Interiors powerhouse JPA Design and Formula 1 motor racing team Williams’ Advanced Engineering business are combining forces in a new partnership bringing deep aircraft interiors design knowledge and advanced materials engineering together, with an initial seating project also featuring a top-tier airline, airframer and certification service provider.
“The joint offerings of the both companies are greater than the sum of the parts,” Stuart Olden, senior commercial manager at Williams Advanced Engineering, tells Runway Girl Network.
“JPA have got a great history, knowledge, understanding of the aircraft interiors market. But I think they recognize that having an engineering support element to their offering to the customer is hugely beneficial. Because you’ve then got that one stop shop that can come together to say, this is not only a product that will fit in your aircraft, but it’s based on this engineering knowledge and understanding and modern and up-to-date and innovative materials.”
Olden and Ben Orson, managing director of JPA Design London were quick to state that they do not intend to create a seatmaker from the partnership. Rather, they want to serve as a source of combined expertise to the interiors industry.
Part of that expertise is product management, with what Olden calls “agile, rapid speed to market aspects that both companies bring”. Orson, for his part, suggests that “we’re both kind of engineering design consultancies, effectively. There’s a bit of a difference in scale, but there’s a lot of commonalities.”
This kind of partnership consultancy work is something both JPA and Williams believe is needed within aviation. Early wins include the monocoque seat frame design that JPA created for Singapore Airlines, which unifies structural elements under a seat — the furniture, the kinematics, and the floor attachment — all into one structure. The benefits: reducing part count, mass and weight, and optimizing luggage storage space.
For its part, Williams is bringing two proprietary engineering processes to the table. The first, called 223, is a manufacturing techique that Olden calls “material agnostic… the ability to form 3D structures from a 2D pressing,” with the methodology of the folding the secret sauce that the company is hesitant to discuss in detail. The result is a reduction in non-recurring engineering costs and time to manufacture.
The second, Racetrak, “is the ability to form very strong structural components from a 100% composite process. So we’re using the technology in the automotive industry, in parts like suspension components, where you’ve got a fully homogenous, composite component. But again,” says Olden, the benefit is “rapid cure, high volume manufacturing with low cost tooling.”
But the reduction in part count and customization may not be to the liking of all airline customers. In the Passenger Experience Conference session where JPA and Williams announced their partnership today, two major airlines highlighted their concerns around over-commonality of seating components across differently sized widebodies. Essentially, said the airlines, if they have bought an expensive larger widebody, they want to make sure they maximize every square centimetre of the floorplan.
I think if you look at the bulk of the most successful standard seat products at the moment out there, they all to some extent, successfully or otherwise, will standardize across air frames. So, that’s part of the thinking we want to build into whatever we do. Because where that works right, it’s a big win.
“I don’t think initially we’re looking to occupy that space,” Orson was quick to respond. “What we’re looking for is something like the [Safran Seats, formerly Zodiac and Sicma] Cirruses of this world, that have proven themselves with many, many airlines, who are very satisfied customers.”
The key, Orson says, is modularity of components across airframes, suggesting that where parts can be common they should be. “We’re starting looking at every aircraft on day one. What we’re not doing is developing a particular customer on the 777, than having adapt to the A340, then having to go to an A320. It’s a great place to start.”
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