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AIX: Williams and JPA Design unveil seat development project

Formula 1 team Williams and JPA Design have revealed initial details for a seat development project that will utilise composite technologies for racing-cars.

In February, the UK racing team’s technology consultancy arm Williams Advanced Engineering and JPA Design disclosed a partnership to use racing-car technologies in order to reduce weight and improve passenger comfort of aircraft interiors.

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Cabin Car Mock up

Williams Advanced Engineering and JPA Design

JPA Design managing director Ben Orson has told FlightGlobal that the seat will be a further development from the agency’s “Monocoque” construction, which was used for Singapore Airlines’ business class seat on the A380.

Introduced in 2017, the seat features a carbonfibre moulding as its primary support structure – rather than a metallic sub-frame – which “dramatically” simplifies the seat’s design and delivers weight savings, JPA Design says.

Williams Advanced Engineering, for its part, has developed design principles to simplify manufacturing processes for composite components and, crucially, reduce production cost.

Manufacturing costs for composite components are typically much higher than for comparable metallic parts, as a result higher raw material prices, lengthy processes and relatively high scrap rates.

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Williams Advanced Engineering and JPA display seat

Williams Advanced Engineering and JPA Design

However, Williams Advanced Engineering senior commercial manager Stu Olden says that two new design approaches – named “223” and “Racetrack” – promise to make production of composite components more competitive to metallic parts.

223 is a technique to manufacture three-dimensional structures out of foldable 2D parts – in principle not unlike the assembly of a cardboard box.

The process starts with sheets of dry composite material being cut to shape, infused with resin and – on the flat sections – being cured, while the fold structure’s “hinges” will be cured after the final assembly.

Williams Advanced Engineering says that the production of 2D components enables manufacturers to use simpler tooling, reduce part count, and that process times can be up to 50 times faster versus traditional aerospace-grade methods.

Racetrack is a process to manufacture high-strength components by winding a continuous loop of unidirectional fibre around a core, which is then covered by a protective shell made from woven-fibre sheets, infused with resin, and cured.

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Williams Advanced Engineering and JPA Design

Production can be highly automated - with process times as short as two minutes – while up to 80% of material can be drawn from recycled sources, Williams Advanced Engineering says.

While the two methods are at technology readiness level 3 today, Olden foresees them to be matured to TRL 7 in 2020, which would then enable employment of the techniques in a seat development programme.

From that point, Orson says that a seat development will typically take two to three years.

He indicates that the project has secured “committed involvement” from an airline, an airframer and certification experts, and says that the team wants to attract further interest from operators and manufacturers.

No names from the existing partners have been revealed, however.

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Williams Advanced Engineering and JPA Design

Seats represent a natural first step to adopt new technologies in the aircraft interiors arena, as airlines make significant investments in seat design to differentiate themselves from competitors, Orson notes.

Over a longer term, Williams Advanced Engineering and JPA Design plan to extend the use of the composite technologies to other cabin equipment.

For more news, pictures and analysis from AIX 2019, visit our dedicated event page

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