Rolls-Royce plant nears completion

By Heather Sullivan - bio | email
Posted by Phil Riggan – email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The finishing touches are being placed on the new Rolls-Royce plant in Prince George. The company has started hiring and hopes to fill 500 new jobs over the next few years. Rolls-Royce gave us an early inside look at the facility on its Crosspointe Centre campus.

Offices are being installed, conference rooms set up, manufacturing equipment is moving in. And Rolls-Royce is going green from the start, using rainwater for irrigation and skylights everywhere.

"It reduces energy consumption.  It's safer and it makes for a much more pleasant manufacturing environment," explained Rolls-Royce Executive Vice-President Thomas Loehr.

The plant was originally going to make parts for corporate jet engines. But when the market for corporate jets declined in the recession, Rolls-Royce decided to make what it calls "discs" instead, key components inside engines for commercial airliners.

"That forced us to rethink what our first capability would be here," Loehr said. "We optimized our component manufacturing. That wasn't easy.  And it took some time to recalibrate and re-plan that capability."

The plant is just the beginning. On the 1000 acre Crosspointe Centre campus, the company plans to build a second plant to make bladed discs, that is if Congress decides to buy more F-136 fighter jets. Supplier companies will move in.  And Rolls-Royce will build research centers and partner with local universities to learn how to make jet engines more efficiently.

Loehr said the research will focus on "how we reduce waste in our manufacturing processes, produce bits more economically, how we create stair-step cost changes for the benefit of our products."

Rolls-Royce has already hired 100 people for this project, including 30 at the plant site and 70 at its headquarters in Reston, plus 200 construction workers to build it. The company will add 40 to 50 more employees at the plant next year and hopes to hire 500, and invest $500 million, when all the projects are complete.

"When you look at all the elements of this development, whether it's the creation of very high paying jobs ... or whether it's the impact on local businesses that support the operations here, broader economic impact comes with that," Loehr said.

The company hopes to start production trials on the discs in January or February and hopes to start producing them this spring.

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