When Schaeffler Aerospace opened its first aerospace bearing remanufacturing centre for the Asia Pacific (APAC) region in 2015 in Singapore it represented a significant milestone for Singapore’s aviation sector, bringing increased inward investment.
Five years on from the centre’s opening and 2,000 bearing refurbishments later, the centre continues to grow its network and reach across APAC as the first and only maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations centre in the region.
The facility offers service inspection Level 1 and 2 components as well as provides original OEM spare parts replacement, following a similar model to the firm’s other centres in Europe and North America.
Singapore was primarily chosen as the location of its APAC centre due to its location, governmental support and local talent pool.
The expertise that Schaeffler brings to the aerospace sector includes special bearings integrated bearing systems and high-precision components, bearing reconditioning solutions for MRO operations; and innovative bearing materials for aircraft engines with higher speeds and thrust loads.
Furthermore, not only does reconditioning reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 80 per cent according to Schaeffler, compared to manufacturing new bearings, but it also reduces cost throughout the lifecycle of the aircraft.
The Singapore facility also has a focus on aftermarket refurbishment, a much-needed service given the length of service of a plane engine that could extend beyond two decades. As such, in between maintenance checks, components might need to be replaced or refurbished.
“In Singapore, we are also trying to capture the OEM market,” said Ian Lam, head of aerospace, Asia Pacific, Schaeffler. “There are many aspiring manufacturers who want to make their own drones or their own electric planes for applications such as surveillance, security, unloading and loading of goods, etc.”
“These are the people who have identified opportunities in the market,” added Lam, “and we have services to offer them too.”
Although based in Singapore, the facility caters to customers throughout the APAC region, with the facility recently acquiring a new certificate from the Malaysian government enabling a broader service offering to the Malaysian market.
“We are also in a late-stage discussion in securing a license from the Chinese government, which is part of a bilateral agreement between the Singapore government and the Chinese government,” said Lam.
“This gives us an opportunity to really service the entire Chinese market right on our doorstep,” Lam added.
The firm is also looking at providing upstream MRO to regional companies who require the servicing of product assemblies, so instead of replacing bearings, they can now look at salvaging these bearings and servicing them.
“The business case has changed,” said Lam. “It does not make sense to ship these products across the world for the bearing. It now makes more sense to service these bearings locally.”
New mobility solutions and the electrification of the transport sector has continued to grow, with the APAC region emerging as an ideal test-bed and development hub for new mobility solutions, largely due to the increasing number of global megacities across Asia as well as high governmental support.
“Asia is a strong driver of our growth, and the Singapore facility contributes strategically to our global MRO network,” remarked Martin Schreiber, president industrial at Schaeffler Asia Pacific.
“Many of our customers are here in APAC and we are also developing new partnerships to develop and test solutions for the future,” added Schreiber. “We want to be close to our customers so that we can grow with them by offering faster and wider access to our technology and services.”
While electric cars are already in operation, and the electrification of air vehicles has already begun, it could take several decades before the electrification of long-haul flights is a reality.
However, as Lam sees it, new markets are being created, which open up the possibility of intracity and intercity travel via a new category of travel dubbed, Urban Air Mobility.
“This will be a new aviation forefront in terms of technology,” said Lam. “Because this will be a bridge between intracity travel and intercity travel.”
Companies such as Uber are already exploring this concept, recently partnering with Hyundai Motor Group to develop a concept vehicle to spur innovation around such vehicles for an upcoming service in 2023.
Regional operator, Grab, is also investing in air mobility, recently partnering with German start-up, Volocopter, to conduct a joint feasibility study to explore the possibility of offering such airborne rides in the future across cities in Southeast Asia.
APAC’s Aerospace Market
The APAC aerospace market continues to grow with Mordor Intelligence forecasting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.5 per cent from 2017 to 2025, with markets such as China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam seen as some of the fastest-growing aviation markets in the world.
Furthermore, according to Schaeffler the APAC region accounts for 30 per cent of all deliveries of new-generation engines.
At the 2020 Singapore Airshow, the firm showcased its latest generation of aerospace bearings used in new-generation aircraft that offer higher fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions by up to 15 per cent.
It is expected that these new aircraft models, which are in production today will stay in service well into the next 40 years.
“Asia is currently one of the largest markets for these new models,” said Lam. “As part of the global network of Schaeffler Aerospace, the Singapore facility will provide inspection and repair solutions for a significant proportion of these new models that will be delivered in Asia.”
In the case of Singapore, high-level governmental support, as well as a skilled talent pool, make it an attractive location for inward investment in the aerospace sector.
“Schaeffler Aerospace signed an MOU with all five Singapore polytechnics to ensure Singapore continues to have a good supply of manpower to meet the growing industry demand,” said Lam.
Investments such as Republic Polytechnic’s 1,500sqm aerospace hub, featuring real aircraft and support equipment such as flight simulators further illustrate how important the aerospace sector is to the government’s future economic plans.
Furthermore, according to Singapore’s economic development board (EDB), 10 per cent of global MRO output is contributed by Singapore’s aerospace industry, and with over 130 industry players, it has one of the largest and most diverse concentrations of aerospace companies in Asia.
Another key part of Singapore’s success as an aerospace hub is the role of the city-state’s national airliner, Singapore Airlines (SIA).
“SIA has created an entire ecosystem,” said Lam, “with over 20 joint ventures in Singapore, most notably with Rolls Royce.”
“These joint ventures have brought global work for engine overhaul into Singapore, and because Schaeffler Aerospace is downstream to this work, where the engine overhaul is, that is where our business will thrive,” added Lam.
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