Collaborative craftmanship elevates aircraft interior cabin standards, as Ben Smalley of Sekisui SPI explains.
Sekisui SPI has coined the term ‘collaborative craftmanship’ to describe the process of the supply base working together to raise the level of craftsmanship. It’s no longer about a single product or component, it is now about how everything seamlessly comes together in the cabin.
There has been two cabin projects this year that exemplify this approach, says Ben Smalley, Aviation Market Business Manager for Kydex Thermoplastics: Brussels Airlines with its Airbus A330 and All Nippon Airways (ANA) with its Boeing 777-300ER.
For Brussels Airlines, JPA Design introduced wooden panels and surfaces on the seats and in the bar area, referencing Belgian architecture.They are actually Kydex thermoplastics with Infused Imaging technology created to resemble, to resemble birch wood with a unique grain pattern.
He notes that JPA Design deserves a lot of credit, not just for the design of the cabin, but for making connections in the supply chain, breaking down silos and getting people to talk to each other. As an example, the Door 2 entry features a Business Class signature panel and a general ‘Welcome Aboard’ sign manufactured by ABC International.
Bringing the supply chain together allowed materials to be utilised in other parts of the cabin, which saved time and costs, and led to less material waste. For Ana, Kydex thermoplastics were used in a range used in a range of solid, darker colours in both First and Business Class cabins.
He says this is another trend, as airlines are moving away from beige and light grey to more exotic colours to tie in with their brand. However, these colours are more sensitive and require communication between the parties to ensure consistency of appearance and high quality fit and finish — craftsmanship and collaboration again.
Similarly, reducing the appearance of split lines through the use of larger components involves the designer, material supplier and seat manufacturer to ensure that easy access maintenance is considered. A lot more scrutiny and communication is required, he says, as there can be unintended consequences.
Another trend is using thermoplastics more creatively. LED lighting is now common on aircraft and the company has responded with KYDEX Lumina. Launched in 2018 and a Cabin Crystal finalist at this year’s AIX in Hamburg, this is an opaque thermoplastic sheet that transforms when backlit with LED lighting.
Inspired by lithophanes, etched artwork in very thin, translucent porcelain that can only be seen clearly when backlit with a light source, it casts an even glow – from beyond about 2.5cm, no hot spots or individual LEDs are visible. It can dampen certain wavelengths, helping other colours to shine more brightly.
Kydex Lumina, combined with Infused Imaging, allows for custom patterns that allow light to pass through selectively. Some interesting concepts so far have been monuments, partitions and seat components, with HAECO Cabin Solutions showing Kydex Lumina in an Airbus A330 cabin divider at AIX this year, as did LIFT in a galley social space concept.
Other potential applications include privacy screens, galley accents, backlit décor, individual passenger spaces, boarding area effects and enhanced fill panels. He says Kydex Lumina provides the opportunity to give control of the environment to an airline or a passenger.
For the former, large panels would enhance the effect of mood lighting, for the latter, reading, sleeping, eating and working all have different lighting needs. A smaller seat panel could be flat or thermoformed into a unique shape for brand differentiation.
He points out that the panel would be completely opaque when turned off, blending in with the seat’s general colour theme.
For the future, the focus will be on the development of Kydex FST and Kydex’s FST product line. As the name suggests, it meets all OEM requirements for fire, smoke and toxicity. The FST product line is offered in solid colours, integral pearlescents and translucents.
Kydex FST CTL is a coloured translucent that can be used in cabin partitions and decorative applications. A big component to this is an exclusive supply agreement for a particular resin. There may even be a clear addition to the FST product line in 2020, but that’s all Smalley could say.
Another development linked to ‘collaborative craftmanship’ is the Kydex Injection Moulding product line. Thermoformed and injection moulded parts are often made from different materials and can look different side by side, even if they are the same colour.
To eliminate these variations, Sekisui SPI has developed compliant injection moulding resin that reduces cost and complexity in the supply chain and is manufactured in the same facility with the same colour system and polymers as a thermoplastic sheet. There has been great collaboration with Haeco, showcased at AIX this year.
Kydex Injection Moulding parts should be flying shortly. Much of this work has been carried out at the appLab, in collaboration with designLab at the company’s facility in Bloomsburg, PA.
This saw an $8 million investment in procuring the same production equipment used by the subcontractors to the main manufacturers (such as pressure forming machines, thermoforming machines, injection moulding machines, 5-axis CNC machines and 3D printers) as well as test equipment.
This is, perhaps, the epitome of the ‘collaborative craftmanship’ concept. He says projects are getting more and more complex but there is never more time, so design agencies and manufacturers have to work together earlier than before. The appLab allows for additive manufacture and rapid prototyping to help the project teams design community and seating customers to fail fast, quickly moving on to the next iteration.
In conclusion, he says everything we touch in daily life has a certain level of craftsmanship. The automotive industry has realised this and changed its approach. It is now the turn of aviation. It is important because these higher standards will also apply to premium economy and economy cabins, not so much on a project by project basis but from a product development standpoint. Designs have to be smarter.