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Walk on parts

But they still play an important role in the overall cabin appearance. Ian Harbison talks to David Sandiford from Mohawk Group

David Sandiford, Manager, Transportation Sales at Mohawk Group, says his company is one of the largest manufacturers of floor coverings in the world, and a pioneer of nylon carpets for the airline industry. Unfortunately, being a pioneer means that the competition also see the advantages of a new technology and join in. Carpeting is much more commoditised these days, he adds.

It was the US airline industry that first saw the advantages of nylon, these primarily being reduced weight and better wear resistance, while the rest of the world stuck with wool or a wool/nylon blend. The larger US carriers also had the financial muscle to persuade the aircraft OEMs that this was their preferred BFE option. The situation is now completely different, with wool now being used mainly in VIP aircraft, where the tread levels are much lower.

Wear resistance can be measured by applying a piece of  Velcro with hooks to the carpet. In the case of wool, fibres will be attached and it will have a tufted appearance. He points out that loose fibres will float, be drawn into the environmental control system, and disappear somewhere inside the aircraft, with unknown possible effects. Nylon will remain unchanged. Other testing techniques include a hexapod shape in a revolving drum to simulate footfall and a weighted castor to simulate catering trolleys. Of course, the material has to meet both the fire/smoke/heat release requirements of the regulatory authorities and the fire/smoke/toxicity requirements of the airframers.

The singular advantage of nylon is that a single fibre can run through the length of the carpet, providing strength and stability. A wool/nylon mix uses wool wrapped around nylon but is woven using very short lengths. Such is the durability of nylon that, says Sandiford, “it doesn't wear out, it 'uglies' out.”

Another crossover area has been the use of the same carpet pattern in the aircraft cabin and in jetways and gate areas, reinforcing the airline's branding. This has been adopted in the US. Of course, he explains, the carpet in each application has the wear characteristics best suited to the treatment it will receive.

There has been some use of carpet tiles in aircraft, but Sandiford is not convinced. The time advantage claimed for maintenance by replacing a single tile is offset by the extra time required for installation. In addition, a new tile, even if it is from the same production batch as the existing tiles on the aircraft, will always show up as it has not been exposed to the same wear and tear as the rest of the floor. That said, Mohawk is carrying out some preliminary research in this area.

Surprisingly, the supply chain end of the carpet business is very simple. Mohawk produces carpet to the customer's required pattern in 144in wide strips (a standard measurement), although this can be cut in various proportions, such as 50in/50in/40in. Length of the roll is also decided by the customer. In many cases, an airline will order the material but have it delivered to a specialist cutting shop to have it made into the specific piece parts to fit a particular aircraft type. Computer programs will determine the maximum number of pieces that can be obtained from a particular size of carpet to minimise waste.

As a result of that commoditisation, there is a need for innovation. For Mohawk, this comes in a few ways. First is design. As the company's products cover a wide range of applications, from domestic to commercial buildings, in-house designers are open to a wide variety of trends, which can be picked up on and applied in new areas. An obvious example would be boutique hotel styling being transferred to a premium cabin. In addition, the company is in regular contact in an advisory role with major design agencies such as Teague and PriestmanGoode on new airline designs. This is usually concerned with subtleties of appearance; a solid colour will show specks of debris, so a pattern can provide a degree of camouflage, while light colours are generally not a good idea. At a more practical level, an improved moisture barrier will be introduced in 2019, and research is well under way to replace the somewhat clumsy double-sided tape used for installing carpet in aircraft.

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