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Lufthansa's Business Class: The development

 

By now you’ll have learned all the details of Lufthansa’s new business class seat (see our extensive feature in the June issue of Aircraft Interiors International - here). But the finished product is only half the story, as seven years of development work went into conceiving and creating the cabin and seating following the decision to equip the entire fleet with an all-new, fully lie-flat seat.

 

Left: Experts at Lufthansa's test lab near Frankfurt evaluating the functionality and ease of use of the centre console

 

At the heart of the project were the Lufthansa team, made up of three key members: Björn Bosler, in charge of the general design, concept and customer research and who worked closely with design firm PearsonLloyd; Christoffer Stratmann, who managed the work with seat manufacturer B/E Aerospace and kept an eye on total cost of ownership; and lead engineer Karsten Burow from Lufthansa Technik, who focused on engineering consulting on one hand, and also maintenance and operational aspects of the seat.

 

“We were the three musketeers, one part busier at the start, one busier at the end, but we balanced our interests throughout the project between the key stakeholders.
We tried to solve all possible conflicts that can be realised in the project in one team,” states Bosler.

 

Lufthansa project manager Uta Kötting also became a big part of the team in 2010. “I don’t know that any other airline goes so deeply into the development of the seat, not only design-wise but also the construction. We want inexpensive spares and easy maintenance so we go deeply into the construction of the seat,” she states.

 

“The manufacturers always say ‘oh my god, she’s coming’, but it’s really important,” adds Kötting. “We ask ‘can’t you make this component better’ and they say ‘no, if we do that we’ll have to throw away 70% of the seat and we can’t’. It’s such an effort to get the right quality in every piece. We also have to licence every single component of the seat, for burn tests, etc: for example with the inner lining you need to do 62 tests and if one fails, the whole thing fails. So it’s really terribly complicated.”

 

Working with design practice PearsonLloyd in London, the design continuously evolved, with huge changes occurring along the way such as stowage moving to an ottoman on a floating platform, the aisle armrest stowage motion going from down and forwards to a vertical path, and the monitors changing from a fixed setup to sliding. “Is it reasonable to ask a business class passenger to turn their head 14° to watch the monitor?” asked PearsonLloyd director Luke Pearson when considering the monitor mounting.

 

Left: Note the armrest design. The initial design was an armrest that went down and slid forwards but B/E’s resolution of that was to go down in a vertical path

 

Each change, no matter how small, had knock-on effects for the other parties. “This was often where fights would occur because, for example, we wanted to save 6mm in the centre console and they’d want the space for a cable. We’d ask if they could put it underneath and they’d say ‘yes but we need to move another component’, says Pearson of his work with B/E Aerospace. “This all took four years, from concept and proving our ergonomics, to working with B/E to prove out the principle of where and how we’d get the various elements to configure and work.”

 

B/E Aerospace relished the challenge though, and ultimately managed to squeeze all the necessary workings into the design from their R&D centre in Winston-Salem in the USA. Tom Plant, the company’s vice president and general manager of seating says, “PearsonLloyd gave us the initial design aesthetics and renderings for what they wanted the product to look like, and then we went into an exploratory phase in 3D models, laying in some basic kinematic mechanisms and then giving interactive feedback to Lufthansa and PearsonLloyd to make adaptations to the design to accommodate some of the kinematics.

 

Left: The console required a six-week design programme of its own, such was its complexity. The console had to accommodate several comfort items such as a large surface area, a folding table, USB and power sockets, as well as engineering items, while also serving as a maintenance access point

 

A typical programme for a new seat would involve regular meetings such as preliminary and critical design reviews, but the Lufthansa project was so complex and fast-evolving that in addition to the usual major meetings, a number of incremental meetings were required leading up to major milestone completions of the programme.

 

A major part of these incremental meetings related to achieving the shapes and finishes that PearsonLloyd demanded, down to precise dimensions and treatments for rub and trim strips to achieve a distinctive look, while Lufthansa wanted to meet key comfort and kinematic criteria. Plant’s team had to constantly refine the inner workings to meet all the parties’ requirements.

 

“We were having hot and heavy review sessions, design reviews, and building mockups of the guts of the engine of the seat,” says Plant. “The project was a massive challenge. Lufthansa is a very thorough, very detailed airline and really focussed on product performance and execution, so there are a lot of things you need to work on like reliability testing and maintainability issues. A lot of things a lot of airlines aren’t be concerned about, Lufthansa is concerned about. And so the level of detail we went into during the development process was more complex than usual, but the results are arguably better. The challenges are similar to a lot of our other premium programs – it’s a complex new layout with a lot of dynamic testing issues, and all the cosmetic materials have flammability issues to work out. It’s a massive complex program and it’s not easy to articulate the hundreds of challenges we encountered in this program.”

 

Pearson adds, “It was a constant case of us drawing over B/E’s data and them drawing over our data, and then honing the data down to a workable solution. We were both working to get the best seat possible but had different ambitions. Our ambition was to save seat space and make the environment the best possible use of cabin space for both relaxation and work and to allow the best platform for expressing the material palette, and their ambition was to ensure a robust and refined piece of engineering. And Lufthansa’s ambition was to make sure the design ambition was maintained, so they brokered peace.

 

“Design is all about compromise in order to achieve a good result. It’s a relationship of problems. That’s what this project has been about – managing that complexity to produce a workable simple solution,” adds Pearson.

 

Below: Months were spent designing the controller with the button manufacturer, with different buttons such as those found on a Motorola Razr cellphone tried. In the end, a foil with a screenprint was chosen, and the recline return button in sleep bed mode has a haptic quality so passengers can feel it when lying down. The optimum height for the controller was also calculated so it can be operated easily whether sitting or lying down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mockups
While the design went through countless alterations, at every stage the parties sought to maintain the original design ambitions. Months of LOPA and ergonomic analysis went into working out how to get people to sit comfortably in a V configuration without producing clashes with the front seat or centre console.

 

Right: Valued flyers visited Lufthansa's mockup 747-8i cabin near Frankfurt to evaluate the comfort and functionality of the new Business Class

 

“We learned early on in our experience that you have to fight for every millimetre and that you can’t do anything without assessing it in an ergonomic rig. These are the challenges of a ground-up design because there isn’t a precedent for it; it’s not like we can go and sit in another V seat of the same design and LOPA. You can only do it by putting your printouts on the floor, building a structure, and working out if you have enough space,” says Pearson.

 

PearsonLloyd built wooden mockups of the seats at its London studio to better understand the packaging environment for components, which were checked by Lufthansa. The mockups were refined, with staff from the studio spending hours sitting and lying in them to ensure comfort, and when they felt the design was ready, exact models of the seat were commissioned and flown to Lufthansa’s test lab in Germany so their board of directors could test and approve the design.

 

Following approval, a packet of information was sent to B/E Aerospace, where the design was again evaluated. “We took that 3D geometry and built a number of mockups – so many mockups – that we put in a mock fuselage, then brought various passenger sets through to get feedback on whether they liked the layout of the seat, their physical location in the aircraft, their proximity to the sidewall of the aircraft, and all sorts of things like that,” states Plant.

 

Lufthansa constantly updated its mockups with each change and evaluated each evolution with its own team and with customers. Some frequent flyers even spent the night on the mockups to gain feedback. “Whenever there was a basic left or right decision to be made we didn’t just decide, we checked every feature with customers, either online if we needed many people and international feedback, or in-depth in our test lab near Frankfurt where we have mockups and fuselages of all our different classes. That went on for four years,” says Bosler.

 

Real-life trials
With all the ground research complete, in 2010 it was time for the seat to take to the sky. In total, 1,349 passengers and a specially recruited test crew trialled the seat on the Frankfurt to New York route to evaluate comfort, ease of use and technical stability. That’s around 5.7 million collective miles and 11,000 hours of testing.

 

Left: The 747-8I received a double water cannon salute when it touched down at Washington Dulles

 

Three main talking points were raised during the flights: privacy, foot proximity, and aisle access. The low-backed seat shells created a sense of space in the business cabin, with many business travellers used to feeling cocooned, their feedback was valuable. The results showed that they enjoyed the open space while sitting, but still felt cosseted by the shell when in the fully flat position.

 

Foot proximity is still a matter of debate, as only a slim divider separates the passengers’ feet in each seat pair. Sure, their feet are close together, but this is not deemed an especially sensitive part of the body.

 

Aisle access is simply a matter of practicality. Lufthansa could easily have specified direct aisle access for all, but this would have reduced the number of seats in the cabin and driven up ticket prices. A simple step over your neighbour is a much cheaper alternative.

 

Kötting states, “On our test aircraft people spent 10 hours in the seat – they said they are quite close together at the feet but their shoulders are turned away in the upright position. And that is where humans have the sensibility for privacy, not so much in the feet. And that’s why in total they said it’s ok.”

 

The design has been hailed a success, and is now being retrofitted across Lufthansa's entire long-haul fleet of more than 100 aircraft in a four-year programme, as part of a €3 billion investment.

 

The official inaugural Frankfurt to Washington Dulles flight saw the seats receive more good feedback on board the first of the airline’s 20 747-8 Intercontinentals. Watch this space for our official trial of the seat…

 

18 June 2012

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