Manufacturers are in the business of collaborating with like-minded customers and fellow manufacturers to invent new products. As a material supplier to the aircraft interior industry, Sekisui SPI (formerly KYDEX, LLC) chooses to imagine what is possible and what may be required years from now in material performance and aesthetics. At the same time, a solid footing in the past and present is important; the company needs to continuously build on what has been accomplished and established with science and technology while responding quickly to the needs and requests of customers.
In the ongoing sourcing and development of progressive materials for new finishes and effects, the challenge is to create new materials that are compliant with aviation regulations and anticipate increasingly stringent requirements. Great products must meet a complex mix of regulations and have a fine degree of finish and color, while retaining excellent mechanical properties. Whether a product is the next generation of an existing product or a brand-new technology, traversing the gap between final validation and entry to market requires access to special technologies and expansive R&D capabilities that are focused on a growing product portfolio for niche and boutique applications.
This might sound like a constant conflict, but in fact it is the nature of innovative product development, and the company embraces it. It is a recurring and welcome challenge to source the right mix of all components in specialty thermoplastic sheet, including polymers, additives, modifiers and colorants, to find the right balance between physical characteristics, performance, compliance and appearance.
DELIVERING MORE THAN YOU SEE
Admittedly people may take for granted the immense amount of work, time and diligence it takes to manufacture a product we use often, especially one we use every day. That is perfectly fine; arguably, it may be an indicator of good design.
There is a much bigger picture and story behind an aircraft seat or even something as ostensibly simple as a toothbrush. After all, often what you can't see in a product can make all the difference. Customarily, we have a tendency to think of design as what we can see or feel: characteristics like texture, decoration and pattern, color and finish.
Product developers usually see much broader and deeper than the visual. Their perspective is a window into all factors that influence product and development. Their outlook is rooted in formulations and research to enable a product's performance and ability to meet regulation requirements, while offering a continuously evolving suite of visual possibilities.
CONSTANT EVOLUTION INCLUDES RESPONSIBILITY
Raising safety standards for the industry is another responsibility of material suppliers that goes hand-in-hand with the constantly evolving process of product development. The aircraft industry is always striving to improve safety and is increasingly requiring suppliers to meet more demanding smoke, heat release and toxic gas requirements. Fortunately all indicators show that safety standards will continue to be elevated in the industry, which benefits the most important clients – the passengers and crews.
One example of a new product that meets these higher safety standards is Kydex FST2, an advanced polymer, PVC-free material with a formulation that was in development for more than two years by the Sekisui SPI designLab. It is a fully compliant aviation interiors material that meets a complex mix of regulations including FAR 25.853 paragraphs (a) vertical burn and (d) smoke development and heat release, in addition to toxicity requirements outlined by Boeing and Airbus (BSS7239 and ABD0031, respectively). Applications include passenger-facing seat components, bulkhead laminates, galleys and other cabin interior parts.
Lydia Swan, vice president of sales and marketing at Sekisui SPI, explains how this product brings the industry benefits above and beyond regulatory and safety compliance. "With Kydex FST2, our aviation customers have a fully compliant material for their thermoformed applications that also performs well in fabrication and has a sophisticated finish. Traditionally products that meet this mix of regulations have a gloss level that is quite high. This product features a beautiful flat, matte finish and its gloss level can be increased as desired. Furthermore the complete Kydex thermoplastics product line provides a one-stop shop for designers and project teams.
Having one source eliminates the worry of inconsistent color, texture and gloss that frequently result when parts are supplied from different sources. Designers can layer their designs with low minimums and custom color using the whole line." Kydex FST2 is exclusive to Sekisui SPI, keeping it independent of existing resin supplier technology.
LESS CAN BE MORE
Lightweight requirements and materials are also a focus as airlines continue to reduce fuel costs. The second next-generation product released by the Sekisui SPI designLab is Kydex T-LW. Although the product looks and maintains flammability compliance like the first generation Kydex T, it is 10% lighter – a major saving considering all the parts in which it can be used, including tray tables, trim, armrests and accent pieces.
The weight reduction in Kydex T-LW comes from using a proprietary additive, Advancell Em, a Sekisui Chemical Company technology used in multiple industries and applications. While many weight-reducing additives can be negatively affected during production by atmospheric conditions and altitude, Advancell Em uses chemistry that is climate independent, which keeps the product performance consistent between production runs, providing security and consistency of material performance in a finished component.
ADVANCES FOR PRODUCT AND COMPANY
What we can't see can make all the difference in products and the companies that make them. Kydex LLC had always been owned and backed by Sekisui Chemical Company. This September, Kydex changed its name to Sekisui SPI. With the formation of Sekisui SPI, which includes Sekisui Allen in Holland, Michigan, the company's legacy of collaborative innovation is even stronger than ever.
Ronn Cort, CEO and president of Sekisui SPI, explains, "By bringing Sekisui Kydex and Sekisui Allen together, we are setting a new standard of excellence for the plastics industry to think, design and create. The combined research and development capabilities and products of the many Sekisui companies will continue to result in better solutions for our customers."
Fittingly, the release of Kydex T-LW coincides with the formation of the new company. A large part of the development of the product was possible because of collaboration with the research and development center at Sekisui Chemical in Kyoto, Japan, the team responsible for creating Advancell Em.
As Aircraft Interiors International wrote in its Showcase 2014 issue, air travel is becoming increasingly popular as more of the world's population moves into the middle class. Indeed, air travel is projected to grow by 4.7% for the next 20 years. This increase in passenger numbers will continue to elevate safety regulations and increase demand more for higher aesthetic standards. Most certainly, what we can't see will continue to make all the difference.