Full spectrum: Developments in thermoplastic materials in aircraft cabins

Thermoplastic, materials, aircraft cabins: Service cart

John Inman, business development director at Boltaron, says demand for the company’s thermoplastic materials is heavily influenced by the design houses, which are looking for new effects and finishes.

The challenge is to listen and then come up with solutions. This is helped by the fact that the company can offer a range of production techniques that suit different requirements.

Extruded sheet material (a new extrusion is currently being commissioned to increase capacity) is good for impact resistance and can offer eight or nine different surface finishes. Press-forming can combine a variety of materials permanently laminated between two layers and with a wider range of surface finishes.

Additionally, the company can use specialised thermoforming processes and surface printing to provide specific components such as privacy screens and galley panels. To help get the message across, the company has come up with a box set of materials aimed at designers, seat manufacturers and airlines.

It contains flat samples of different effects, such as extruded textures, pressed textures (including automotive and high-end finishes, with help from Studio Catherine Barber, also with printed patterns), translucents (including printed laminates) and pearlescents.

Another print technique is dye sublimation, where the dye is injected directly into the material, being sealed a few microns below the surface. This is particularly good for effects like marble, where there are no sharply defined edges. While this cannot be scratched, a protective surface coating can be applied if necessary.

For printed wood effects, surface effects can even produce a simulated grain. He says Boltaron (which is well-known for providing high-performance thermoplastic solutions) was the first company to introduce metallic elements into plastic, at the request of Lufthansa.

As the metal could not pass through an extrusion machine, it was introduced into the calendering process, in which melted polymer is passed through a series of rollers to produce film. By using a colour-matched substrate, this gives a rich metallic effect.

Thermoplastic, Boltaron, aircraft cabins

The calendering process is also used to produce printed layers to be used in the press-formed laminates. The final samples are colour selections, including Nordic Forest, Oxidised Reds, New Neutrals and Black and White to give inspiration.

The company claims to be able to produce any colour and the efficiency of its production processes means it can offer very low Minimum Economic Order Quantities – it is a made to order business, he comments.

Of course, the finished product is almost always a 3D shape, so the final element in the box is a series of thermoformed ‘commas’, each of which has one of the finishes.

This is important, as the finish can change during the production process. For example, the pearlescent effect only becomes apparent after the additional heat cycle is applied in the forming process. A curved shape can also produce a slight distortion in a regular finish or in a printed pattern.

Other possibilities include the use of Tedlar film for enhanced cleanability or antibacterial finishes, or even a thin layer that can be stitched together. Of course, one of the most important tests for these materials is when they burn.

These are commonly referred to as Fire, Smoke, Toxicity (FST) tests. He explains that there is no legal requirement from the regulatory authorities for toxicity. Their concern is heat release – will the material get to such a high temperature when it is burning that it can ignite other materials?

On the other hand, the aircraft OEMs do have toxicity requirements built into their specifications. Finally, he anticipates that the materials market will follow the trends of the commercial aviation market, with continued growth.

He notes the Airbus and Boeing are both increasing their manufacturing capabilities in Asia, to be closer to their customers. The interiors OEMs are still mainly based in the USA and Europe, but his expectation is that this will change in the future.

For more information on thermoplastic solutions, visit boltaron.com.

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