Sustainability, digitalization, electrification, and other alternative power sources, and most recently, recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic are trends that are and have been shaping the aviation industry in the past decade. The industry needs to ensure passenger loyalty and showcase customer experience and do it while continuously improving its environmental footprint. Airlines must provide passengers with a comfortable journey, in-flight connectivity, entertainment, and comfortable seats. At the same time, there is a need to minimize the aircraft weight and increase densification in economy class by installing additional rows of new, slimmer seats that directly impact fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
Printed electronics, capacitive touch buttons, and ambient illumination solutions have landed on aircraft interiors in the past few years. They have helped to move towards more environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing airplanes. TactoTek’s in-mold structural electronic (IMSE®) technology leaps to the next level by directly incorporating these features into surface structures.
IMSE is an innovative technology that helps to make surfaces thinner, lighter, and more durable while maintaining all the aesthetic and tactile qualities through plastic, wood, and other materials. IMSE integrates printed circuitry and discrete electronic components within 3D injection molded plastics, creating a seamless structure meeting the future needs of aircraft cabins.
Minimizing the environmental impacts of aircraft has been one of the key targets for the aviation industry for more than ten years. Aviation was one of the first industries to have ambitious global goals and a strategy for reducing its impact on climate change. Today industry players are under enormous pressure to demonstrate tangible progress toward their sustainability goals. Many actions have been taken in the aviation industry, and remarkable amounts of money and resources have been invested in reducing environmental impacts, especially greenhouse gas emissions.
Weight reductions are the most direct and measurable initiative. Each IMSE part is a seamless one-piece structure that replaces multi-part assemblies of traditional electronics, reducing plastic usage by up to 70% and weight by 50-70%. Subsequently, IMSE technology helps reduce CO2 greenhouse emissions during the lifetime operation. According to the German Aviation Association, each kilogram of weight saved reduces CO2 emissions by up to 25 tonnes over the entire life cycle of an aircraft.
In addition to the remarkable impact on sustainability, weight reduction also helps airlines to increase their profitability. Less weight means less fuel consumption which is a direct operating cost saving for airlines. For example, in January 2018, United Airlines announced printing its inflight magazine, Hemisphere, on lighter paper, cutting 28 grams (1 ounce) from each magazine. This small change was calculated to result in more than 170 000 gallons ( of fuel savings per year for the company. Based on today’s fuel prices, this means 560 575 $ (557 741€) in annual savings.
Besides sustainability factors, the passenger experience is another factor that matters. The aircraft cabin interior design greatly impacts the quality of the passenger experience. Designs are made to give passengers improved perceptions of space and comfort, reinforcing their belief and trust in the brand. Cabin interior designers are continuously looking for ways to design more modern and sleek products, aiming to maximize the cabin space and aircraft density stylishly.
Cabin lighting is one design enabler and plays an important role in helping to create a more relaxing, comfortable atmosphere with mood and ambient cabin lighting, reading lights, and signage. With being up to 80% thinner than conventional parts, parts made with IMSE allow designers to optimize the space utilization so that passengers' comfort is not reduced at the expense of density and help to create beautiful and aesthetically pleasing thin structures with integrated functionalities.
Another aspect to consider is brand differentiation. Upgrading the airplane interior throughout all traveling classes improves the brand perception and thus creates a consistent brand image for all passengers. So far, most airlines only take sections or cabin classes into account when reconditioning their planes and do not follow a holistic approach.
Sign up for our upcoming webinar:
Today’s commercial aircraft production requires higher efficiency and smarter processes within industry 4.0. The design of interior cabin components also has to meet the requirements of optimizing the installation process. There is more than 100km of wiring in an aircraft, and as the need for additional electrical features and functionalities increases, the wiring will increase accordingly. In addition to being heavyweight, the big amount of wires and the fact that each plane has its unique wiring harness configuration make manufacturing, sourcing, assembly, and change management processes complex and expensive and have long lead times.
Intelligent product conventionally has meant complex designs that might not be manufactured unless broken out into several smaller pieces. Traditional geometries do not constrain IMSE manufacturing. Components can be fabricated with little to no required assembly, reducing the number of parts needed and enabling new assemblies and optimized designs.
IMSE provides a cost-efficient way to manufacture multiple functional and aesthetic product variants using one single set of tooling. The technology has a high automation degree, enabling the integration of additional functionalities and further reducing manufacturing time. The number of parts to be assembled and the assembly time decreased tremendously.
TactoTek works with partners across the value chain to support brand owners and suppliers, helping them realize the very best capabilities of this new and exciting technology. Want to learn more? Contact us.