The IKEA superstore in Toulouse, France isn't the obvious starting place for an innovative approach to one of aviation's most intensively technical areas. Nevertheless, it was this home retailer's ready-to-assemble furniture that gave Airbus systems designer Raphael Andre an idea that already is proving its value: the flat-pack cockpit kit.
Andre, whose work at the time centred on cockpit-related research and technology, believed that an inexpensive and easily-available mock-up would be extremely useful for early testing of ideas. “After a trip to look at some furniture (at IKEA), it occurred to me that a simple-to-construct, wooden version of a cockpit would do the job very well,” he explained.
The idea stuck with Andre, however he didn’t take action until a couple of years later after a visit to Airbus ProtoSpace in Toulouse – a facility that enables and encourages innovators, and has the prototyping equipment needed for the next steps. After revisiting his concept, Andre did some basic drawings and discovered it was possible to make a slot-together version that wouldn't require any fixings or tools, however the design was pretty basic and required proper drawings via computer-based design tool CATIA.
Andre turned to his Airbus colleague Laurent Saint-Marc, who uses CATIA every day in his work on cockpits, and together they made a small cardboard version of the cockpit mock-up at an Airbus fabrication laboratory (FabLab). Afterward, it was back to Airbus ProtoSpace to make a full-sized wooden prototype.
The prototype was ready in a few days, but the surprise was how quickly it went into use. Werner De Rammelaere, an Airbus innovation engineer who works in Emerging Technologies and Concepts, noticed the kit in ProtoSpace and thought it might be ideal for a project with automotive manufacturer Continental. “They've been doing research into safety systems that monitor drivers, and we've been working with them to explore possible applications in aviation,” he explained. “Continental wanted to use mock-ups and simulators, but there is huge demand on these, so I suggested that they drive over and pick up a cockpit kit instead.”
The kit met all of Continental's requirements, so the team had to make another prototype for themselves. “We've already had some interest from colleagues in A320 development and there are ergonomic applications too, so we might need more,” Andre concluded.