Rolls-Royce celebrates 100 years of innovation in its centenary year

Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

ISSN: 0002-2667

Article publication date: 1 October 2004




Haigh, R. (2004), "Rolls-Royce celebrates 100 years of innovation in its centenary year", Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, Vol. 76 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Rolls-Royce celebrates 100 years of innovation in its centenary year

Rolls-Royce celebrates 100 years of innovation in its centenary year

Keywords: Rolls-Royce, Engineering, Innovation

Tuesday 4 May 2004 marked the centenary of the first meeting of Henry Royce and the Hon Charles Rolls, a partnership the name of which was to become the symbol of quality and engineering excellence – Rolls-Royce.

Following their meeting at the Midland Hotel, Manchester, Royce – a humble man, but consummate engineer – agreed with Rolls, a pioneer motorist and supplier to the aristocracy, to market his motor cars under the name “Rolls-Royce”. By 1906, Rolls-Royce Limited was formed, and a year later the motoring press hailed the latest model, the Silver Ghost, “the best car in the world”.

The Manchester factory could not cope with the demand, so the company moved to Derby. It was from here that the first aero engine, the Eagle, was developed and built. This engine became a major contributor to the first World War and later powered the Vickers Vimy that propelled Alcock and Brown across the Atlantic.

Motor car and aero engine production continued in the interwar years and now included the Bentley marque, which was acquired in 1931. Royce's final design – and his most famous – before his death in 1933, was of the Merlin engine, which first powered the Hurricane in 1935, and a year later the Spitfire. These aircraft were to come to the nation's defence during the Battle of Britain, and for the rest of the war, during which thousands of engines were built at Derby, Manchester and the new “shadow” factories at Crewe and Glasgow.

By the end of the war Frank Whittle had invented the jet engine. It was Rolls-Royce, however, which converted his designs into production engines, taking over the factory at Barnoldswick where Whittle's team were developing the jet. A boom in both military and civil aircraft followed over the following decade, with the Rolls-Royce “river” series of jet engines predominating – Dart, Spey, Avon, Conway and many others. During this period the company also looked to use the jet engine, or the gas turbine as it was called, in other applications at sea and in the energy-producing industries.

The merger of Rolls-Royce with Bristol Siddeley in 1966 began to bring two exciting and world-beating projects to fruition, the Olympus engine for supersonic Concorde and the unique Pegasus engine for the Harrier jump jet.

But dark days were ahead, and development costs of Rolls-Royce's latest programme, the innovative RB211 engine, brought the company to its knees in 1971. However, the government of the day and the receiver kept their nerve, and the company was taken into state ownership. The car division of the company, now at Crewe, was sold off. Within months the financial and technical problems were solved. The RB211 engine flew successfully, first in Lockheed's TriStar and then in Boeing's jumbo jet, the 747. In 1987, the company returned to the private sector and a range of RB211 engines followed which formed the basis of today's highly successful products, the Trent family of engines. Trent engines and derivatives can now power virtually all available modern civil aircraft and will power tomorrow's latest designs, the giant Airbus A380 and Boeing's 7E7 “Dreamliner”.

Rolls-Royce had not stood still in its other markets. The acquisition of the Allison Engine Company in America brought a new range of helicopter and small gas turbine engines to the portfolio. This presence in the US helped the company to participate in the American Joint Strike Fighter programme in which it is now a major partner. Purchase of another proud name in British industry, Vickers, gave Rolls-Royce access to unique technology in the shipping industry and the company is now a world leader in marine propulsion and systems, most notably its propulsors for the new Queen Mary 2 (QM2). Similarly Rolls-Royce gas turbine technology is also applied to the gas and oil industries, where the company is also a market leader, and power generation where the company is developing its presence.

From humble beginnings and a small factory in Manchester, Rolls-Royce has grown into a worldwide organisation and one of the few remaining manufacturing and engineering companies with its headquarters in the UK. Why, when so many others have failed? The Henry Royce – and company – values of integrity, innovation and reliability remain to this day but, as with all successful organisations, people are the key and Rolls-Royce is no exception. Dedicated people will ensure that the standards of Rolls and Royce are maintained and will take the company on into its next 100 years.

Today Rolls-Royce is a world leader in gas turbine technology for civil and defence aerospace, marine and energy propulsion engine systems. This has been achieved through dedicated people, strong partnerships, and a commitment to growing our aftermarket services business.

Rolls-Royce is focusing on the technology it needs for the future – to make sure it will be around in the next 100 years – with a structured research and technology “Vision” programme that will target the engineering challenges that the company will face in the future.

On a positive note, opening the centenary celebrations earlier this year, Dr Mike Howse, Director of Engineering and Technology at Rolls-Royce plc. explained, “Whilst anniversaries invite us to look back in time at our heritage and accomplishments, the Rolls-Royce centenary allows us to look to some of our new technologies and what exciting developments are possible in the long-term. I am sure the Rolls-Royce engineers of the future will rise to the plentiful, ever-changing challenges posed by the next century, built on the firm foundation of the Company's first century of innovation”.

Will Rolls-Royce be around for the next 100 years? You bet it will!

Richard HaighChief-executive of Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust

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