Rolls-Royce has started work on a new advanced aerospace disc manufacturing facility in the North East, which will use manufacturing techniques developed at Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.
The factory, in Washington, Tyne and Wear, will have capacity to manufacture more than 2,000 jet engine fan and turbine discs a year and could well be supplied with blades made at the new Advanced Blade Casting Facility (ABCF) which the aerospace giant is currently building in South Yorkshire.
Rolls-Royce says the 150,000 sq ft ABCF factory on the Advanced Manufacturing Park at Catcliffe, will be the most advanced blade casting facility in the world.
When it is completed in 2014, it will make 100,000 blades a year – about 25 per cent of the blades Rolls-Royce produces.
Blades made at the ABCF will be small enough to fit into the palm of a hand and weigh no more than a few hundred grams.
They must also remain solid, despite being surrounded by gas that is 200C hotter than the melting point of the nickel-based super alloy from which they are made.
When slotted into turbine discs, like the one being built at Washington, each blade will generate more horsepower than a Formula 1 engine and, as it spins round 12,000 times a minute, have to resist a force at its tip equivalent to the weight of a London bus.
In order to withstand the massive stresses and temperatures without deforming over time, each blade must be cast as a single metal crystal, because it is the boundaries between crystals that weaken the material and make it more susceptible to “creep.”
What’s more, the blades aren’t solid – internal channels have to be built in to allow cooling air to circulate within, to help to keep the metal well below its melting point.