Next Generation Passenger aircraft seating
Foek Le, Oscar Ruiz
Catia V5 GSD2 surf | 3ds Max | Vray | Photoshop
The Skylight seat was designed as part of a company wide effort to develop the next generation of economy class seating for Zodiac Seats division of Zodiac Aerospace. The seat had extremely ambitious goals: reduce overall weight per Pax (passenger seat place) from ~18 kg down to 11 kg, while maintaining all the features offered by its predecessor, the 5751 seat model, which was an extremely popular and successful seat platform wchich had undergone years of incremental improvements.
The seat design included an entire overhaul of the seat frame, incorporating new metal alloy technologies, composites, unique plastics, and brand new manufacturing methods, all intended to achieve the ultimate goal: have the best in class, most lightweight seat platform in the market.
The project began in early 2015 within the R&D New Product Development team and the projected timeline was a mid-2017 delivery, to be installed into long range aircraft for major airlines.
As an Industrial designer withing the R&D group, I was in tasked with jump-starting the project with conceptual work and innovation proposals that could help the company reach their targets. I worked alongside a team of engineers & designers to produce functional prototypes to be tested through the rigorous aerospace standards, as well as full size visual mock-ups that were meant to be shown to the customer in order to show our progress, and give them an opportunity to customize their seat options.
As the project progressed I was tasked with leading the effort and overseeing design decisions while keeping the design intent true to the customer needs & wants, also ensuring that all the functional pieces that were designed by the engineering team matched the current design direction.
When the project advanced into the prototyping and testing phase, I was in charge of developing all of the Class A surfacing models (Catia V5 GSD2 module) which were used through SmarTeam to develop parts ready for manufacture, testing or prototyping.
I was also in charge of producing all the visualization and renderings throughout the project needed for customer and management approval, as well as prototype control.
Outcomes | Takeaways
These are a handful of relevant personal outcomes form the project :
- Full understanding and dominion of production level 3D modelling with full revision control & aesthetic part control.
- Concept validation through testing and iterative design.
- Innovative design concepts that made it through to production.
- Created concept for a unique front row seat module design that led to a patent, increasing pax per aircraft and decreasing total ship-set weight significantly, as well as providing Zodiac with a unique business advantage over competitors.
-Interdisciplinary team work among several strategic teams (marketing, sales, manufacturing, engineering), especially with R&D engineers and manufacturing engineers.
-Prototype design and display product creation.
Airlines are putting more & more passengers into the cabin to maximize revenue.
It is up to us to make it seem like that's not the case.
Tougher markets + impossible operating costs.
Steep increase in airline competition and higher and higher operating costs for airlines have pushed many to try and maximize the amount of revenue that can be generated per flight, as well as cutting costs anywhere in their value stream.
A big factor for cost mitigation is the aircraft weight, with every kilogram costing the airline thousands of dollars per year and this only gets amplified in long-haul flights.
These 2 factors, increased market competition and increased operating costs have pushed aircraft manufacturers and suppliers like Zodiac Aerospace to reevaluate how passenger aircraft seating is done in order to maintain competitive advantage and provide airlines better operating margins.
Lighter & Slimmer: no trade-offs.
Many airlines, in an effort to make flights more efficient, have reevaluated their cabin configurations and searched for more efficient seat layouts, including revamping their entire fleet to retrofit more space efficient and lighters seats.
Airlines have added new seat classes, such as premium economy, to address expanding consumer needs as well as accommodate lower price offerings. This has created the need for slimmer seats that can effectively reduce the seat pitch without sacrificing the passenger's comfort or features.
In an effort to adapt to these market demands and capture a larger share of the market, Zodiac launched the Skylight project.
The overarching goal through the concept development of the project was to focus on minimizing material usage, creating multi-functional pieces and maximizing passenger living space.
This is the concept that was built after several design iterations and client request changes.
Understated design and uncomplicated solutions are meant to provide the best passenger experience at a reduced cost and with minimal weight in the Skylight seat platform. Clever designs and solutions hide underneath the unassuming shell design, with uncompromising comfort and ergonomics, provide a better seating experience than ever before in this economy class seat.
New seat profile curvature
with pressure mapped bolster contours
Vacuum formed bumper
form fitted super lightweight bumper assembly.
comfort tested for proven pressure relief, maximized comfort w/ min. thickness.
Largest IFE monitor in market
12" seatback monitor w/ pre-tilt
Better positioned AC oulet
improved visibility and usability
Improved latch mechanism
Better ergonomics, lighter design & more reliable mechanism.
A lot of innovative fabrication methods and materials went into rethinking how the components throughout the entire seat were manufactured and designed. The new seat platform designed began from the inside out, focusing primarily on the core structure first and incrementally tackling features and other elements, trimming down about 35% of the total weight of the seats, while ensuring improved component integration and reliability.
New aluminum alloys like Al-Lithium were used in the seat frame structure to improve strength with a slimmer structure profile, this was intended to decrease weight, increase living space for the passengers and improve energy absorption throughout a 16G event.
New composite carbon materials & seat back geometry was implemented to create a stiffer seat back that would be more predictable in a 16G event utilizing new composite layout techniques. Improved curvature backrest ergonomics tailored to provide more support around the lumbar area and provide the impression of a more reclined 'default' position for a wider range of occupants. The seat back profile was designed in conjunction with the backrest cushion in order to reduce the amount of foam padding required to maintain great passenger comfort.
The design of the armrest was intended to be as simple and streamlined as possible, in order to reduce the amount of plastic utilized to wrap the structural bone-like internal structure. This new design approach was able to reduce the armrest weight considerably while improving structural reliability.
Bumper & monitor shroud
Optimized external shape, reduced surface area on bumper, and embedded emergency lights module, in combination with a new foam shell design allowed to replace conventional injection molded bumpers that were heavier, much more expensive and more fragile.
Nuances in the design help the seat stand out from the rest.
The seat cushion features a strategically designed bolster that helps cradle the thighs and buttocks into the seat for better pressure distribution and increased comfort perception. (top)
Extra padding along the center spine of the backrest provides a softer cushion to support the spine better, with firmer foam along the sides to provide lateral support. (top left)
The headrest features a slight cut-away to provide more shoulder space for taller passengers and still provide adequate head support. (left)
This was the first design proposal with all the seat features. These particular renderings were done for Emirates, notice their signature upholstery pattern.
The initial concept included a larger array of features meant to portray all the possible configurations and possible trim & finish areas for customization.
The front row module featured a two part assembly to reduce the visual heaviness of the module and to simplify tooling and part count for the unit. (top)
The armrest had an integrated custom made recline button that allowed the armrest to be thinner than any previous model, saving plastic and making the armrest lighter. (left)
The rear monitor shroud had also an option for a bi-fold tray table with an amenities pocket on top, to hold handheld devices, glasses or any other smaller items. (bottom left).
From sketch to showseat
The development and construction of Skylight was a team effort that took several months, many prototypes, and the collaboration of multiple departments. These are just some snapshots along the development and construction process of one of the showseats.
Full aesthetic mock-up was developed with multiple design iterations along the way. The design process began by selecting an appropriate head that served as an ergonomically accurate starting point. Then rudimentary mock-ups were built to test the feel and fit of the design concept.
After the design concept was validated, aesthetic exploration began through sketching and clay exploration in order to truly understand space restrictions and volumetric sizing.
After a few variations were identified, the selections were then 3D modeled in order to find a more refined surface resolution and true sizing validation (to evaluate internal components and ensure a proper fit).
Several shape prototypes were printed based on 3D model iterations using a starch printer in order to identify the best shape distribution and shell design. A prototype was also printed in carbon reinforced nylon polymer to test out the actual fit and flexibility of the concept.
After much review of the different design criteria a final concept was selected and then brought up to finished product quality, ready for display.
Front row seat module prototype
Through the development of the skylight seat I was also tasked to come up with concepts for a front row seat module, which is in charge of housing the tray table and the IFE screen for the seats at the front of each section. Usually these seats are the heaviest, having to house electronics and amenities for both themselves and the seats behind them.
This innovation allowed to house the monitor and the tray table side by side above the seat frame tubes, something never done before. This allowed to eliminate an entire assembly that usually seats under the frame tubes (to house the monitor), saving weight, reducing parts & eliminating the cost of tooling for around large 10 parts.
This innovation was quickly acknowledged as something quite valuable and was filed for patent, ensuring Zodiac Seats a competitive advantage over other commercial seat manufacturers.
This front row prototype was built by an engineering team at Greenpoint Aerospace, a subsidiary of Zodiac aerospace. We worked together to figure out the basics of the mechanics, while they were in charge of resolving some wiring, actuation mechanisms and internal parts to test the functionality of the module.
Front row module
Described is a stowable display apparatus (200) suitable for stowing a display, such as an in-flight entertainment monitor, in a storage module (110) located above a spreader or a seat bottom of a passenger seat (102). The stowable display apparatus can include an arm (228, 236) pivotally coupled to a mounting plate (222) at a pivot point (250) that is located above the spreader or seat bottom and proximate the forward end of the seat (102), thus enabling a display bracket of the arm to pivot upwards and out of an armrest assembly before rotating into a deployed position. The display arm (228, 236) can provide an easy, safe, and low-cost mechanism for stowing and deploying a display. The thin profile of the display arm allows a storage module (110) two inches wide or less to stow both a display and a table surface, each independently deployable and stowable irrespective of the other's position.