017.
Production capacity and early manufacturing mistakes have plagued shipments of titanium-aluminium fan blades for the PW1100G for the Airbus A320neo and PW1500G engines for the Bombardier CSeries aircraft family.
As a result, P&W now expects to deliver 150 engines in 2016, or 12.5% fewer than planned. Meanwhile, a lack of engines has forced Bombardier to slash CSeries deliveries by more than half to seven aircraft in 2016.
In September, P&W identified the manufacturing of the hybrid-metallic fan blades as the most critical of five parts causing delivery delays for geared turbofan engines. The unique blades are produced now at a P&W factory in Lansing, Michigan, says Greg Hayes, chief executive of P&W parent United Technologies, speaking to analysts on a third quarter earnings call on 25 October. P&W also has said blades are produced at a factory in Singapore.
In January, P&W’s Japan-based supplier IHI plans to open a third fan blade factory for the geared turbofan engine, Hayes says. Production capacity also will get a boost in April when P&W opens a supplementary plant near the existing facility in Michigan, he adds.
“You’re going to see step-changes in fan blade deliveries really through the first half next year,” Hayes says
While the reduction gear gets most of the attention, the hybrid-metallic fan blades are another critical innovation of the geared turbofan engine. Since the 1990s, P&W and Rolls-Royce have used hollow titanium fan blades for turbofan engines, while GE Aviation has converted to carbonfibre material. The new geared turbofan is the first commercial engine with the fan blade body made using a light aluminium alloy, which is bonded with a titanium leading edge for the blade to survive bird strikes.
Manufacturing the unique lightweight material has proven “more difficult than we anticipated”, Hayes says.
At the beginning of this year, the Lansing and Singapore facilities were spending 100-105 days to manufacture each blade, of which 20 are needed for each PW1100G engine. Only about 30% of the blades survived a first-pass quality inspection, Hayes says. Manufacturing speed and quality have improved over the year, with the production cycle declining to about 55 days per blade and a 70% inspection approval rate, he adds.
Hayes compared the manufacturing issues with similar challenges P&W experienced with the hollow titanium blades on the PW4000 turbofan engine. “Today it’s not an issue stamping them out. It will be the same on this fan blade,” he says.
But the problems have taken a toll on P&W’s production ramp-up. Instead of delivering 200 geared turbofan engines this year and 400 in 2017 as planned, P&W had already lowered its guidance to 150 this year and 350-400 next year. In the third quarter earnings call, Hayes hinted that the delivery range could drop to as low as 300 engines.