LAS VEGAS: After All Nippon Airways introduced the Boeing 787 Dreamliner into longhaul revenue service in 2012, the new-design twinjet’s dimmable windows quickly came under scrutiny. As Reuters reported at the time, ANA management complained that the windows were not dark enough to ensure passengers could get a good night’s sleep, and requested that the airframer implement a fix. A darker, second generation product is now being shipped to 787 customers, confirms Gentex Corporation, which provides the electrochromic technology used in PPG Aerospace’s interactive window systems on the 787, and an even darker version is under development at Gentex.
Speaking to Runway Girl Network at International CES in Las Vegas, Gentex senior VP and CFO Steve Downing said the firm made an improvement to the first generation product “about a year ago” and that it is “about ten times darker than Gen 1”. The Gen 3 technology under development “is about ten times darker than Gen 2. And we think this will probably be ready for market in the next two years.”
So how is Gentex accomplishing this evolution? “It’s all chemistry change. So literally what you have in our product is two pieces of glass with basically an ITO coating on each side of the piece of glass that contact each other and a proprietary electrochromic fluid that we developed and [with] each of these products you can see A. the speed and B) the overall darkness that this product starts to change to. What happens is we actually reformulated the entire chemistry for this product, for Gen 2. And we’re doing about three different redevelopments of that product to get to the Gen 3 chemistry that works.”
Though Gentex and PPG have collaborated on the 787 product since 2006, and PPG has been the exclusive provider of the technology for the aircraft type, Gentex is “starting to work a little bit on our own in terms of marketing that product,” says Downing, which is among the reasons why the firm is showcasing the technology at CES.
“We still work with PPG on applications and introduction to the market; we don’t do sidewalls for instance and some of the other things that are in aerospace. So if an OEM wants to work with someone to produce that whole package we’ll partner with guys like PPG to make sure that we can bring the right product to market for them,” explains Downing.
Should we expect to see some aircraft retrofit announcements in the near-term from Gentex? The company is primarily focused on the OEMs right now, “but we are not opposed to the concepts of retrofits at all. It’s more about that we find that right business case and that right development partner,” he says.