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Shorter production cycles for aircraft seat manufacturer

06 April 2016

Trials are currently underway that could see the introduction of significant production efficiencies for a major supplier to the aerospace industry.

Zodiac Seats UK

Working with 3M, Zodiac Seats UK is exploring new approaches to working with adhesives to speed throughput in their lay-up, cure and assembly line areas. Proposed changes have come as a result of 3M adhesives specialists ‘walking the line’ at Zodiac Aerospace’s Camberley plant to identify opportunities for improvements.

Part of the global Zodiac Aerospace Group, the Zodiac Seats UK division produces aircraft seats ranging from premium economy, through business class to upper class. It focuses on high-end products which it designs, certifies and assembles at its plants in Camberley and Cwmbran.

Zodiac Aerospace welcomed the offer from 3M to walk the production line, which enabled 3M to understand its adhesive bonding requirements to help improve throughput. The review forms part of Zodiac Aerospace’s response to the great need for improved productivity across the aircraft industry which has reported major order backlogs with airlines pressing for increasing quantities of new, fuel efficient aircrafts.  

Bernard Sikkel, Senior Application Development Engineer at 3M led the project to map out Zodiac Aerospace’s production flow. Before joining 3M Aerospace and Commercial Transportation Division, Bernard worked in the automotive sector for 3M and felt that some of the techniques employed there could help accelerate production. They started the mapping process at the beginning of the year with the objective of understanding Zodiac Aerospace’s ‘pain points’ – stages in the production process that cause problems or bottlenecks.

Focus of attention was the process flow for the construction of seat components made from phenolic panels with honeycomb cores where adhesives are required for core splicing or insert potting, edge filling, filleting, panel assembly, the application of veneers and reinforcement for fixtures and fittings.

Bernard said there were no issues with the performance of the adhesives being used; the drawback is that it can be slow. It was quickly apparent that speed of cure was the problem and this was considered by Zodiac Aerospace as a critical area for improvement. Using the two-part adhesive gave cycle times in bonding operations of three to four hours and in some areas there was a 24 hour wait before panels could be de-clamped to go onto the next stage in the process. Ideally Zodiac Aerospace would like to reduce this to 15 minute cycle times, similar to those achieved by automotive manufacturers on lower volume production lines. Essentially, Zodiac Aerospace wanted to completely upgrade its adhesive system, from improving the rate of cure to ensuring strength performance and FST compliance.

The line-walking exercise identified Zodiac Aerospace’s adhesive system as the key operation where there was the opportunity to help the company improve productivity. Having understood Zodiac Aerospace’s need to radically reduce cure times, 3M set up a workshop at its own Bracknell facility where key engineers from Zodiac Aerospace worked with 3M adhesives specialists to explore various fast-curing/short-cycle time solutions.

Bernard also stated that they looked at the substrates used by Zodiac Aerospace and tried a range of different techniques, considering solutions used in other industries. The team was very excited by the opportunities this revealed and Zodiac Aerospace identified some high potential solutions which could help improve its adhesive system.

During the workshop process, 3M was able to draw on work that had been done following a similar mapping project in Germany. This had resulted in the formulation of a new series of adhesives that caught Zodiac Aerospace’s attention.

Another of the options considered was a 3M two-part structural flexible adhesive epoxy system which meets all of the FST requirements of standards FAR 25.853, JAR 25.853 and ABD0031. This 3M product is suitable for a wide range of aircraft interior bonding applications with one of its advantages being sufficient open time for panels and components to be correctly positioned. Despite its performance properties, this 3M structural adhesive still did not quite hit the curing time targets being sought by Zodiac Aerospace. To overcome this difficulty, 3M proposed a solution which sees the structural adhesive being used in combination with a superfast adhesive which was designed primarily for aftermarket applications.

Bernard said the solution they looked at was one developed for the automotive sector in applications which use a high-crash performance adhesive with a three hour cure. In that industry, speed of production is of the essence, so a solution was found that enabled the use of the specified adhesive without the ensuing production delay. Translated into Zodiac Aerospace’s panel production application, it has everything jigged as normal for the application of the FST-compliant two-part structural adhesive and then inject the superfast product at various points. The superfast adhesive cures in two minutes, acting as an internal clamp within the panel. This means that the panel can be de-jigged and go on to the next stage in the process while the structural adhesive is still curing.

Zodiac Aerospace has now introduced preliminary trials based on the outcome of the production line walk and  the workshop in its own production facilities at Camberley which, if successful, might move on to a series of more complex tests. As well as curing speed, another key consideration is weight, so the team is also looking at the optimum density of adhesive that will achieve the balance between weight reduction and performance.

The results of these trials might help Zodiac Aerospace adopt a more streamlined adhesive system and significantly contribute to the overall efficiency of its panel construction processes. 

Bernard Sikkel concluded by saying this is proving to be a great example of collaboration leading to good working solutions and cross-industry learning. As both adhesives technology and aircraft interior designs progress, it highlights how valuable it can be for a supplier like 3M to be involved earlier on in the process to apply knowledge acquired from different industries and help customers make the right choices both from a material and a process point of view.  

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