Under the Surface: Everyone sees the surface of a cabin, but what is it made of?
Excerpted from Aircraft Cabin Management Magazine October, 2014
David Scott, Global Creative at SEKISUI SPI (formerly KYDEX), says the company is constantly evolving new materials and concepts. It is aided in this process by its work across a range of markets, countries, global manufacturers and industries, including the aviation, medical, mass transportation, industrial and building sectors. This is useful for cabin interiors as designers often look outside aviation for their inspiration. He recalls that a few years ago a high shine was regarded as luxurious and expensive, but recently this view has changed in many areas where 'flatter and matter' is often perceived as being better – for example, in high-end cars.
In response to this, the company launched its new KYDEX 6513 FROST thermoplastic sheet material earlier this year. Scott says the inspiration came from observations of many high-end finishes: metals becoming 'flatter' and burnished; leathers often seen as soft and matte, as opposed to highly polished; and cosmetics that were moving away from iridescent. This idea was then developed internally using the company's designLab team collaborates, who also work closely with customers on customisation projects. The material incorporates special pigments that alter the basic colours as the light or the passenger's viewpoint changes. To describe it, Scott draws an analogy with grass on a very cold morning – the green of the grass is still visible, but it is muted by a matte layer of frost; however, there may be patches where the real colour also shows through. The same impression is achieved with FROST, especially under LED lighting.
The colour and degree of the effect can be customised by altering the blend of special effect pigments and through a specialised extrusion process. The quality of the finish makes it especially suitable for premium cabins, where, he notes, seats are increasing in bulk and size. With FROST used in seat shells, seat parts and armrests, this dominant effect can be diminished. He also points out that premium passengers expect to take over the space for the duration of the flight and need to feel at home if they are to enjoy their journey. This is one reason why designers are now adding a range of colours and textures within the seat, with FROST being ideal for large surface areas, which can appear less bulky and, in turn, enhance design details incorporated within a seat shell and the surrounding compartment.
Other applications include bulkhead laminates, window shades, life vest shrouds, moulding strips, PSUs, passenger service units and kick panels. As these components can be manufactured by pressure forming – an emerging technology in the industry – it is possible to design the tooling to achieve a customised texture on the surface of the part being formed. This opens up a number of interesting possibilities, for example airlines may have differences between first and business classes but they also sometimes want to keep common design strands running through the aircraft that link the ambience of the cabins. For the small number of first class seats, in an isolated cabin, it might be possible to use expensive materials that provide an appearance of quality and luxury. However, in the business cabin there is a higher level of wear and tear, especially when the access doors require that economy class passengers also pass through in order to reach their seats.
By using textured FROST, the appearance of the first class surfaces can be represented but the surface will be much more durable. It is important, he says, not to try to replicate the original material, citing the difficulty with wood finishes, but to develop colour, texture and feel that is unique in its own right while keeping the design strand. This is an automotive designer trick, where effects are created for a specific design experience, he adds.
Even more important to Scott is that the effects are achieved through a single integrated material. Layered materials can often be challenging in ongoing maintenance, especially when the surface is damaged revealing the substrate; this usually has a completely different appearance, therefore looking 'broken'. Furthermore, while layered components meet FST requirements in their own right, it is sometimes the case that the combination might have a lower value or even fail altogether.
He says the process of getting materials accepted for project specification is complex and dependent on many factors, including different levels of acceptance of change or desire to innovate. Most projects take up to three years from concept to production, while the interior components will be in service for many years once the aircraft enters service. Once a material is approved, it will usually continue to be chosen for years to come. Scott cites the example of KYDEX 6503, which was introduced in 2010 and is now regularly specified as a material of choice, including for projects yet to fly.
However, FROST has certainly caught the industry's attention and discussions are under way to replace the current material in a number of proposed cabins.