Rolls-Royce unveiled its UltraFan geared turbofan jet engine design in 2014, and aims to have it in production by 2025.

Rolls-Royce, Liebherr-Aerospace Venture to Produce Gearboxes

June 10, 2015
Engineering, manufacturing drivetrain components for new geared turbofan jet engine 50-50 ownership Geared design cuts fuel burn Development, production in Germany

Rolls-Royce and Liebherr-Aerospace agreed to establish a joint venture to engineer and manufacture the power gearbox for Rolls-Royce’s new UltraFan™ engine, one of two new jet engine designs it unveiled last year.  The as-yet-unnamed venture will be co-owned, 50-50, by Rolls-Royce and Liebherr, and located at the latter’s aerospace parts manufacturing center in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Financial terms of the new venture were not announced. According to Rolls-Royce’s announcement, the new organization still awaits standard legal approvals.

The UltraFanengine will introduce geared turbofan technology to the Rolls-Royce jet engine portfolio.

In a geared turbofan engine, a gearbox between the fan and the low-pressure shaft allows the shaft to run at a higher rotational speed, thereby reducing the number of stages needed for the turbine and the compressor, which increases efficiency and reduces overall weight.

When it introduced the UltraFan design in February 2014, Rolls stated it would come to market in 2025. It’s a design that Rolls claims will increase fuel-efficiency by least 25% above the standard for its Trent turbofan engines, and with lower emissions levels.

Although the UltraFan design is new, Rolls-Royce emphasized it has long experience developing power gearboxes, with four geared designs currently in production (AE2100, T56, LiftFan and Model 250) and with thousands of engines in service.

“The UltraFan engine design includes a suite of new technologies to power next-generation aircraft,” noted Tony Wood, president of Rolls-Royce Aerospace. “The power gearbox is an integral part of this new design, and we are delighted to be partnering with Liebherr on this highly efficient future power gearbox technology.

Liebherr is a manufacturing conglomerate known mostly for construction machinery, though it has numerous other lines of business, including gear-cutting machinery. Liebherr-Aerospace manufactures systems for aircraft flight control and actuation systems, hydraulic systems, and landing gears.

Manufacturing of the UltraFan power gear drivetrain components will be done in established Liebherr-Aerospace workshops, initially, though according to their announcement the partners will consider stand-alone manufacturing as production volumes increase.

Rolls-Royce explained that most of the design program for the new power gearbox will be managed by Rolls-Royce Germany. That business has started building a testing center for power gearbox systems at Dahlewitz, near Berlin, a project estimated at $90 million.

“There are already more than 100 engineers working on this project,” reported Dr. Rainer Hönig, managing director, Rolls-Royce Deutschland. “The new test-bed is taking shape and will be ready for testing to start in late 2016.”

Once the manufacturing joint venture is operating, Rolls-Royce will continue to lead “the design definition and design integration” of new engine’s power gearbox. It also will oversee product testing.

“We are thrilled to be participating in this exciting new engine demonstrator program, which gives us the opportunity to break new ground and significantly enlarge our scope of activities,” said Josef Gropper, managing director of Liebherr-Aerospace. “Due to our longstanding success in aviation gearboxes, our expertise in handling manufacturing challenges, and the Liebherr Group’s extensive competencies in gears for other applications, we will substantially contribute to develop manufacturing capability and capacity for the power gearbox.”

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