Rolls-Royce on Friday morning unveiled a new, high-tech manufacturing site that could serve as a model for the future.
The new "focused factory" at 758 Columbia Drive in Plainfield will produce lift fans for the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. The lift fan allows one version of the aircraft to make helicopter-like landings. Rolls-Royce had been developing the fan for two years and now has the production contract. Full production will start in October, and the facility will employ 15 people at peak production in about 18 months.
"It's a high-tech facility and the only one like it in the world," said John Gallo, executive vice president of business operations. Rolls-Royce invested $6 million to outfit the space with the latest technology. One piece of equipment keeps track of tools, preventing them from becoming lost inside—and eventually damaging—the large aircraft components. The Department of Defense also spent $6 million on the build-out.
Gallo said Rolls-Royce won the lift fan contract because its latest contract with United Auto Workers Local 933 allows it to be more competitive. The focused factory will employ 12 UAW-represented workers, who are eligible for performance bonuses and trained to do multiple jobs. If necessary, Rolls can go outside the UAW for building maintenance workers.
"We're hoping through this same competitive set-up, we can win new work and new contracts going forward," Gallo said.
The Plainfield site is Rolls-Royce's 11th facility in Indiana. The British company employs 4,000 people in the state, including more than 1,700 in production in Indianapolis.