Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Boeing teams up with LIFT again for 787 seating

Aircraft seating newcomer LIFT by EnCore has caused a stir for the second year running at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX), revealing a 787 economy seat developed in direct partnership with Boeing.

LIFT by EnCore seemingly appeared from nowhere at the 2016 AIX show, debuting as Boeing’s new seating partner with an economy seat designed specifically for line production of the 737NG/MAXs and NG retrofit. Boeing said this was the first time a seat had been designed and optimized for its aircraft.

At this year’s AIX, LIFT once again scooped headlines with the launch of a 787 economy seat. “This is the first economy seat designed specifically for 787 Dreamliners,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes director-differentiation strategy Blake Emery told a small media gathering in Hamburg.

“LIFT has expanded and built on the collaboration that we announced last year. They have been really successful with the 737 seat, so they have launched a 787 seat. This collaboration has been fantastic. It is going faster and faster,” he said. “I would never work on designing an interior [like the Sky Interior] again without working with a seat supplier.”

787 tourist class seat

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner tourist class seat is 17.7 inches wide with a 6-inch cradle recline and more comfort features than the short-haul 737 design. It features a 12-inch back-lit screen, which works in conjunction with the 787’s mood lighting to create a modern and joined up feel. The screen, which looks like a tablet, appears to float in a curved seat-back recess that is lined with plush fabric.

There is a fold-out personal electronic device shelf so passengers can dual-screen, seat-back power, a high fixed shell literature pocket, a lower flexible net seat-back pocket and a hook for headphones. The innovative seat covers were inspired by single-piece sportswear materials. The fabric has a wider weave in areas of heat build-up—like the central back—and a tighter, more durable weave in high-wear areas.

The new design, which feels more like a private space than being sandwiched in behind someone else’s seat, took LIFT six months to develop and a full-sized working prototype is being showcased at AIX to get initial customer feedback.

“We didn’t want to spend two years working on this before we put it in front of the customer. This way they can tell us what need changing,” LIFT by EnCore VP of development and strategy Elijah Dobrusin told ATW at AIX.

Dobrusin added that LIFT was able to move quickly because its design and engineering team is now well-established, following the company’s creation in 2014. LIFT’s close relationship with Boeing also means it can check its designs meet the manufacturer’s specifications up front, speeding up the development cycle.

“The technology industry moves in days, but [the aircraft seating industry] was moving in years. We needed to change that, or the technology would be ancient by the time it gets on the aircraft. Things can’t take five years to develop and certify. We need to move quickly to innovate. This is not pie in the sky; it will be flying soon,” Dobrusin said.

The 787 seat is expected to be certified in the second half of 2018, for delivery by early 2019. To hit this timeline, LIFT will need to secure a launch customer by early 2018. The company has only just revealed the product and does not yet have any firm customers lined up.

Weighing in at 12-15 kilos (26-33 lbs.), depending on options, the seat it is not designed to be the lightest on the market. “We are weight competitive, but we are not trying to be ultra-competitive on weight,” Dobrusin said, noting that LIFT also prioritizes passenger comfort, durability and maintenance costs.

737 economy seat

Meanwhile, LIFT’s 737 economy seat—which has already secured two unnamed customers—is likely to take just over two years from initial inception to first delivery, but this is partly because the company was being established at the same time.

The 737 seat is now in the final stages of development and will be delivered to an undisclosed launch customer this year. “We are well into the final engineering,” Dobrusin said. “We are going through certification right now and expect it to be fully completed by July.” The two customers should be named around the same time.

Learning from the 787 seat will “almost certainly” be used to come up with a second iteration of the 737 seat, to make it lighter and more ergonomic.

“We entered the market with an economy seat because it was lower risk and faster to get into. We don’t want to do things that we can’t do well. If we jumped straight into business class, it would be risky. We want to take our time. We are in no rush to get there,” Dobrusin said, but he added that there are quite a few projects in the pipeline.

New technologies

“It’s not just the next seat,” LIFT director of design Tom Eaton told ATW. “We are developing technologies so we can put together a tool kit to do things better and create a few products in future. We have a different way of approaching traditional assembly techniques which are unique to LIFT. We are small, flexible and nimble.”

EnCore already supplies galleys and flooring to Boeing. It was founded in 2011 by Jim Downey and Tom McFarland, who have worked with Boeing for 40 years. LIFT was launched as EnCore’s seating division in 2014.

“LIFT represents to us a really capable company with leaders that we have had relations with over 30-40 years across Boeing. They are growing, they have invested in all the right ways and they are going to vertically integrate, building more seats” Boeing's Emery said.

“There is a lot of trust. That is what got the ball going,” Dobrusin said. “That heritage, history and the performance in EnCore group got us another step. We deliver on time and to a good quality. We don’t take on work unless we can do it.”

LIFT has no immediate plans to diversify and work for other manufacturers. “Boeing is definitely our focus. They are a great collaboration partner for us. We are going to grow and expand and we are more than satisfied working exclusively with Boeing.”

When speculatively quizzed on whether a stake in LIFT could be up for sale, and whether Boeing might be a potential equity partner, Dobrusin replied: “This is not a ‘grow your company quick and sell it’ venture. Our owner held their previous company for 30 years before they sold it. Our goal is to grow and create a great company.”

(Victoria Moores - ATWOnline News)

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