Pratt & Whitney said during the Farnbrough Airshow 2018 that it has sorted out teething problems on its Geared Turbofan (GTF) engines family and is ready to step up its engine production to keep pace with Boeing’s and Airbus’s plans to crank up airplane output.
“Airbus wants a rate of 60 A320neo aircraft per month, with a surge to 63 for next year. We have the technical problems behind us. Now, it’s all about the supply chain,” Pratt & Whitney president Bob Leduc said on Monday at the show.
The biggest hurdle is ensuring suppliers can keep pace, he said. “That decides if we are to reach and sustain these production rates. It’s a matter of how our suppliers can cope with the investments needed, and how they can be digitally integrated into the [Pratt & Whitney] production chain.”
Executives with the engine maker and its parent company, United Technologies Corp. (UTC), said they are embracing digital integration, big data, and advanced manufacturing to boost revenue, increase productivity, and give customers a better product and support services. The company hopes it can use engine performance data to drive predictive maintenance work and cut down unscheduled engine removals—which can cost $1 million each time.
“UTC’s focus is a digital lifecycle for all its products,” said UTC chairman and CEO Greg Hays. “We need to get a digital uninterrupted chain from the idea over development to production and then for the after-sales service. This is the only way we can achieve the increases in development and production efficiency expected of us going forward.”
In the short term, Pratt and UTC do not need the new technologies to meet rate jumps already scheduled by Boeing and Airbus, Leduc said. “It is absolutely possible with existing technology.”
Pratt already has increased digital integration of its supply chain, enabling it to see when deliveries have shipped. Automating that monitoring allows the company to see—and head off—delays before they ripple through the supply chain.
In the future, the company expects to be able to see inside suppliers’ factories, giving it much more granular oversight of its supply chain. “We [will] know when all the castings are getting poured,” Leduc said.
To speed up digitalization and adoption of other new technologies, UTC is launching its own Skunk Works, called the United Technologies Advanced Products group, or UTAP. The group will be headed by its new chief technology officer, Paul Eremenko, a charismatic evangelist for new technologies who UTC hired away from Airbus.
It is an “existential imperative” that UTC and Pratt be able to move with the speed of a nimble newcomer, Eremenko said.