Rolls Royce partners with HP to drive integration of manufacturing process with IT

Manufacturing companies are facing a challenge as enterprise IT becomes increasingly integrated with production processes, according to Rolls Royce.

Share

Rolls Royce has partnered with HP to drive greater integration of IT into its complex manufacturing processes.

Since moving away from car production, aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls Royce has grown into a global power systems supplier with £12 billion revenues, with a £60 billion order book.  In order to meet this demand, Rolls Royce operates a complex global production network to design and deliver its engines, which can each contain more than 30,000 components.

The requirements of the business places large demands on the IT systems, and like many manufacturers, Rolls Royce is relying more on enterprise IT both in the design and testing of products, as well as the complex management of production throughout the organisation. For Rolls Royce this involves tracking the design of parts using product lifecycle management (PLM) system software from Siemens, as well as implementing manufacturing execution system (MES) to control production process.  Both of these systems need to be integrated with a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, and SAP's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system as part of wider enterprise management plans.

Bringing all of these systems together is a significant challenge for Rolls Royce, and since joining the company Christopher Biddle, manufacturing systems executive, Rolls Royce, has been tasked with enabling tighter integration between the disparate world of manufacturing and IT.

“My vision for manufacturing systems, is that I should be providing a fully integrated suite of software for my manufacturing engineers to use, for my operations staff to use, potentially maintenance staff, and then capturing as much information about what is going on and feeding that back for reporting on analytics for executives to use,” said Biddle.

In order to deliver its complex IT infrastructure, Rolls Royce last year opened up its longstanding exclusive services relationship with HP (and, prior to that, EDS).  This move into a ‘multi-vendor’ arrangement to deliver its IT as part of a five year deal involved bringing in BT to deliver networks, Computacenter for client computing, and Capgemini for delivering ERP systems.

Meanwhile HP was re-contracted to deliver a number of services, such as providing data centre hosting in its Wynyard facility in the north east of England for the bulk of Rolls Royce’s applications, as well being given responsibility for the integration of production systems.

One of the goals of the HP relationship is to integrate the ‘shop-floor’ computer systems into Rolls Royce’s enterprise-wide IT systems.

“When we started that journey it is fair to say that IT didn't understand manufacturing and manufacturing didn't understand IT. They were disparate worlds.”

Biddle said that integrating systems has been a challenge, involving moving away from the company’s legacy IT infrastructure.

“We have been in the business for a long, long time. We had mainframe systems that date from the 60s, that were very bespoke to our business process at the time, and as our business has grown - in terms of the number of new products we are trying to introduce and also the volume of product that we try to sell – those bespoke systems don't scale,” he said.

“So really we are now trying to enable that kind of capability in our product lifecycle management system.  This means the full configuration management of our products so that we have the full traceability of which product is built into which engine, and which modifications should be incorporated. It is tricky because there are around 30,000 components in a gas turbine. It is not a trivial matter.”

One of the challenges faced by Rolls Royce is the replacement of programmable logic controller (PLC) software systems used to run individual machines, which are not traditionally integrated into wider IT infrastructure, and moving to off the shelf systems. 

However this is starting to change across the manufacturing sector, Biddle said, and integration of IT systems is opening up security concerns, particularly in the wake of the Stuxnet ttack on an Iranian nuclear facility.

“As PC computing power gets more and more powerful, machine tool vendors are moving away from PLCs and more into the industrial PC type market, which means that they are vulnerable to a host of viruses they were not before,”  Biddle said. 

He added that manufacturers are having to take steps to mitigate risks to the business as systems become more integrated.

“As manufacturing becomes more dependent on integrated systems, there are far more risks to that manufacturing process that something might go wrong. So yes we are worried about the level of integration - the risk is increasing.”

He added: “The only way that you can deal with it is to mitigate through redundancy or through putting in place very strong business continuity measures and very strong response to serious incidents – strong first and second line support mechanisms.”

However, Biddle said that despite the challenges around security, the value of having integrated systems “far outweighs the additional risk”.

Going forward, Biddle hopes to further the reach of its PLM and MES systems, which are already tied together to some extent, and push into the maintenance of systems in the field.

“Where we are going with this is that we can start to put the same instruction out to people servicing engines 'on-wing' and actually show them full animations of the operations that they have to perform to maintain that engine.

“We can then start capturing information about they are doing so that we can keep control of the material throughout the entire lifecycle of the product.”

“The way we want to be in the future is that is not just limited to component manufacturing or assembly, but it is also out in the field doing service repairs on-wing.

This could mean using augmented reality for engineers to look at an engine through a tablet to view parts and process needed to be changed. This would bring benefits in reducing the training requirement for engineers, as well as feeding data back into the management systems to inform future decisions.

“You just need some basic training and some basic tools to follow instructions and conduct the repair really quickly and easily,” he said.

“Meanwhile I am keeping full control of the data I capture in that process, which enables me to keep full control of the configuration of the engine so that when it comes into service for a major overhaul, I can really shrink the turnaround times that it takes for that engine to go through the shop."

“This is because I know everything I need to know about it from that capability in the field, so I know what I am going to do to before it even arrives. That would be of massive value to us.”

Find your next job with computerworld UK jobs