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Delivering material benefits

Seats are getting lighter and lighter, but they also have to be comfortable, or an airline’s reputation could be damaged. Bernie Baldwin reports on some recent developments which add value for both the passenger and the airline
 

No matter the distance or duration of a flight, an uncomfortable seat will always be remembered. Moreover, the memory is also likely to attach the experience to the airline, so making the right choice is vital.


Equally important, given the fine margin between profit and loss in the airline industry, is the lifecycle cost of the seat. This includes – in addition to the purchase price – how much it costs to maintain and the cost of fuel to carry the seat, which rises as the seat’s weight increases.

Aircraft seat manufacturers have thus been concentrating on ridding their seats of weight, while ensuring that strength, integrity and comfort are maintained, or perhaps even improved. New materials, whether in the frame, in the pan, the seatback or the upholstery, all play a part, as does smarter use of those materials.

Geven is one seat maker which has invested a great deal in developing lightweight seats, as Marketing and Sales Manager, Rodolfo Baldascino, explains. “Basically [the weight reduction came from] an increased quantity of composite material that we used especially on the backrest with a new design – one full single piece – in the latest economy class seat we have certified, the Essenza,” he reports.

“Also foams are, of course, important, and in this regard we have used foams with a dual purpose: passenger comfort (which is the traditional use) and structural performance (in our case on the bottom cushion attached to the primary structure of the seat). In the latter use, the bottom foam avoids the installation of a seat pan (plastic or aluminium), and thus weight saving is achieved,” Baldascino adds. “We could say we save weight by innovation more than changing lots of materials. We use them in a different way or with multiple purpose.”

Mirus Aircraft Seating is another manufacturer gaining significant momentum in the market because of the lightness of its seats. The company’s Hawk seat hit the big time when AirAsia placed an order during Aircraft Interiors Expo 2016 for 312 shipsets. The first aircraft with Hawk seats went into service in late March 2018.

“Mirus uses numerous techniques to ‘add lightness’ to its products,” notes company CEO, Phil Hall. “Above all we specialise in the application of carbon fibre, and we use this material intelligently in our seat structure.”

Such has been the success of the Hawk that Mirus has announced expansion plans which include the development of its Norfolk, UK, facility into the Mirus Technology Park (MTP). The first stage will include state-of-the-art composite manufacturing cells and 3D printing capability.

In its MTP announcement, the company declared: “Our composite focus is upon the manufacture of high performance carbon fibre structures – both continuous fibre reinforced and forged chopped fibre. The addition of 3D printing capability will support all core functions at Mirus, from conceptual design studies with RWorks [Mirus’s in-house industrial design team] through to jigs and fixtures.”

Having celebrated its fifth anniversary last year, Expliseat is yet another seat OEM to have made significant progress in a short time. The company’s Vice President of Sales, Mathieu Marraud des Grottes, emphasises the company’s biggest selling point. “Starting at 4kg, we deliver the lightest seats in the market,” he remarks. “The light weight is mostly due to our seat structure made from titanium and carbon fibre. Compared with traditional seats in aluminium, the materials we use offer less weight, more strength, rigidity and resistance to corrosion.”

With all manufacturers using lighter materials, the next step – as noted – is how to tailor the seat design so that it retains all the necessary strength. “To be 50% lighter, you can’t just improve conventional seats of the past, you need to develop new disruptive solutions,” confirms Marraud des Grottes. “Computer-aided modelling is a great tool to evaluate design changes and to optimise parts, but you also need to have the proper organisation, methodology and people to define and certify innovative solutions.”

 

According to Baldascino, considerable thought was given to how best use the selected materials for the Essenza and Geven’s other new products. “We had to work a lot on design and optimisation of the primary structure in order to guarantee the same – or higher – seat performances in terms of durability and reliability, as well as increase overall performance and reduce weight,” he states.

This results from many design sessions, software aided simulation and, of course, a lot of real testing on the seat prototype. Afterwards, you have to go into dedicated redesign/optimisation sessions, and then simulate and test again. The final result will be a lighter and stronger seat. “That’s easy to say, but hard to achieve,” Baldascino emphasises.

At Mirus, experience within the company from other industries has played an important part in the design and development of aircraft seats. “Our engineering approach takes inspiration from the world of Formula 1 [motor racing],” remarks Hall. “We use a closed-loop CAE (computer-aided engineering) process to test and optimise in the virtual realm.

“Our commitment is to optimise parts to reduce weight whilst retaining strength,” he continues. “The use of such approaches enables the development of slimline, yet ergonomic structures that redefine living space [on the aircraft] in the shortest amount of time and commercial effort.” >>

 


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