Premium economy passenger seat
Oscar Ruiz, TSX design, Zodiac manufacturing
Catia V5 GSD2 surf, 3ds Max, Vray, Photoshop
The Z535 project began as an effort to revamp Zodiac seats business class seat lineup, which slowly evolved to become a new category into itself, a premium economy class seat for long range aircraft or a business class seat for short haul aircraft. The Z535 was developed on a base frame from an earlier seat model that had already been through testing had a great market proven recline kinematic.
The project began as a solo endeavor with internal concept development, which after internal review then evolved into a pitch for Singapore airlines. The project ultimately led to the closing a large multi-million dollar contract and the production of the Z535.
There were several show seats made throughout and eventually different variations of the seat were built. The production seat ended up having different trim & finish with small differences in feature offerings, but overall the final production design remained quite similar to the initial pitch.
As an Industrial designer withing the R&D group, I was in tasked with conceptualizing and create proposals to pitch to management for what the seat could look like, as well as taking a first pass at volumetric analysis for implementation of new features. I was also tasked with researching & assessing what features were the most valuable in the market.
Through the development process I was in charge of incorporating any feedback provided by management into the design, developing form and making sure all the design changes complied with the strict aerospace regulations.
When the project evolved into a formal product pitch, I had the opportunity to travel in 2 occasions, with a management team, to Singapore Airlines headquarters in Singapore and pitch the seat design to their president and management team, in order to address any technical and design inquiries.
After Singapore Airlines agreed to sign a contract with Zodiac, I was tasked with converting all the 3D modeling previously done in 3ds Max into class A surfaces, using Catia V5, in order to provide master models for the engineering team to maximize design control through development. Consulted the production team throughout initial stages of production, resolving issues and providing design guidance.
Outcomes | Takeaways
These are a handful of relevant personal outcomes form the project :
- Class A surfacing modelling package for engineering control.
- Concept development through internal iterative review and client feedback.
- Innovative design concepts that made it through to production.
- International client meetings & on the spot design iterations to satisfy client requests.
-Interdisciplinary team work among several strategic teams (marketing, sales, manufacturing, engineering, certificaction), especially production engineers.
-Dress cover development.
Marketing brochure for the Z535
Zodiac public site
As the airline industry becomes more competitive, market segmentation becomes an essential differentiation tool.
The Premium Economy segment has become the new affordable business class.
Higher competition, more nuanced customer demands.
As the airline market gets more competitive, passenger experience becomes a larger competitive advantage, and part of that are amenities and features. The challenge becomes integrating as many features as possible, while keeping weight and cost down.
This demand for increased of features, living space, comfort and lower prices drive the trend for more market segmentation, creating a new class to fill the gap between the high cost of business class and the simplicity from economy class.
Unparalleled comfort, best-in-class features.
The Z535 was intended to provide an outstanding seating experience, by providing one of the best recline kinematics in the market, custom designed cushions meant to cradle the passenger and reduce the stress experienced when flying long distances. Previous seating platforms were not able to provide the level of comfort that the Z535 could (based on comfort studies) and comparable seats were designed for short haul flights, which meant that they lacked many of the features essential for long haul flights.
Integrating state-of-the-art IFE systems and long haul amenities is essential to provide an unparalleled passenger experience, while still maintaining some of the space and weight efficiency offered by the economy class seats.
Through out the project, the main priority was comfort, space maximization and passenger experience, providing key features that would provide the seating platform a unique competitive advantage.
This is the concept that was built after several design iterations and client request changes.
Forget economy class
Designed to be at 38" pitch, with a 0G style cradling recline kinematic and a 13.3" in-flight entertainment monitor, the Z535 gives a tremendous upgrade in comfort and passenger experience from conventional economy class seating. Its plush and soft cushioning, deployable footrest and ample storage space makes those long hour flights a more relaxing experience.
pressure mapped to avoid pressure points
relieves hamstring pressure that causes DVT
play games or interact with the screen more easily
Full HD display with tilt option
Stores tablet or portable devices while charging.
Keeps drinks at hand & secure
New level of customization
Customization is the name of the game when it comes to aircraft seating. The ability to accommodate different aircraft configurations as well as different airline and user preferences makes the seat a better solution offering. However, being able to house all the customization options all at once is what allows the seat to truly feel like a premium product.
With only 4" wide the center console is the lifeline of the seat, housing most of the passenger amenities, it has an extremely constricted packaging which was only possible thanks to a clever hinge design that allows the table lid to swing away from the rotation path of the tray table, a first in its kind. The console also contains, bottle holders, charging & audio ports, IFE handset, life vests and a small amenities tray towards the front.
The endbay is unique in that is what will mostly be visible during service, so it is perhaps what the passenger will see first, so it has to look comfortable and welcoming. Simultaneously, it has to be able to withstand trolley carts impacts, withstand 150 lbs at the armrest while allowing it to swing up for better access and provide a step for flight attendants in order to reach the overhead bins.
The seat back is perhaps the most difficult part of the seat to design and test, as it is designed to take a full frontal 16G impact during testing, while still housing a large monitor and a variety of amenities and storage spaces. The Z535 has several configuration options for storage and is designed to accommodate a range of different monitor sizes by just changing the monitor shroud.
With the digitization of the world, the demand for better and larger entertainment systems has continuously risen, and therefore the Z535 was designed to be able to house some of the largest IFE systems in the market at the time, allowing airlines to provide the best in-flight entertainment to their passengers.
This was the first design proposal pitched to Singapore airlines, notice their unique upholstery fabric pattern.
The initial concept included a larger array of features meant to portray all the possible configurations and possible trim & finish areas for customization.
A clever water bottle holder placed on the rear of the center console provides a convenient place to keep drinks handy. (left)
The endbay features an attendant step to help with over-head bin storage and a seat number placard location on the armrest for quick seat identification. (bottom left)
The center console was designed to provide an easy access USB charging port, a 3 prong audio jack and a IFE handset, while also housing tray tables for both passengers. All of it possible thanks to a cleaver hinge that allows the tray tables to stow correctly side by side.(bottom)
From sketch to show seat
The development and construction of Z535 was a team effort that took several months, many prototypes, and the collaboration of multiple departments. These are just some snapshots along the development process.
These are some of the sketches that show the final design direction, showcasing many of its intended features and their distribution.
The 3D development for the Z535 was initially done with polygonal modeling in 3ds Max and rendered in Vray, subsequently the design was transposed into Catia V5, where the polygonal model was used as an underlay for the surface creation. These surfaces served as master models to develop prototype parts for the show seats.
Afterwards, the surfaces were updated to incorporate changes outlined from the show seat, ultimately leading to the development of class A surfaces meant to work as master references for the product engineering team, which was in charge of the production & manufacturing of the seat.
Prototype and Mock-up
Full aesthetic mock-up was developed to show to the Singapore Airlines. The process was also meant to be a first pass at troubleshooting any issues deriving from the design, as well as having a platform on which comfort studies could be made and improve upon.
In order to build the first prototype in time for the client meeting, TXS design was brought in to manage much of the prototype building and preparation. I worked alongside their team, helping them with any decisions or parts that were required to build the mock-up.
The later show seats were built in-house with the intent of shipping them across the world to showcase it to other airlines. Engineering prototype seats were also built by the production engineering team for fit & finish testing, supplier evaluation and for testing.
The seat eventually made it into production in many different configurations, each customized by the customer to match their cabin trim & finish and cabin offerings. The seat's design flexibility allows it to be modified by each customer to better cater to their own customers.