Formula1 lightweight materials is introduced into aircraft interior

Materials World magazine
13 May 2019

Formula One technology and its lightweight materials are to be introduced into aircraft interior, improving aviation manufacturers’ space and weight capabilities. Shardell Joseph reports.

Formula1 (F1) inspired lightweight composites will soon enter the aviation sector, due to a partnership between Williams Advanced Engineering and JPA Design. The collaboration combines each company’s respective specialist areas of engineering and design. They unveiled their F1-inspired aircraft designs in April 2019 at the Passenger Experience Conference in Hamburg, Germany.

The partnership has committed to bring greater passenger comfort, save fuel, and reduce carbon emissions by incorporating the lightweight composite materials into the aircraft.

‘We discovered that [Williams] were very much interested in commercial aviation, which is space we’ve been operating in for 25 years,’ JPA Design Managing Director, Ben Orson, told Materials World.

‘We saw the potential to bring their technology into our work to enable us to do similar things that we’ve been trying to do on aircraft, and they saw us as a great partner to enable them to get into aviation. That was the big idea behind the partnership.’

Since announcing their project at the start of 2019, the two companies have made clear their aims of wanting to create a UK capability with a worldwide application of the F1-derived technology and capitalise on the potential which will bring cross-party benefits. Not only will there be benefits for manufacturers such as decreasing weight and increasing space, consumers can also benefit from improved comfortability and, potentially, cheaper flights.

According to Williams, the lightweight products will enable airlines to use their cabin space more effectively and reconfigure it more easily and at reduced costs. ‘It will deliver financial savings for airlines and enhanced space and comfort for passengers,’ the company said.

‘The design has been envisaged with a holistic approach, creating wide-ranging benefits. It targets the primary structure, which is now 10-30% lighter in this solution with a likely overall seat saving of around 5%.’

The company explained how the design is aimed to ease product assembly, which is expected to reduce manufacturing time and labour. Including improved packaging of seat features and baggage storage, the collaborative design is set to apply the lightweight technology to all aspects of the interior.

‘Our company works on everything that you can see, touch, smell and feel within an aircraft – floors, wall ceilings, bins, the little light above the head that lets you read at night,’ said Orson.

‘What we are doing with Williams at the moment, a big area of activity of the joint project that will unfold over the next couple of years, is to develop some lightweight sitting products, and some space-saving products.’

The companies have already exhibited a concept seat using the lightweight materials at the Passenger Experience Conference, and
the product has been applied in aircraft interior for JPA client Singapore Airlines.

‘The composite based seat design that we’re working on now with Williams is already flying,’ Orson said. ‘The first generation of that was developed with Singapore Airlines, and that’s been flying on their A380 flagship aircraft for about a year.

‘What our work enabled them to do was increase the number of seats in the business class section of the aircraft by 10%. In terms of the revenue they get from those aircraft during their operational life, it’s a lot more significant a benefit than saving the weight that we have the potential to do as well.’

The companies are aiming for all their lightweight products to reach Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 7 – system prototype demonstration in operational environment – in 18 months, ready to put forward to the aviation market. According to Orson, there is growing interest in this area, with a growing demand for faster and long haul flights.

‘Increasingly with aircraft travel, now longer range and faster, lightweight is more and more of a critical item. We see our potential, as a real enabler for aircraft in the future, to go further and faster,’ Orson said.

‘A lot of the news recently has been about ultra long-range travels, flying from Australia to the UK, or Australia to New York. Putting in this aircraft design has really enabled that - the engines are becoming more capable, but also reduction of the weight of the on-board products. We’ve played a big part in that.’