Rolls-Royce dedicated an Indianapolis “focus factory” Monday that hints at what could become of the jet engine maker’s outdated 1942 Tibbs Avenue plant.
The new plant in the AmeriPlex business park on the Southwestside is the latest example of a stand-alone, single-product manufacturing site for Rolls. The plant makes only one part — banded stators that go inside the compressors in jet engines — and does it in a lean-cost, high-tech way that Rolls sees as the future for many products it puts its name on.
The 81,500-square-foot plant at 5345 Decatur Blvd. shipped its first parts in October. Production is being ramped up slowly, with a third of the projected 100 employees on site so far. The plant won’t hit full production until 2018.
“This new production facility represents our future,” said John Gallo, president of defense programs for Rolls. He called the $42 million plant “cutting edge” and said it will helps Rolls “improve our competitive performance and reduce costs for our customers.”
The British manufacturer, which keeps its largest engine manufacturing operation in Indianapolis, put the banded stator business up for bids a few years ago; the precisely made curved metal parts have been produced in Indianapolis for decades. However, Rolls’ local management and the United Auto Workers local that represents many Indianapolis workers forged a new, lower-cost work agreement that played a key part in holding onto the banded stator work, Gallo said.
Located in a leased warehouse, the new plant includes ovens that cook parts to 2,400 degrees to strengthen the metal and testing equipment that checks the parts to ensure they’re built to required tolerances measured in the hundredths of an inch.
Gallo said that moving other engine-making functions from Rolls’ sprawling World War II-era plant on the city’s Westside to separate “focus factories” is a distinct possibility.
The first banded stators from the plant are going into Rolls’ T56 engines used in many military and civilian airplanes. Other engine lines will be added as the plant expands its capacity.
A large bare spot inside the factory, painted in company colors of blue and white, is reserved for production operations of banded stators for the Trent 1000 engine that powers Boeing’s new Dreamliner 787 passenger jet.