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Airbus, BA, Williams, JPA Design and SWS Join Forces

  • Monday, 23rd September 2019
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  • Reading time: about 7 minutes

Williams Advanced Engineering, JPA Design, British Airways and SWS Certification have formed a consortium, supported by Airbus and funding from the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), to develop new lightweight aircraft seat structure capabilities in the UK, aiming to enhance the passenger experience and reduce the weight of aircraft, leading to airlines saving fuel and cutting carbon emissions.

The number of commercial aircraft is predicted to double in the next 20 years, with an equivalent rise in demand in the market for seats. Replacing existing technology with lighter products will prevent significant amounts of carbon emissions and save airlines millions of dollars annually. For example, replacing all business class seats with a lighter product on just 12 long-haul planes such as the Airbus A350 translates to saving 942,000kg of CO2 and $195,600 in fuel per year, based on a 4kg weight saving per seat.

“Lightweight and safe components are crucial for success in motorsport and our team is excited to have the opportunity to translate these capabilities into saving airlines carbon emissions and costs,” said Craig Wilson, Managing Director of Williams Advanced Engineering. “Working with industry leaders as well as the ATI in this consortium offers significant benefits to aviation and the UK economy.”

The consortium aims to design and develop new lightweight aircraft seat structures for manufacture using innovative, rapid processes, incorporating background intellectual property (IP) from the consortium companies. The 18-month project will progress the seat design to programme entry level maturity and will seek engagement from existing aircraft interior manufacturers to enter production. For example; IP from Williams includes ‘RACETRAK’ (a method of integrating unidirectional fibres) and ‘223’, (a method for creating 3D structures from a 2D composite preform) plus a patented modular monocoque design and patented cabin layouts from JPA Design with an adaptable ‘tub’ for aircraft seating that maximises occupant and luggage space. The combination of manufacturing process, design approach and IP will reduce the bill of material (BOM) count, delivering lower cost, lightweight, reconfigurable seating structures for aircraft, incorporating recycled materials and using rapid Formula One-inspired product development that can lead to new UK manufacturing business growth in seat structures for supply to a range of global aircraft seat manufacturers and airframers.

“The UK has a strong existing industrial base for aircraft seat manufacture and an industrial strategy that highlights composites capability as a key area for development,” said James Park, Founder and Principal of JPA Design. “This aligns to the ATI’s strategic outlook, creating products ready for the next-generation of aircraft. Our market-leading design and products such as the lightweight monocoque seating system, which allows for fewer parts, lower cost of manufacture, faster production time, lower maintenance and lower cost of ownership, as well as increased passenger space and comfort, will benefit significantly from the work of this consortium in turn providing enhanced opportunities for our airline customers.”

The ATI project is led by Williams Advanced Engineering who, together with core partner JPA Design, bring together an experienced consortium of specialist partners. British Airways and Airbus are involved to help pull the technology to market, specialist aircraft seat designers JPA Design will provide concept designs and an already proven monocoque design, currently flying with Singapore Airlines, while certification expert SWS Certification will guide towards regulatory approvals and finally Williams Advanced Engineering will help build the UK supply chain for composite structures. The project creates new UK technology and skilled UK jobs, benefitting organisations along the value chain including the UK’s aircraft seat industry.

This project fits with the ATI’s strategy for developing new lightweight architectures and new joining methods, maintaining existing jobs and creating commercial opportunities for the UK over the next decade as the aerospace sector grows. Beyond 2030, new aircraft will be expected to deliver substantial improvements in fuel efficiency at a viable cost to support continued growth and meet environmental targets and therefore the value of lightweight structures will only increase over time.

“Combining Formula One technology, world class design and a laser-like focus on safety across this consortium will deliver significant enhancements for airlines, passengers and the environment,” said Nigel Smith, Managing Director of SWS Certification. “We look forward to playing a crucial role in delivering these innovative, safe new products that seek to revolutionise aircraft interiors for global benefit.”

Aircraft manufacturers and airlines value lighter weight interiors delivering improved fuel economy saving operators money, increasing route range, or enabling them to pass on weight capacity as a customer offer, such as increased baggage allowance. Airlines are keen to adopt novel seating configurations to increase passenger density and passenger experience. An opportunity exists for this project consortium to create a new UK seat structures manufacturing business delivering significant jobs and revenues by combining technologies and the latest manufacturing processes, using experience of designing lightweight structures in the performance automotive sector.

The most performance critical elements of aircraft seats are typically made from machined or cast aluminium with seat manufacturers lacking experience of composites, resin systems and processes as applied to these key components. This gap means a limited uptake of composite primary structures in aircraft seating. Due to advanced tooling and manufacturing methods the consortium expects their products to be cost neutral compared to the competition.

Other customer needs include design for low cost and fast maintenance, scuff damage protection, ease of refurbishment and refresh, personalisation for different airline brands, and protection from handheld battery powered devices being jammed in mechanisms creating a fire risk. British Airways and Airbus both see benefits in these areas from the project.

According to ADS (Global Aerospace Outlook 2018); commercial aircraft are set to double over next 20yrs. The interiors market is valued at $14.6bn for new-build aircraft and retrofit, with retrofit valued at $3bn in 2016 growing to $5.2bn in 2026. The target aircraft platforms used by the main carriers for the next 15 years include wide bodies such as the Airbus A330 and A350 while for narrow bodies, the Airbus A320. Business class seats attract most innovation investment and will be where this project focuses initially. Business class seat structures from the consortium will be 4kg lighter on average with a version for premium economy offering 2kg weight and space saving solution.

Typically for a wide-bodied aircraft there are 40 business class and 34 premium economy seats. With 450 wide bodied planes being manufactured each year, the total addressable market is in the order of 18,000 business class and 15,000 premium economy seats. Approximately the same market again exists for retrofit as airlines refresh their cabins.

In terms of the overall business and premium economy seat market, British Airways has 4% of the market, so the global market for business and premium economy seat structures is £325m.

Our design approach for new seat structures is to develop a product which can fit across multiple platforms, for example Airbus A320, A330 and A350.. Airbus manufactures approximately 800 aircraft per year and the short haul A320 family forms the vast majority of its output, their market for lie flat line fit business class seats are in the order of 1,000 seats per year.

In terms of spill over benefits, the composites manufacturing processes and IP developed for the manufacture of lightweight parts have applications across aircraft interiors, with Williams Advanced Engineering also having project working relationships with BAE Systems, Airbus and the National Composites Centre (NCC), who together have customers across the automotive, defence and energy sectors seeking new lightweight structures solutions in order to enhance performance and drive lower emissions.


Image provided by Williams Advanced engineering


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