Zodiac examines prepreg production options after factory blast

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Zodiac Aerospace is continuing to determine how it will maintain production levels for aircraft interiors components following the explosion at the company’s Advanced Composite and Engineered Materials manufacturing centre late Tuesday in Newport, Washington, north-northeast of Spokane on the Idaho border.

In a statement issued on Friday, Zodiac said: “The first assessment of the facility shows that only the prepreg production line has been damaged. The teams are assessing the options to restart the production inside the preserved parts of the plant or in another location. We study alternative solutions for the productions: others plants of the Group or external suppliers. In the short-term, current stocks should allow to supply the plants of the Group which are being supplied by the Newport facility. The analysis of the consequences of this explosion on our operations is going on. The facility has suffered from important damages. Experts cleared part of the building for inspection.”

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“There are ongoing investigations to determine the causes of the explosion. Zodiac Aerospace has set up an internal enquiry as well as is fully cooperating with local and federal authorities,” Zodiac continued, adding that “it is established that the explosion occurred around 9pm (Pacific Standard Time) in the workshop of prepreg fabrics, used to make composite panels for cabin interiors.”

The company lists its Zodiac Aerospace OEM Cabin Interiors division at the 501 North Newport Avenue address, and given the Washington State location plus its proximity to railway transportation links that Boeing regularly uses for component delivery, it would seem more likely than not that the majority of OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) work in this case is for Boeing.

Speaking with an industry insider, Runway Girl Network understands that the prepreg work is, in lay terms, taking a fabric matrix (like a carbon-fibre weave), impregnating it with a resinous material, then forming it in a vacuum with heat and pressure. The resulting components are likely to add structural stability to larger parts of the cabin interior, particularly monuments like entrance doors, interior walls, bulkheads and larger seat shell parts.

Fortunately from an industry big picture perspective, there are many players operating worldwide that might be able to take up some of the production slack.

However, RGN understands that much of the process carried out by each company includes a proprietary mix of materials, chemicals and processes. Clearly Zodiac will have the corporate knowledge of all those elements, and should at least theoretically be able to arrange for delivery of any unusual materials or chemicals.

It’s unclear at this stage, though, the extent to which other companies might be able to replicate or replace Zodiac in this work. While prepreg work is common throughout aviation and similar industries (impact, flammability, lethality and other requirements in rail are similar in many ways to aviation, for example) it’s not clear whether Boeing or other OEMs can simply pick up the phone to another supplier to increase demand.

Thankfully, just 20 workers out of 104 were in the factory at the time of the explosion, Zodiac noted in its statement. Of the five injured staff members, the three with less serious injuries were treated and released the same day, while one of the two more seriously injured workers was discharged from hospital on Thursday.

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