The Engineering & Modelling of Airline Seats for the Business Traveller

Establishing a Track Record.

We first cut our teeth in the world of design and development for the airline industry back in 2005 when we embarked on the second generation sky bed for British Airways. Working with London based design consultants Tangerine, between 2005 and 2007 we built no less than 8 reference stages of development. I remember the first was a babtism of fire. With only 6 weeks to turn around a center double configuration and two window seats. Showing full CMF, they also had to demonstrate a level of user funcionality. At this stage we were working with basic 3D cad and a lot of sketches ‘alluding’ to engineering solutions.  It was left to us as model makers to design and implement these engineering elements. Basic levels of Design engineering have been accepted as part of the model makers skill set since well before I started back in the early 1980’s.

Centre Quad's with single aisle & window configurations, almost completed in the workshop.
Second Generation BA Club World models nearing completion in the workshop.

 

Completed and installed in the BA Cabin Development Centre.
Completed and installed in the BA Cabin Development Centre.

Engineering

Back then, the engineering requirements for these models were fundamental. Moving forward a few years, events such as the Hamburg Aircraft Interiors Expo demand far greater levels of functionality and robustness. These showcase events rely on hard hitting concepts to generate real sales and interest in future developments.

CNC Machined and Laser cut engineering components ready for assembly.
CNC Machined and Laser cut engineering components ready for assembly.
More Components
More machined and fabricated Components

The Complete Model Maker.

Engineering solutions that more closely reflect production values, places demands on the model maker. Emerging technologies certainly serve to narrowly focus the skill set of newly trained model makers where the pressure is to use these technologies as the solution to everything. Traditional model makers of more than 10 years experience, tend to draw on  a more compelling pallet of skills. A good understanding of materials and their appropriate use is a fundamental starting point. The most appropriate process to deploy for each element of the build is the logical next step. The ability to technically execute is a must and a clear plan of approach, essential.

GRP Body structure is dry fitted to and engineered pallet.
GRP Body structure is dry fitted to an engineered pallet.

Thinking Ahead: Good Planning

In my view, the single most important element of good model making , happens to be a fundamental element of good project management. Planning a build may seem like an obvious requirement but the ability to think 20,30,50 steps ahead, then work back from your endgame is one of the most difficult skills to master, many don’t quite manage it leading to stressfull late nights and “all nighters”. Since I started out in this industry back in 1985, the principle of the “PD” or Pseudo Deadline has driven every project I have undertaken as both employee and employer. First introduced to me by my boss Dick Grant during my 3 years at IDM(Now IDEO), I discovered it worked.

The Pseudo Deadline & why it works.

Business Class Airline Seat Prototyopes are complex projects and tend to range from 6-12 weeks. Whatever the case, the team work to a date one week before the true deadline. Set in stone, we stick to it and achieve four main goals.

(1) The project starts at a pace and most energy is deployed at the start rather than panic at the end!

(2) We create a time contingency for unforseen events (These nearly always occur).

(3) The client has some time to change details.

(4) Mid stage client viewings always kill workflow and at least a day of build time.

Dry Build at Primer Stage.

This is fundamental. Allowing tolerances for paint, laminates, coatings and fabrics, Oh… and the function of moving components makes sense right? On my countless tours of the halls in Hamburg I never cease to be amazed at the number of poorly constructed prototypes that overlook all of these factors. ‘Attention to Detail’, is often used as a strap line but is far more than a strap line. Unless the user experience of a potential customer is flaweless, it is very difficult to recover!

A Dry Build at primer stage is essential.
A Dry Build at primer stage is essential.

Checking Function

Checking Function
Checking Function

Fit

 

Applying finishes
Applying finishes and checkint Fit.

Detail & Electrical

Detail
Detail
Testing the function of ambient and directed lighting.
Testing the function of ambient and directed lighting.Electrical

Completion and Installation

Completed and Installed into the booth in Hamburg.
Completed and Installed into the booth in Hamburg.
Ready To Go
Ready To Go

State of the art Prototyping.

It is extremely difficult to explain to people how the function of traditional master model makers not only requires them to  seamlessly cross and deploy the skills of several professions, but the necessity to master them all.

Cabinet Maker, Engineer, Machinist, Coach Trimmer, Additive Technician, Finisher and Designer? So many requirements from highly skilled, single individuals. Often undertaken under the pressure of a significantly compressed time scale and at the end of a long process.  By this time, there is nowhere to run.