Just a handful of weeks beyond the ribbon-cutting, groundbreaking tests are already underway at Purdue Research Park Aerospace District in West Lafayette, say facility leaders. Rolls-Royce moved into the first building at the park earlier this spring, and a company executive says the new partnership at the jet engine facility is already making headway in solving an industry-wide problem.
As the first tenant in the Aerospace District, Rolls-Royce says tests taking place there could resolve a common issue in fuel pump development. Rolls-Royce Control Systems in North America Head of Programs and Operations David Waggoner says the company’s newfound access to Purdue expertise at the park makes such progress possible.
“There are tests we currently don’t have the ability to run internally,” says Waggoner. “We’re working on one of those tests, and it’s going very, very well. Most people [in the industry] outsource [the test] to a single place. We’ve been working on it about a month; we put Purdue experts on the case and have made some very good progress. We’re combining Purdue’s expertise with our experience in the field to solve an industry problem.”
Rolls-Royce’s work at the Aerospace District will center on its control systems business, which Waggoner compares to the external systems on a car that control the engine.
“The same systems exist in aircraft engines with a different level of sensitivity and control,” says Waggoner. “[The controls business] oversees those electronic external systems that control the core machinery for the gas turbine engine.”
Collaborating with Purdue experts at the Aerospace District, Rolls-Royce is focusing on research and development of new products within that segment of its business. A second critical area of focus at the new location is the production of engine monitoring units, which Waggoner likens to flight data recorders.
“We’ll manufacture those units [at the Aerospace District], and they’ll go on helicopter engines in the field. And the folks building those are all Purdue graduates,” says Waggoner.
The facility will also focus on maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO). Rolls-Royce is aiming to make the West Lafayette site a satellite location for “wing services” for North America.
“When [Rolls-Royce] ships components from the UK to Lockheed or Boeing [in the U.S], if they have any issues, rather than shipping it back to the UK for troubleshooting, we want to have the capability to address it at Purdue,” says Waggoner. “We expect we’ll have a significant number of components that won’t need to be returned to the UK—that we’ll be able to take care of in-region, which will have a huge impact on our customers in North America.”
Aerospace District leaders are confident Rolls-Royce’s new facility will create a domino effect of other companies investing in the university’s newest research park. Waggoner says companies in Rolls-Royce’s supply chain are showing “a great deal of interest” in the Aerospace District.
Purdue Research Foundation Director of Business Recruitment, Retention and Research Collaboration Paul Moses confirms district leaders are talking to domestic and foreign aircraft manufacturers interested in opening a facility at the research park.
Moses says some of the biggest names in aerospace, such as Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, are already collaborating with Purdue at the university’s Zucrow Laboratories research facility. He believes adding Rolls-Royce to the flight plan provides more fuel for Purdue aerospace to soar to new heights.
“People come here to be close to Purdue and the neat stuff going on here—the world-changing stuff happening here,” says Moses. “I don’t think the future could be brighter for what’s going to happen in aerospace around Rolls-Royce and the other companies already [at the university] now.”
Waggoner says having a presence at the Aerospace District also benefits the company’s pipeline of workers.
Moses says the Aerospace District is also placing a special emphasis on young companies.