AirInsight attended Pratt & Whitney’s media day. Here’s what’s new regarding the GTF and their commercial engine business given the initial ramp-up and entry into service difficulties. The company is making positive progress, but not as fast as Airbus and some customers would like.
Pratt & Whitney and the Supply Chain
The GTF engine at Pratt & Whitney relies more on the supply chain, with approximately 80% of the engine components outsourced, versus 60% in prior generation engines. With the industry delivering the equivalent of the last 30 years of production during the next decade, the pressure on the supply chain has grown.
Pratt & Whitney has made a major effort in managing the supply chain, and now has 300 more supply-chain personnel managing the process since last year. The company’s strategy of no single point of failure has been implemented for all but a handful of materials suppliers, with two and sometimes three suppliers for every component. The company is also interested in the potential acquisition of key suppliers, and not necessarily the large ones.
Less than a year ago, Pratt & Whitney had little visibilities in supplier’s production plans, relying on customer commitments. With the recent changes in people and information, their command center can now predict supply chain failures and address them quickly, rather than be surprised should a supplier miss a delivery.
In addition, the wind-down of legacy production for the V2500, now pushed back from 2018 to 2019 as existing models continue to be delivered during the transition to neo, will provide additional capacity that can be utilized for the GTF ramp-up in 2019.
With the logistics center with UPS in Londonderry, NH and several assembly sites, Pratt & Whitney can rapidly move engine assembly between facilities to balance workloads and capacity, down to decisions the night before production begins. Combined with airframe OEM delays on MRJ and E-175-E2, this flexibility helps lower ramp-up risk in the near term. Pratt & Whitney plans to meet its goal of 350-400 engines in 2017, and continue an upward ramp in 2018. The company is still negotiating its ramp-up with Airbus for 2018 neo production.
The GTF and performance growth
Pratt & Whitney feels there is considerable growth available in the GTF engine in terms of fuel burn and performance that its competitor, the CFM LEAP, will be unable to match. CFM, for its engine, relied on improvements to the core and thermal efficiency to gain performance and fuel burn improvements. Pratt & Whitney took an alternative direction, using a lower performance engine core and leveraging the propulsive efficiency provided by the gear and a higher bypass ratio.
As a result, Pratt & Whitney believes there is a 5-7% growth in fuel burn performance available simply from improvements to the engine core over the next decade. Combined with potential tweaks to the gear ratio, a 1% per year improvement, on average, over the next decade appears to be feasible. Defending their patent protection on the geared turbofan design to maintain competitive advantage will be a key element of their forward strategy. The question of when those potential improvements hit the market centers about the business case for those incremental improvements.
The company is cautiously optimistic about receiving ETOPS clearance for the GTF in the 4th quarter of the year. All of the paperwork and reliability data are in with the regulators, and the company is now awaiting a decision.
Pratt & Whitney believe the major challenges for the GTF have been addressed, and are re-focusing on the ramp-up. Production of the Titanium-aluminade blades has been addressed with additional production capacity at two locations. The problem with the combustor liner has been dealt with with an initial fix, with a second improvement to soon extend life even further. The problem with seals has also been dealt with, retrofit into existing engines. The issue now is achieving the ramp-up and getting back onto the production schedule that Airbus and other OEMs are seeking. Pratt & Whitney has not yet provided a forecast for 2018 GTF production, nor an indication of when full production will be achieved.
We noted, during our tour, that only three GTF engines were in process on the production line in West Palm Beach, much as we saw in Connecticut last year. The company will need to deliver 28 engines per month during the remainder of the year to achieve its goal, and remains confident in its ability to achieve that target.