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Green in any colour

ELeather is offering a lighter weight version of its material but it is also emphasising its environmental benefits. Ian Harbison reports
 

At this year's Aircraft Interiors Expo, ELeather launched a new version of their engineered leather offering a 20% weight reduction over its current product (which, in turn, is 40% lighter than natural leather). The target here is airlines that have reduced weight as a priority; (it is now closer to the weight of fabric seat covers). However, Nico Den Ouden, Global Sales and Marketing Director, says the product is seen as a unique material and not as an alternative to leather or fabric.

 

It is also of interest to those operators who are picking up on renewed industry interest in sustainability.

 

While the lighter weight can help reduce aircraft weight and reduce fuel burn (hence less CO2 emissions), he points out that the source material for ELeather is leather trimmings that would otherwise go to landfill. In fact, even with computer controlled cutting to extract the maximum amount of pieces from a single hide, up to 75% of traditional leather is unused. In addition, the production process uses only a fraction of the water used with traditional leather processing and 95% of the process water is recycled. The waste streams are converted into energy which is fed back into the process.

 

That process involves chopping up the leftover leather and combining the resultant fibres with synthetic fibres and a fabric infrastructure via a hydro process that uses high pressure to fuse everything into one material. The material then goes through a finishing process, which can include things like pigmentation and texture, and is put on a 1.4m roll to be cut.

 

Without giving anything away, ELeather says the new version has a density of just under 400gsm against just under 500gsm for the original.

 

All of these savings can be claimed by airlines as part of their through life carbon offset programmes. A good example of this is Aeromexico, which has reupholstered seating on 64 aircraft and has plans to roll this out across its entire fleet in the coming years.

 

Ironically, when sustainability was big previously, until 2011 when a hike in fuel shifted airline focus from reduced emissions to saving money, he says some customers would not mention the green benefits of the product as their message was about having leather seats on board. One of the exceptions was Southwest Airlines. After a ‘green plane’ trial in 2009, ELeather was formally selected for the ‘Evolve Interior’ in 2014, which was installed across the fleet.

 

Another new development is a consultative design service to work with airlines, particularly those using fabric seat covers. Nico explains that fabrics offer a wide selection of weaves and patterns, and so the challenge is to educate operators to the range of finishes available in ELeather. This includes colours and textures, patterning, contrast stitching and multiple colours. Many of these come from the automotive industry, particularly embossing and semi-perforation. Last year, Dutch low cost carrier Transavia introduced a seat cover with an embossed circular pattern across the front that mimicked a previous fabric design. Semi-perforation actually impersonates fully perforated surfaces where it is used for breathability, but, by substituting a recess for a hole, avoids the problem of dirt and liquids being retained by the cover.

 

While such finishes were previously used exclusively in the premium cabins, there is a clear trend to extend them throughout the cabin. Where the same seats are used for premium economy and economy, for example, ELeather dress covers and padding may be one of the differentiators between the two.

 

The operational advantage that can be gained is not just about reduced weight but also simplified cleaning, improved hygiene (as ELeather is non-absorbent) and there is no loss of fire retardant properties through dry cleaning and subsequent reproofing. The reduction in cleaning chemicals is another sustainability point.

 

Fire retardant properties are an important feature of ELeather, as the company has accumulated so much data from 12 second vertical burn testing that it can quickly gain EASA/FAA approvals for almost any colour or grain pattern through similarity checks without recertification. The design service also plays a part here, as it can assist the airline in developing a new cover that can be fitted immediately as it will be approved off the production line.

 

He adds that sustainability is being promoted by users in other industry sectors. One of the most important for the company is the use of its material as Flyleather by Nike. He says Nike is not only looking at the full life cycle but its supply chain as well. By putting some trainers on the stand at AIX, it not only promoted sustainability but drew in visitors. There were also some handbags, also to attract attention by showing the material being used in everyday objects.

 

As a result, he says airlines are now looking beyond seats to where it might be used, amenity kits being a good example. In some ways, this has already happened, as ELeather has been used in airline lounges to reinforce the branding. It has also been used by airports for general seating, as a lining for premium cabin seat shells and as cladding for monuments and partitions, although, he comments, the airlines tend not to talk about it.

 

The company also has a large presence in the rail and bus sectors, with hygiene and maintenance benefits being the main drivers. Now, as high speed trains and long distance buses try to compete with low cost carriers, operators have to introduce new features to make the longer journeys more attractive to passengers (lavatories, wifi, bars, for example). This is showing an increased demand ELeather for its lightness as these vehicles approach their maximum weight. This is because design is based on standard passenger weights and the population is getting heavier.


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