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3M maps the way to shorter production cycles for aircraft seat manufacturer

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

The company has enjoyed a long-standing business relationship with 3M and the seat manufacturer has been a long-term user of 3M adhesives. Zodiac Aerospace welcomed the offer from 3M to walk the production line, which enabled 3M to better 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, more fuel efficient aircraft. At the end of 2014, The Daily Telegraph reported that Airbus had an outstanding order book of 6,000 aircraft with its rival Boeing close behind at 5,703.

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. He said: “We started the mapping process at the beginning of the year with the objective of better 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 continued: “There were no issues with the performance of the adhesives being used which had a long-standing specification for use for aircraft interiors. 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 their 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 them 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 experts to explore various fast-curing/short-cycle time solutions.

Bernard added: “We looked at the substrates used by Zodiac Aerospace and tried a range of different techniques, considering solutions used in other industries, particularly in the automotive sector where speed of production has always been a priority. The team was very excited by the opportunities this revealed and Zodiac Aerospace identified some high potential solutions which could help them improve their adhesive system.”

During the workshop process, 3M was able to call on its multi-national expertise by drawing 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 which was one of the solutions by 3M that caught Zodiac Aerospace's attention.

Another of the options considered by Zodiac Aerospace is 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 advanced 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 an innovative solution which sees the structural adhesive being used in combination with a superfast adhesive which was designed primarily for aftermarket applications.

Bernard said: “A solution we are looking at is one developed for the automotive sector in applications which use a high-crash performance adhesive with a 3-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, we have everything jigged as normal for the application of our 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 (meaning that we have the best of both worlds – the speed of the superfast and the performance of the two-part adhesive).”

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 looking at different materials and subjecting them to flammability tests (as per Industry regulations). 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 their panel construction processes. With the work at Camberley progressing, there are also plans to carry out a similar mapping process at Zodiac Aerospace's new factory in Cwmbran in Wales where it employs 2,000 people. Within Zodiac Aerospace, Zodiac Seats UK represents a global centre of excellence so, if successful, it is likely that the results of this exercise could have an impact on Zodiac Aerospace's other plants worldwide. 

Bernard Sikkel concluded: “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

Press release issued by 3M Aerospace on October 26, 2015


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3M Aerospace Fasteners, Adhesive Tape, Adhesives, Composite Adhesive, Core Splice Adhesive, Epoxy Adhesive, Frozen Adhesive, Glass-to-Metal Adhesive, Metal-to-Metal Adhesive, Pressure-Sensitive Adhesive, Blind Fasteners, Custom Fasteners, Quick Release Fasteners, Reusable Fasteners, Chemicals
3M (UK) plc Epoxy Adhesive
Zodiac Seats UK Passenger Seating


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