Rolls-Royce: Powering the Future in Aiken

Renowned for its commitment to excellence, the Rolls-Royce (RR) name is synonymous with quality, reliability, and innovation. For over a century, the company has been at the forefront of technological advancement.

Fourteen years ago, Rolls-Royce made a pivotal decision to relocate its mtu engine manufacturing operations to Aiken, South Carolina, a testament to both the state’s manufacturing ecosystem and workforce. Over the past decade, Rolls-Royce in Aiken has also been an integral part of the OpExChange community, actively engaging and collaborating with its peers in manufacturing.

On May 7, 2024, the Aiken facility proudly opened its doors to peers from the OpExChange for a collaborative plant visit, giving an insider’s view into its operations. Senior Manager Production, Will Richards, provided a detailed introduction, shedding light on Rolls-Royce’s history, Aiken’s impact, and the company’s commitment to innovation. Following the introduction, attendees were divided into smaller groups for a guided tour of the facility, providing a firsthand experience of Rolls-Royce’s cutting-edge technologies, employee engagement, and manufacturing processes. Will started off by stating that at the Aiken plant, “We build engines. That is what we do. We are very good at it.”

Will explained that the Rolls-Royce vision statement can be summed up as, “Power that matters to everyone.” Rolls-Royce intends to be the solution provider that addresses the planet’s critical power needs while prioritizing safety, quality, cleanliness, and competitiveness. The company’s commitment extends beyond mere innovation, striving to anticipate and fulfill the diverse drive, propulsion, and power needs of customers worldwide through interconnected solutions valued for their lifecycle performance, energy versatility, and seamless interaction.

The mtu engines produced in Aiken can be found in diverse applications that truly are impacting nearly everyone. Not only are they found in marine, construction, mining, rail, and military applications, but they are the heart of mission critical power generation systems that provide emergency backup power to applications such as hospitals and large datacenters in the event of grid failure. The engines produced for data center generator sets are a large and growing part of the production volume in Aiken.

Microgrid: Sun, Storage, and Sustainability

As the OpExChange visitors arrived at the Aiken facility, they could not miss the large, seven-acre solar field that has been harnessing solar power to feed into the local power grid since 2017. More recently, additional solar panels were installed over the employee parking lot providing another 1MW of solar power to feed into the company’s innovative microgrid system. The microgrid is designed to showcase the company’s technology while also minimizing the plant’s environmental impact by utilizing renewable energy and energy storage to reduce its dependence on the local grid.

The microgrid is a complex and impressive demonstration of engineering. It incorporates a massive battery storage system charged by the solar array strategically placed above the employee parking lot. Rolls-Royce’s own mtu EnergyPack efficiently stores excess energy, while a reliable mtu diesel generator ensures backup power when needed. The entire system is managed by a microgrid controller that seamlessly integrates the system with the main power grid, guaranteeing uninterrupted power even during peak demand. The most impressive aspect? The entire microgrid utilizes Rolls-Royce’s clean energy technologies. This not only benefits the company’s own environmental goals but also serves as a real-world example of the effectiveness of its solutions in helping customers achieve net-zero aspirations.

Precision Production from Machining to Shipping

The tour through the production operation lived up to the expectations of the RR name. The facility was extremely clean and organized, and the product flow was synchronous and visibly obvious. The visitors were divided into three groups and were guided through each stage of the engine production value stream.  Beginning in the machining department, they observed the process involved in crafting the engine components. The precision CNC machines are all manufactured by Heller, a German manufacturer renowned for high-precision equipment. Notably, there was a space allocated for a new machine to be added soon. A five-axis, Heller automated machine center will be added, marking the site’s entry into robotic operations. The group then progressed through the assembly process, testing area, and shipping.

Throughout the facility, metric boards prominently displayed the key performance indicators for each department. An overhead andon system provided real-time feedback on operational status. An employee suggestion board highlighted how the plant is utilizing employee ideas to contribute to continuous improvement. To date, there have been seventy-five suggestions implemented in 2024.

Will Richards explains the manufacturing process of the Series 4000 engine.

Smart Safety Systems

Safety is paramount at Rolls-Royce, and the Aiken plant is taking a proactive approach. Their philosophy? All injuries are preventable, and safety is the basis for excellence, quality, and seamless production.

Instead of reacting to accidents, they focus on preventing them altogether through proactive measures. A key part of their strategy is the use of the SafeStart program. This comprehensive training goes beyond the workplace, addressing human factors that can lead to injuries anywhere. According to SafeStart, over 94% of workplace accidents are caused by unsafe behaviors, while only 6% are caused by environmental factors or unsafe conditions.  By emphasizing transferable safety skills, SafeStart empowers employees to stay safe both on and off the job.

The Aiken campus’ commitment to safety is systemized into the daily routine of the employees. Morning meetings begin with a volunteer sharing a SafeStart story, either personal or work-related, to heighten everyone’s safety awareness.

Additionally, the safety audit program incorporates behavior-based audits. Each department is selected to perform selected safety audits of other departments during the month.  These audits do not just look for unsafe conditions, but they look for unsafe behaviors such as using appropriate PPE, not following proper work instructions, and using incorrect lifting techniques. A large matrix board displayed on the production floor identifies who is responsible for auditing in the given month.

To further promote a positive safety culture, a “Golden Boot” competition was recently implemented. Each month, the department with the best safety record earns bragging rights with a golden boot trophy and a celebratory pizza lunch. Runners-up receive silver or bronze boots, creating a fun and engaging competition.

These initiatives have not gone unnoticed. The Aiken plant achieved recognition for having the best safety record in 2023.

Predicting Problems, Preventing Disasters

The tour highlighted some impressive advancements at the plant, and one in particular stood out: using predictive analytics to foresee engine failures. Every engine undergoes a rigorous “hot test” before leaving the facility. This long-standing practice has yielded years of data. This turned out to be a goldmine for Rolls-Royce.

Previously, after a rare engine failure, engineers would meticulously analyze data to understand the cause. Now, thanks to a keen eye for patterns, they’ve turned the tables. By feeding historical data into an algorithm, they’ve developed a method to identify potential issues and automatically shut down the engine at the earliest sign of trouble. This crucial early intervention minimizes damage and allows them to salvage most of the engine. The alternative? Scrapping the entire unit, a costly consequence they’ve significantly reduced. Preventing just one engine from reaching that stage brings huge value.

Reman and Overhaul – Circular Economy for Engines

As part of its mission to be the solution provider for the full lifecycle of the engine, RR recently invested approximately $17M in the addition of a Remanufacturing and Overhaul (RO) Center on the Aiken Campus. This 69,000 square foot addition to the existing plant provides the ability to perform remanufacturing and overhaul of mtu Series 2000, Series 4000, and Detroit Diesel 2-Cycle engines and associated components.

Remanufacturing is a smart choice both financially and environmentally. By restoring equipment to near-new condition, it offers significant cost savings throughout the product’s lifecycle. Customers benefit from lower acquisition costs, reduced maintenance needs, and lower operating expenses. But the advantages extend beyond the bottom line. Remanufacturing is a sustainable choice. It minimizes environmental impact by reusing existing equipment and components. This reduces the need for raw materials and energy consumption compared to building entirely new engines. In essence, remanufacturing fosters a circular economy. Instead of discarding used engines and components, they are given a new lease on life – a second, or even third, chance to perform at their peak.

As the tour progressed from the main plant, the transition to the RO center was seamless. Despite receiving often very dirty products, the center’s organization and cleanliness were truly impressive. Several of the OpExChange visitors commented that they have never seen a remanufacturing facility so well maintained. The equipment, processes, and procedures also mirrored the exacting standards of the main facility. This commitment to excellence was further underscored when Senior Supervisor Chris Toroxel proudly presented the golden boot trophy, signifying the RO Center’s recent safety award win.

Apprenticeship Program

Rolls-Royce has pioneered an award-winning High School Apprenticeship Program at Aiken, which has been nationally recognized by The White House, the South Carolina Department of Education and the Association for Career and Technical Education for its unique approach to bridging the manufacturing skills gap in United States. The plant serves as a hands-on learning hub for local high school students through its award-winning apprenticeship program, based on similar training programs in Germany, which was created in conjunction with The Aiken County School District and Aiken Technical College.

At the helm of the apprenticeship program is Joerg Klisch, Director of Operations at Aiken. With the help of the Aiken County Career & Technology Center (ACCTC), which is operated by The Aiken County School District, and Aiken Technical College, Klisch launched the program in 2012 and it has grown ever since, garnering recognition at the national level and being awarded the Carolina Careers Governor’s Award.

To fulfill the need for skilled workers at the Aiken facility, the company has taken a creative approach through its German-modeled Apprenticeship Program — the first-ever registered vocational apprenticeship program for high school students in the state of South Carolina. Via the program, students are engaged with the company before they graduate. By selecting high school juniors and seniors to participate in a two-year vocational training, Rolls-Royce is able to develop talent with the most desirable skills needed to operate in a manufacturing setting. Apprentices earn certification in Industrial Mechanic Basic and CNC Machining that qualifies them to work in any manufacturing facility in the state or country – enhancing the local labor pool and career opportunities for the community’s youth.

Rolls-Royce Powers Ahead

Since arriving in Aiken in 2010, Rolls-Royce has experienced remarkable growth, not just in size and employee base, but also in its commitment to continuous improvement, technological advancement, and employee well-being. The recent improvements made with predictive analytics and safety programs are prime examples.

The plant visit underscored Will Richard’s opening statement about the company’s vision: “Power that matters to everyone.” Rolls-Royce’s dedication to being a solution provider for global energy needs was evident, prioritizing cleanliness, safety, and competitiveness.

The company’s ability to combine several of its product offerings, including gensets power by engines built in Aiken, into microgrids offers a compelling solution for the energy transition. These sophisticated systems reduce dependence on national grids, enabling the storage and management of renewable energy sources while serving as backup power. Their effective use in Aiken exemplifies the technology’s efficacy and Rolls-Royce’s commitment to clean energy.

Furthermore, the addition of the RO facility strengthens the company’s contribution to a circular economy for engines. This not only reduces the overall carbon footprint of the entire planet but also redefines the lifecycle of an engine, promoting sustainability.

The focus on safety at the plant is undeniable, evidenced by its utilization of the SafeStart program, behavioral-based audits, and strong employee engagement.

From a competitive standpoint, Rolls-Royce’s development of predictive analytics highlights its commitment to innovation and continuous improvement. This technology reduces cost and associated waste, ultimately creating greater value for customers.

South Carolina is fortunate to have Rolls-Royce’s mtu engine facility in Aiken. Fellow manufacturers in the SCMEP OpExChange eagerly anticipate what innovative solutions emerge next!

About Rolls-Royce Power Systems

Rolls-Royce provides world-class power solutions and complete life-cycle support under the product and solution brand mtu. Through digitalization and electrification, we develop drive and power generation solutions that are even cleaner and smarter and thus provide answers to the challenges posed by the rapidly growing societal demands for energy and mobility.

We deliver and service comprehensive, powerful and reliable systems, based on both gas and diesel engines, as well as electrified hybrid systems. These clean and technologically advanced solutions serve our customers in the marine and infrastructure sectors worldwide. The Power Systems division of Rolls-Royce is headquartered in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

About OpExChange

The OpExChange, sponsored by the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, is a peer-to-peer network of manufacturers and distributors in South Carolina known for generating success for members through benchmarking and best practice sharing. Member companies host events and share practical examples of industrial automation, lean manufacturing improvements, and leadership development. It is an invaluable resource to South Carolina companies that provides access to others who are on similar improvement journeys. If your company is interested in participating in this collaborative effort to improve both the competitiveness of your operation and South Carolina, contact Mike Demos ( More information and upcoming plant visits are available on the OpExChange website

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