A Rolls Engine Explodes on an Airbus A380 – Tracing the Production Supply Chain

By now you’ve most certainly heard that an engine blew up on Airbus’ famed double-decker, the A380. It happened on a Quantas flight outside of Singapore, packed with 459 people onboard. Given the relative youth of the A380 fleet – the plane only made its debut in recent years – much debate will no doubt surface over the safety of the massive superjumbo. Moroever, no one can argue with the fact that it will most certainly be a prime terrorist target at somepoint owing to its size, transport capacity and overall brand cache. But before attaching the blame to Rolls Royce, the engine supplier for this model, there’s a tremendous amount of investigation left to do.

A BBC news take offers some early insights worth taking into account from a supply chain perspective. One industry expert quoted in the BBC article notes, “given several recent unconnected problems, including the Boeing 787 engine test failure in August, I think Rolls-Royce will be under great pressure to get to the bottom of this very quickly …[the company willl be looking for] specific fuel or pump related problem or turbine failure.”

Yet we can all agree that speculation at this point is not necessarily productive, as the BBC report also points it the engine explosion could have stemmed from “debris, a bird strike or something else perhaps that might just have made its way through to the rear of the engine.” Or even a “maintenance-related cause”.  Which pretty much covers every eventuality at the moment.

Still, Rolls Royce has some questions to answer, especially considering a recent £300 million+ pound investment in four UK production facilties (not to mention £45 in pledged support from the UK government). Yet it would appear that the production of the Trent 900 engine, the Airbus A380 engine in this particular case, is being transferred to Singapore according to a recent notice sent to suppliers in October. Might some components or raw materials used in the engine be coming from new suppliers in lowcost regions due to offset or other agreements? Perhaps that’s worth investigating here as well.

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Voices (5)

  1. David Atkinson:

    I’ve just spotted your comment Peter, moments after I’ve had a rant about Royal Mail on your separate posting 🙂

    I’ll be happy to comment further on Rolls Royce’s current difficulties assuming, of course, that the issues are procurement related!

  2. Peter Smith:

    You know what, I hoped you might respond to Jason’s post (you notice that hospital pass to my esteemed partner there!) Thanks for your perceptive comment.
    You say – “Anyone who know anything about lean supply or production knows that the highest quality producer is usually the one that has the lowest sustainable costs” is an extremely important statement and I suspect one that most people don’t think about. And based on something we both heard yesterday, the concept of a supplier offering ‘added value / differentittaion’ is not mutually exclusive to that supplier being a ‘low cost provider’. You are spot on – and I know from my time in manufacturing that Mars could make filled chocolate bars to as high standard as anyone and at a lower cost (for comparable quality) than anyone else in the world!

    It will obviously still be very interesting and important to see what has caused this issue of course. Perhaps you will write us a post at that point?

  3. David Atkinson:

    Your post implies that Rolls Royce has compromised component quality by sourcing from LCCs in the Far East.

    Rolls Royce have been procuring precision components suppliers in Singapore since the 1990s, with China following soon after. And, by the way, General Electric pioneered manufacturing of aero engine components in low cost econimies like China and were there long before Rolls Royce.

    I can tell you, as a procurement director for Rolls Royce between 1998-2002, that component quality is far and away the most important driver of Rolls’ procurement activity. Anyone who know anything about lean supply or production knows that the highest quality producer is usually the one that has the lowest sustainable costs. We achieved massive savings during my time there but it was always underpinned by stable and predictable manufacturing processes designed (and continually improved) to eliminate waste, whilst driving finished component quality to six sigma PPM standards.

    It’s worth remembering that it’s important not to confuse the specification with the idea of ‘quality’. They are different things. The specifications will be at the leading edge of enginje technology, regardless of the location in which the componenets are manufactured. Aero engine manufacturers have the stringest quality system processes in place in-house, and demand the same from suppliers. This, coupled with component inspection procedures, is about the most reliable quality regime on the planet.

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