Pratt & Whitney says it has significantly reduced the risk associated with ramping up production to meet demand from Airbus, Bombardier and Embraer for variants of the geared turbofan engine. The company said delayed entry into service for the Mitsubishi MRJ and Irkut MC-21, the experience the engine manufacturer has gained from dealing with the initial PW1000G production ramp-up, and more intense oversight of the supply chain have contributed to the effort.
Interviewed by AIN on May 31, Chris Calio, president of Pratt & Whitney Commercial Engines, said, “I would say we are at less risk with the ramp-up than we were.” He confirmed that these factors had given the company breathing space in planning and implementing supply-chain changes associated with increasing PW1000G production.
Calio made this prognosis on the same day Pratt & Whitney (Chalet 346) announced it had achieved FAA type certification for both the PW1200G and the PW1900G, the fourth and fifth PW1000G models to achieve that milestone. Of the six existing PW1000G models, only the PW1700G—which will power the Embraer 175-E2, due to enter service in 2021—has yet to achieve type certification.
In the same interview, Robert Leduc, Pratt & Whitney’s president, backed Calio’s statement, noting that both the MRJ and the Irkut MC-21 production programs “slipped out a couple of years” from the entry-into-service dates P&W originally expected and for which it originally planned its respective PW1200G and PW1400G production ramp-up rates. “We thought a year ago that it was going to be quicker than it has been,” Leduc noted.
Calio confirmed that, with the PW1900G-powered Embraer 190-E2 due to enter service in 2018 and the 195-E2 scheduled to enter service in the first half of 2019, as well as the rate of Bombardier C Series deliveries increasing, “We have a production plan in place. We saw these engines coming.” P&W is planning to boost PW1900G production in 2018 and PW1500G assembly will also “go up a little in 2018,” he said.
Pratt & Whitney hasn’t yet decided on which of the five PW1000G final-assembly lines it will build production PW1900Gs, “but we are prepared for the cut-ins on Embraer,” said Calio. The company’s own PW1000G assembly lines at Middletown, Connecticut, and West Palm Beach, Florida, appear to be the most obvious candidates for final assembly of PW1900G development and production powerplants. The only difference between the two lines, apart from short-term variations in the number of overhead “carriers” holding and moving the engines being assembled along the pulsed (and eventually constantly moving) horizontal assembly lines, is that the carriers are strung from the ceiling of the Middletown facility. The carrier installation at West Palm Beach is different.
Mike O’Neill, site manager for P&W’s Systems Engineering Development Assembly Engine Center at West Palm Beach, explained that everything in that facility is anchored to the floor, to render the building hurricane-proof. The foundations of the extremely strong metal lattices from which the engine carriers are slung are deeply embedded into the hardened concrete floor.
At present, the Middletown line is mainly assembling PW1100G-JMs for the A320neo family, while the nearly identical West Palm Beach line is assembling production and development PW1100G-JMs and the initial PW1400Gs for MC-21 certification flight-testing. However, O’Neill said that both Middletown and West Palm Beach could handle assembly of any PW1000G version as long as they had the right fittings to secure the engines to the carriers.
Another factor that will give P&W greater flexibility in allocating PW1000G assembly—allowing rapid re-allocation of final assembly on either a short-term or long-term basis if needed—is the establishment by UPS of its massive Northeast Logistics Center in Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving as a central distribution center for P&W parts, tooling and supplies, according to Leduc.
“The beauty of our material distribution center in New Hampshire is that we can decide the day before where we distribute that material,” said Leduc. “We have tremendous flexibility for the assembly lines as to where we put that material. We didn’t think about it initially [when Pratt & Whitney agreed its strategic material logistics partnership with UPS] but the UPS distribution center became a really big factor for us.”
Leduc noted that, having had some well-publicized PW1000G production issues involving part quality (particularly of the larger PW1000G models’ hybrid aluminum-titanium fan blades) and late delivery of parts by some suppliers, Pratt & Whitney has beefed up its staff of supply-chain oversight managers. “We have 300 supply-chain pros we didn’t have a year ago to oversee the parts we considered at risk for [supplier delivery] commits,” said Leduc.
“At 120 to 200 [engines a year], we never went to validate commitments,” added Leduc. “We weren’t thinking about it a year ago. We were not as organized. We’re seeing a lot less of that this year and we have more warning” if any given supplier is in danger of failing to meet its parts-delivery promises. “We have that kind of granularity now.” While some parts-production and parts-delivery issues still occur, “they are normal, day-to-day ones”—issues Leduc classes as “Whackamole,” after the well-known arcade game in which players use a mallet to smack down “moles” as they pop up from under the game board. “But they’re not systemic issues.”
Additionally, said Leduc, “We have a strategy of ‘no single point of failure’ in our value assembly. In some cases, we have two or three sources.” All the ‘no single point of failure’ PW1000G supply-chain and assembly arrangements resulted from a P&W strategic decision to outsource 80 percent of parts production for the engines, where traditionally Pratt & Whitney has outsourced about 60 percent. “That’s different for us,” he said.
Admitting that “for some commodities we’re single-source,” such as the parts produced by lightweight metals specialist Arconic and by Precision Castparts subsidiary PCC Forged Products, Leduc revealed that “we do think there are suppliers out there, not necessarily large ones, that are strategic for us—and we’re thinking of acquiring them.” However, Leduc didn’t say whether Arconic and PCC Forged Products were among the suppliers P&W is considering.
Yet another factor which P&W reckons will help its PW1000G production ramp-up is that production of the company’s existing V2500 engine—almost all examples of which power A320ceo-family aircraft–will fall from about 500 units this year to “a handful” by 2019.
Will P&W’s supply-chain arrangements are being affected adversely by various airlines’ decisions to switch A320neo-family orders due to delivery in the near term to A320ceo-family aircraft instead, as a result of continuing low oil prices? Leduc said that it isn’t, to any noticeable degree. “We manage both programs,” he explained. “Our command center is seeing [supplier] commits, and as long as the capacity and manpower and raw materials are there, we have high confidence they will deliver, and for the most part they do.”
However, Leduc did admit the substantial ramp-down of V2500 production has slipped a year to the low assembly rate required annually for the Embraer KC-390 military transport-aircraft program, from 2018 to 2019. This is as a result of airlines either switching their A320-family orders or deferring them. “We did think it would be 2018, and now it’s 2019, but it’s still [going to decline to] a handful,” in 2019, he said.
Calio said Pratt & Whitney is confident it will be able to deliver from 350 to 400 production PW1000G engines this year, per the forecast it made early in the year. He confirmed P&W delivered approximately 70 PW1000Gs in the first quarter, “23 a month, basically,” which means that in each of 2017’s remaining nine months P&W will have to deliver an average of at least 31 engines—and at least 36 a month if it is to near the upper limit of its 2017 target delivery range.
“I don’t think there are any issues,” said Calio. “We’re on track to deliver 350-to-400 [PW1000G] engines this year. That’s 280 in the next three quarters [after the first quarter], and we’re positioned to do just that.”
Of necessity, this means that Pratt & Whitney is confident it has overcome the fan blade production-quality issues that led to the company having to reject some 70 percent of all the hybrid aluminum-titanium fan blades it and its suppliers produced last year. (Because of fan-blade strength and durability issues, P&W replaced the original hybrid-alloy fan-blade design for the PW1200G and the PW1700G, which share identical turbomachinery and are the PW1000G models with the smallest fan diameters, in favor of an all-titanium design.)
Calio’s confidence is due in large part to the fact P&W recently doubled its PW1000G fan-blade production capacity by opening two new production facilities, one at program partner IHI in Japan. Itpresumably will make all the fan blades for PW1200G production engines, as well as fan blades for other PW1000G models. The second facilityis in Lansing, Michigan. These locations have received “the benefit of our learnings over the last year, and they’re more automated” than P&W’s other two PW1000G fan-blade-manufacturing plants, said Calio, who added that the two facilities “continue to ramp up [to full production], toward the end of this year.”