Protecting composite airplane seats

An airplane seat has to be fire-safe, lightweight and easy on the eye. How to fire protect composite airplane seats without adding too much weight or having to compromise on looks? We accepted the challenge and got down to work. The results blew our minds:

Faster, lighter and safer

Coated seat on the left, factory produced carbon fibre on the right
Coated seat on the left, factory produced carbon fibre on the right

Fire protecting a composite airplane seating is tricky. Up to now, the industry has had to balance between fire safety and features such as appearance. Standards have been previously met by coating the seats with a glass fiber veil. The extra layer delays the flame before it reaches the seat material, carbon fiber.

A global composite airplane seat manufacturer challenged us, and we were eager to deliver. There had to be a smarter solution waiting to be discovered. And there was. We succeeded in making a tough fire protection coating without losing the good properties of composite. This is how we did it.

What’s wrong with the existing airplane seat fire protection?

Plenty. Carbon fibre itself is an excellent airplane seat material, but not very elegant. It’s not preferred by airline companies, and the visual needs to match the brand identity of the plane. When any traditional paint is added, it feeds the flame so that it reaches the composite faster, we refer to this as “calory value” later on, which diminishes the good properties of the carbon fibre. That’s not right. The seat material is supposed to be fire retardant, not a fuel.

Glass veil is a traditional way to fire protect airplane seats. Despite its popularity, glass veil is not a wonder remedy. The application is difficult and time-consuming, and a high risk of manufacturing failure is always present. It is done manually, and if you have ever tried to wrap a birthday present, you know how difficult those corners are to get right. What’s more, glass veil adds weight to the seat, which is not appreciated in the aircraft industry

If a fire breaks out, how do we buy time?

Our first product was ready for the 5-minute flammability test. Would it feed the flame less than the glass veil coating? Nope, we failed. But failure led us to realize the answer was elsewhere. Instead of focusing and minimizing the coating’s “calory value” and among other things, trying to make the coat as thin as possible, we used our technology to protect the carbon fibre longer.

Compared to a glass veil application, we wanted to make the production process faster. The multiple steps of glass veil layup and its meticulous surface preparation takes hours. The glass veil is often pleated and folded in the corners. As much as 50% of the seats had to be redone. We wanted to reduce that number.

There was more. The seat was too heavy. We needed to make it lighter, but not at the expense of safety or appearance. While we were at it, we wanted to create more options for colours and textures. Last but not least, the product had to pass the flammability test. A walk in the park!

Faster, lighter and safer

Our perseverance was rewarded. With the improved product, the application time and weight were both dramatically reduced.

The original 4,2-hour application with the glass veil and surfacing time per product went down to 3,3 hours. This led to around 22% savings in the whole production!

The weight of the glass veil applied seat was 580 g/ m². Our first trial wasn’t light enough, so we changed the compound and managed to create a tailored product in less than a week. With only our coating applied to the seat, the weight dropped down to an impressive 470 g/ m²

The improved product passed the flammability test with flying colours. Set on fire, it formed a ceramic shield and delayed the flame a critical amount of time before it reached the seat material. Flying is a safe way to travel, and now we know how to make it even safer. Our R&D delivered the superior solution and required certificates in under 2 months.

Want to find out more about our high technology solution?

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