UK-based global major power plant manufacturer Rolls-Royce has reported that its “IntelligentEngine” philosophy (also referred to as a vision) is making strong progress throughout its Civil Aerospace products and services “portfolio”, powerfully driven by the capabilities of digital technology. It affirmed that this was creating new opportunities for the company to supply its customers with increasingly connected, “more intelligent” engines and electrical systems.
“We launched our IntelligentEngine vision last year at [the] Singapore Airshow, and it is concept that is moving forward at pace right through our business,” said Rolls-Royce president Chris Cholerton. “We are bringing the power of digital to shape everything we do in design, test, production and services. Developments like these are ensuring that we make the IntelligentEngine deliver further benefits for customers.”
The group has a number of projects under way that are making this vision or philosophy concrete. These are the UltraFan programme, the construction of a new and very large testbed, the E-Fan X programme, a digital collaboration programme with Singapore Airlines, maintenance robot development programmes, and a virtual reality engineer training programme with Qatar Airways.
The UltraFan engine has undergone successful aerodynamic testing at ITP Aero in Biscay, Spain. This testing has verified the design methodologies and functional characteristics of its multi-stage intermediate pressure turbine, intended to operate at very high speeds in order to optimise the new engine architecture. The creation of this new engine took place using the latest digital design and production technology.
The new testbed, being built at Derby in the UK, will be the largest indoor engine testbed in the world and will be commissioned next year. It will be used for testing the UltraFan engine, the ground tests of which will start there in 2021.
The E-Fan X will be a flying hybrid-electric technology demonstrator aircraft, and is being developed in cooperation with Airbus. The ground testbed for its propulsion system (a 2.5 MW, 15 000 rpm generator with 3 kV power electronics) is located at Trondheim, Norway, and is in its final preparatory stages. (The actual aircraft will be a modified Avro RJ100 regional jet, which will have one of its four engines replaced by the hybrid-electric power plant.)
The Rolls-Royce/Singapore Airlines digital cooperation programme will result in the creation of a “globally-connected platform allowing collaboration on digital solutions”, stated the Rolls-Royce press release. “The open platform will also facilitate industry peers and partners to securely collaborate on the development of digital solutions for the industry.”
The maintenance robot programme involves the development of three different types of inspection and repair robots. The group is cooperating with Harvard University and the University of Nottingham to develop SWARM robots – miniature machines equipped with cameras which operate collaboratively to crawl through an engine and supply live-streamed images, hereby allowing inspection of difficult to access parts of the power plant; it has now been established that these little robots can crawl upside down within the engine. FLARE is a snake robot project, being carried out with the University of Nottingham and British company Metallisation; this involves having a pair of snake robots crawl through and engine, like endoscopes, and then making patch repairs to damaged thermal barrier coatings, without needing to take the engine off the wing. COBRA is another snake robot project, being developed in cooperation with the UK’s Atomic Energy Authority, UK-based enterprise OpTek Systems, and the University of Nottingham; in this case, it is focused on a snake robot five metres in length that can be directed through an engine by engineers at a remote location; a concept demonstration of the entire system is scheduled for next year.
The virtual reality engineer training programme with Qatar Airways is “a first for the two companies”, reported Rolls-Royce. “The training immerses engineers in the process of separating a Trent XWB engine, using sight, sound and touch, without Qatar Airways providing a physical engine, or Rolls-Royce transporting an engine to Doha.”