(10 partners) on the way to the cabin of the future

What will the cabin components of the future look like? In the research project LiBio (Lightweight Bionic Aircraft Interior), an international consortium, with partners from Germany, Austria, and Canada, delved into this exact question. Their goal: the development of a pioneering and functional cabin component. We spoke to Dr. Patrick Cordes and Dr. Jan-Ole Kühn from the ZAL Advanced Manufacturing Team to understand what this means.

How do you go about developing a component for the cabin of the future? What should be considered?

Patrick: The aircraft cabin is the central element that determines how passengers experience their flight – initially through appealing design, but more importantly through the comfort and functionality the cabin provides. Passengers expect features that can keep up with technological developments at home. However, cabin developers must also consider certain constraints, including limited space and weight.

Our approach was to modify existing elements rather than adding new ones. We integrated new features into an already existing component. Additionally, we tested modern manufacturing methods in practical application: Robot-guided Additive Manufacturing (RAM). As a use case, we developed an innovative cabin table in the consortium, and its prototype is quite impressive.

What makes this table innovative, and what benefits does the passenger get?

Patrick: Externally, the table is characterized by an elegant, understated design that seamlessly integrates into the cabin. However, the special feature lies in the table’s functional expansion beyond its original use as a surface. This is achieved through the integration of a screen, speakers, and an Ambient Light System. Despite the new features, the tabletop remains foldable, allowing it to be enlarged and reduced. When folded, it could be slid into a side wall, providing space savings.

Is such a complex component interesting for cabin outfitters and airlines? And what does this mean for the manufacturing of the table?

Jan: This brings us to the crux because from the customer’s perspective, it’s crucial not only that we can integrate functions into a table but that the design can be individualized regardless of functional integration. But that’s not a problem with our manufacturing method. So, if someone wants to offer their customer a unique piece, they can customize the design and integrate selected functions. This flexibility is made possible by the increasingly powerful Additive Manufacturing. In our case, we not only printed the table structure but also the membrane of the table speaker.

For this, we set up a manufacturing cell for robot-guided additive manufacturing in our laboratory. It involves two simultaneously operated and coordinated printing robots (by the way, from different manufacturers) working side by side on a workpiece simultaneously. This offers many advantages: different materials can be applied in one printing process, hybrid manufacturing processes, different accuracies (outer structure, e.g., finer than the inner structure).

Where do the other components of the table come from?

Patrick: The raw parts of the table manufactured by ZAL were veneered and painted by F/LIST from Austria, giving the demonstrator its elegant appearance. The SMSD Group at Queens University in Canada contributed to the integration of electronic components and structural optimization. The inner metal structure for stiffening the table was additively manufactured by the FusiA Group in Canada. Throughout the project, the progress and technical solutions were regularly questioned and evaluated by the experts from Bombardier from the OEM perspective, significantly influencing the design process.

Can one see the final cabin table?

Jan: Yes. There are two prototypes. One is in Bombardier’s cabin demonstrator in Montreal, and the other is with us in Hamburg in ZAL GmbH’s Tech Lab. A small extra of our demonstrator is the 3D-printed mockup for presenting the table, standing two meters high. It serves as both a makeshift and demo object, illustrating the possible print dimensions of our RAM test stand.

What are the next steps?

Jan: In the LiBio project, we used granule printing, meaning small beads were melted and printed. In another research project, we are exploring how more sustainable materials can be employed, such as those with higher recyclability (RAFINESS). These are crucial steps to enhance the sustainability of the aircraft cabin.

LiBio Partners:
Bombardier, CRIAQ, F-List, Fraunhofer IFAM, FusiA Group, Inocon Technologie GmbH, Joanneum Research, KANSAI HELIOS Austria GmbH, Queens University, Solaxis Ingenious Manufacturing, Aerospace & Advanced Composites GmbH, IDS, ZAL GmbH.
Funding: Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy

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