If you thought aircraft interiors have to be boring and beige, take another look the next time you fly. KYDEX LLC, a Sekisui Chemical Group company, announced the launch of the aviation industry’s first fully compliant, colored translucent thermoformable sheet at the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo Americas, in Seattle, WA.
The KYDEX FST CTL Colored Translucent Sheet is the first colored thermoplastics translucent sheet that meets the compliance mandates of the aviation industry for toxicity, flammability and low smoke. KYDEX FST CTL was specifically formulated to meet all Boeing and Airbus toxicity requirements for aircraft interior components.
The new KYDEX FST CTL comes from the KYDEX designLab, which is the company’s vision of leading the way in new materials, colors and innovative solutions for customers. That marks a new paradigm for KYDEX , according to the company’s new President, Ronn Cort, who took the helm this past July following a long career at the company, most recently as international business manager for sales outside North America.
“We typically sold to thermoformers that are aircraft interiors suppliers, and built a reputation as a company that supports customers with small runs of custom colors for airline branding,” Cort explained to PlasticsToday. “That was our brand and that goes back to 1987.”
As is often the case however, KYDEX reached a ceiling and flattened out for a few years. “About 2005 we started taking a look at our future,” he said. “We understood our market and our place in it, but we didn’t want to battle over market share with the competition.”
To achieve that vision, Cort led the company further downstream to the Tier 1 aircraft seating suppliers and built relationships with engineering and design departments in order to capture new opportunities.
“We wanted to learn the challenges that existed in the seating industry, and what we found was they didn’t want to share their concepts with the supply base,” Cort said. “The aircraft industry didn’t have an understanding of the thermoforming technology and how far it’s come over the past decade. They built according to their capability. We brought our key thermoforming customers, with which we had long-term relationships, in to the aircraft seating companies. These thermoformers were very helpful in developing our vision of leading innovation in the industry. One aircraft seating company did no outsourcing but now they’re outsourcing about 50% of their requirements. We’ve helped the thermoformers grow their business as well.”
Being at the front end of seating development meant that KYDEX was introduced to a lot of new opportunities. “Business class and first class seating has changed the most,” Cort said. “Traditionally those seats were large composite structures made of honeycomb panels. We set out to educate the aircraft industry and show them places where composite panels are perfect, but also places where thermoplastics offered superior durability and weight reduction.”
That was important because, as Cort stated, “Weight reduction is always the name of the game. When we reduce the weight of a premium seat it allows for greater density of passengers and cargo. We’re talking a savings of 3-4 lb off of each seat and that has a big impact on the airline’s profitability. Weight savings is the real value proposition.”
Weight savings in the seat structure also allows the airlines to add more features that matter to the customers. “As more features are added in the seat, like screens, airlines are adding weight for things that matter to the customer. But, we need to make that up somewhere and we had viable options. We can literally shave away pounds from the seat,” Cort explained.
The pleasant surprise over this journey, Cort noted, was that not only did seating companies embrace this idea, they took it beyond what was anticipated and developed full back-shells and center consoles for the lie-flat seats, and made the seats larger.
The real breakthrough in KYDEX’s designLab was that thermoformable sheet allows for organic shapes. “The composite seat was limited in what you could get in terms of radius and compound curves,” Cort added. “Seating companies knew this and began playing with thermoplastics on a large scale, which helps us and the entire thermoplastics industry.”
As KYDEX worked more deeply with the aircraft seating companies, the company was pulled into the airlines themselves. “The spark for the designLab was ignited as we began working with the designers that work with and for the airlines to select colors,” explained Cort. “It’s the designers that tell the seating companies to produce the color palette that each airline chooses specific to its own brand. As we built that relationship with designers and airlines themselves, we found they were looking for resources to develop colors. Often they would say to us, ‘We have an idea of what color we want but here’s our carpet and our side panels, can you help us develop unique color schemes?’ That was the birth of the KYDEX designLab.”
KYDEX’s designLab has a design and color expert who works collaboratively with the client to develop unique and innovative colors. “Now rather than just producing the color, we offer our services to help our clients in the aviation industry come up with special effects for panels on the aircraft seat which might sit below and LED light that would change colors as the lighting changes to create interesting hues during the flight,” Cort said.
As a materials supplier, KYDEX recognizes the technical aspects of materials, but Cort also knew that thriving in a competitive global marketplace like the aviation industry required much more. “How do you provide the best materials and also inspire people toward new applications? FST CTL is a material that people have dreamed about, but no one has said ‘here’s an application, can you make this?’ That’s the question we answered and decided to take the risk—and there is a big risk involved in developing materials for which there’s no immediate application,” commented Cort. “However, we’re owned by a large chemical company, and they love the fact that we want to create something that hasn’t been done before. Sometimes innovation for the sake of innovation can take you on a journey that you never thought of.”
Cort believes that KYDEX is just scratching the surface and that the aviation industry has a whole second bell curve that the company will drive. “Many designers have told us they’re tired of material suppliers who say ‘tell me how much business there will be and I’ll tell you if we can make it.’ Innovation is not waiting for the customer to tell you what they need,” concluded Cort. “It’s about creating something that your customer then tells you they want to use. For that reason, KYDEX FST CTL is a success."