Rotable Repairs is looking forward to expansion after a recent move to larger facilities.
The wheels & brakes specialist was formed in 2002, with an investment by component specialist PDQ Airspares. The company quickly built a reputation for good customer service and experienced considerable growth over the years. In fact, Rotable Repairs had to adapt to the increased workload by renting additional buildings close to the original facility.
“By the time this had grown to a cluster of 12 units, it was clear that something had to be done,” says Richard Lane, group marketing manager, adding that the business had also grown, from $150,000/month at the start to $2 million/month in 2018.
That made it an attractive acquisition for US-based Desser Tire & Rubber which, alongside some of the management team, bought out the previous shareholders in September 2017.
The move needed careful coordination, particularly to remain operational during the transfer, which required CAA approval of a staged process plan.
Desser also brought the investment needed to acquire a new facility in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, east of London and about 2.5km from the original location, avoiding difficulties with staff relocation. The building offers 3,450m² of floor space plus a 1,580m² mezzanine, double the area of all the previous buildings.
It had previously been used by an electrical wholesaler, which meant the space was being used as a warehouse. Clearing out the racking gave a blank canvas on which to design an optimal workshop layout.
Lionel Fearon, MRO manager, drew on his experience with British Airways and made visits to similar facilities to help him choose new equipment that suited the operation, as well as working with an industrial engineer to analyse flow and plant.
The result is a shop that is designed around tyre changes and heat pack replacements for brakes, work that represents approximately 70 per cent of volume but requires the least amount of maintenance.
The mezzanine is used as Work in Progress (WIP) store and also houses the transport containers for wheels and brakes. A conveyor belt links it to the workshops.
The company is best known for brake overhauls, covering commercial aircraft, corporate jet and light aircraft business. It is approved by Safran and has a more informal relationship with Collins Aerospace.
It also overhauls and sells surplus used material on behalf of Safran and, in January this year, signed a multi-year parts supply and license agreement with Honeywell to become the UK’s first Authorised Wheel and Brake Service Centre.
Currently, the shop has six engineers and produces, on average, eight units/day. There is additional investment being made in automatic spring testers and decanting machines, as well as a dual brake tester, which will allow units to be processed faster.
By improving processes, updating machinery and with a small increase in engineers, a significant upturn in production is expected by 2020.
Bryan Croft, commercial director, comments that many airlines like to keep their own parts, rather than operating a pool arrangement, or on a Cost Per Landing basis.
He says there can be a disadvantage to these offerings, as retaining control of equipment means that accurate records can be maintained of reliability, procedures can be standardised across all equipment and the embodiment of necessary modification can be assured.
It might mean that maintenance costs are higher but, he says, the company makes sure customers understand the associated benefits.
The company also offers specialised services. Aircraft lease return conditions may call for a specific amount of remaining brake life and it can supply a suitable set of equipment work it carries out for a major low cost carrier. This is a lower cost option than carrying out an overhaul.
Tyre changes account for most of the work, with a wide variation between winter and the busy summer flying season.
In final inspection, the tyres are inflated in accordance with the manufacturer’s care and maintenance manual and left for an hour to allow the tyre to relax on the wheel and then topped up if required.
It is then left overnight and, if the pressure drops by less than 5 per cent as it continues to settle, it passes. The tyre is then pressurised to the customers requested shipping pressure, the part numbers and serial numbers rechecked and the Form 1 raised.
Following the move, the nitrogen converter was upgraded by increasing the storage and pressure so gas bottles are no longer used to inflate the last 30psi of some of the bigger wheels to carry out the overnight pressure check.
Additionally, the inflation process is now computer-controlled, with a set and forget controller. Safety is extremely important.
A Boeing 747-400 main wheel tyre is pressurised at 200psi and can generate noise of almost 120dBA when deflating, so silencers are used to reduce this by 20dBA to meet industrial safety standards. During inflation, the tyres are contained in high tensile cages that can withstand the explosion of a main wheel tyre.
A sister company in the Desser group is Watts Aviation, located in Lydney, Gloucestershire. This specialises in aircraft tyres of all types, holding more than 15,000 tyres with over 500 different part numbers.
Rotable Repairs is drawing on its experience to advise customers on the best tyre options for their aircraft. For example, Michelin is the best tyre for the ATR 42/72, as it lasts longer.
That means fewer workshop visits for retreading, with a reduction in maintenance and transport costs over the life of the tyre.
Wheels are much more process-based. Each wheel, once it has been cleaned or stripped of paint, is checked in a central inspection area for damage and corrosion and any parts needed are listed and sent to the stores.
If there are parts shortages, if the unit needs reworking beyond the company’s internal capabilities or if the unit requires a price quote, it is moved to the WIP store. There are six technicians in the department and two in inspection.
Once the hubs and the component parts have been inspected and the replacement spares have been drawn from stores, the wheel is ready to build. Logistics use production boards to see what has been programmed for the day and ensures that the component parts and tyre is kitted together for the next available technician to build.
The wheel bay has seen some of the biggest investments in the new facility, with a build-up rig and a computer-controlled torque loader from Bauer. Previously, it took an engineer and an assistant 40 minutes to build a 737 main wheel.
This has been reduced to 10 minutes with one technician. Another build-up rig will be added, with the torque loader able to move between two stations. This means a 737 crown could be on one rig and an A320 on the other.
Two Kunz automatic greasing machines have also been purchased, which can inject SCH100 and Aeroshell 28.
There is still room for growth, not only by adding more technicians, but also by looking at detailed flow and motion studies to reduce processes times. “This is linked to getting AS9110 approval, which will bring improvements across the company by helping staff to understand efficiencies,” adds Croft.
Stores and dispatch
The serviceable stores area consists of a large area dedicated to the bulk of wheels, brakes and large piece component parts and a smaller climate-controlled stores and quarantine area which holds all the serviceable consumable parts and small tyres.
The stock holding has grown by $4.5 million in the last four years, including consignment, loans, exchanges, pooling and piece parts needed to support our contracts.
Large screens here and throughout the facility show lists of all the parts that are to be built. This allows logistics to progress the job from the production line or the WIP store, then the required consumables from stores which are then placed on a pre-build area until an engineer becomes available to build the unit.
This is run via Component Controls Quantum ERP software but will soon be augmented by barcode scanning to record the location, time, status and the engineer currently on the job in real time.
This will be used to measure departmental KPIs and allow the customer service team to closely monitor progress of jobs.
The dispatch department ships about 7,000 wheels and brakes around the world every year. Although most are shipped to the UK and mainland Europe, customers are in Africa, the Middle East and the USA.
Most of this is in ATA300 compliant packaging consisting of wheel covers and specialist packing crates. As well as using international shipping agents for road and air deliveries, company vehicles there regularly deliver and collect free of charge from all the local London airports.
Croft says the investment will help the company achieve its target of 12,000 units a year, a doubling of capacity. The next step for Rotable Repairs will be a second location.
Airlines, he explains, like their suppliers to be close at hand to reduced transport costs, so the decision on where to open a new facility will depend on having a cluster of customers that can make it worthwhile. That means it could be outside the UK.
Visit rotablerepairs.com for more information.