Aerospace Technology’s Many Ways To Shade

 - October 30, 2012, 10:35 AM
The Powertech and Powertech 2 feature a dual-rail carrying system to deploy (l to r) a sheer, translucent pleated shade with approximately 50-percent light diffusion and an opaque, virtually 100-percent blackout shade.

Aerospace Technologies Group (ATG) is taking the art of aircraft window shades to a new level. The Boca Raton, Fla.-based company (Booth No. 995) is promoting its line of window shade systems for business aircraft. The line includes the electromechanical Powertech and Powertech 2 dual-pleated shade-and-rail systems and the latest product known as Panacea, which adds fourth-generation electrochromic technology.

Powertech and Powertech 2 are both in production, with Powertech 2 an upgrade that is “faster, quieter and features a manual override,” according to the company. Variants of each are currently in development in various sizes for six different OEM aircraft, from the HondaJet to Bombardier’s Global 7000 and 8000. The Modular System 2 is being developed for the Airbus A318, A319 and A321 series, and their ACJ executive versions, as well as for the Boeing Business Jet series.

ATG currently supplies both Airbus and Boeing with its earlier generation products for commercial airline applications: the Powertech NG for the Airbus A380 and the Ambiance shade system for the Boeing 777. These are also applicable to their executive aircraft variants.

The Powertech and Powertech 2 feature a dual-rail carrying system to deploy a translucent pleated shade with approximately 50-percent light diffusion and a virtually 100-percent blackout shade. The rail assemblies are made of “ultra-lightweight” carbon fiber in a manufacturing technique called “pultrusion” to ensure precise tolerances and high strength. The single-track design allows for a wider overlay cutout as well as the housing of all the components within a thin cassette barely one-inch thick. This creates a flexible installation interface between the aircraft shell liner and interior panels. ATG claims its products are 20 to 30 percent lighter than competing aircraft window shades.

More important, said company president and CEO Simon Kay, is reliability and ease of maintenance. All the ATG shades, he emphasized, are field serviceable and line replaceable. Powertech 3 is designed to allow anyone to simply snap out the window surround, pop out the interior case containing the shade and articulating mechanism and replace it in a matter of seconds. And the only tools required, he added, “are the 10 fingers available to all of us all the time.”

In a demonstration, using only his fingers, Kay pulled a window surround, easily yanked the Powertech window shade cassette unit and replaced it in less than 30 seconds. In fact, he explained further, the modular design allows an “ultra-quick” component replacement, from controller to motor to individual shade fabrics. Even the most complex maintenance job, said Kay, requires no more than about two minutes.

Taking the demonstration even further, Kay pulled a Powertech shade unit, attached it to an exterior power source and ran the shade up and down, at the same twisting it, banging it on the tabletop and pressing the acrylic clear shell against the shade. At no point did the shade fail. “It’s a very rugged case,” said Kay, with a satisfied smile. “Any window shade has to work all the time, every time, even with the extreme changes of temperature and flexing of the cabin that’s normal with changes in pressure.”

Kay claims that the reliability of ATG’s shades more than equal that of the typical manual shade. As an option for a small number of customers, ATG does offer a manually articulated shade called Tranquility, but does not actively promote the product. “It’s primarily a question of control,” he explained. “No one really wants to go around the cabin opening or closing 28 windows manually.”

But the highlight being demonstrated at ATG’s NBAA exhibit is Panacea. The dual shades work as they do in the Powertech and Powertech 2 products and the key difference is the electrochromic variable tinting lens that remains clear until an electrical charge is introduced, causing the window to darken. The degree to which it darkens is dependent on the total amount of current applied. The transition time for the electrochromic shade is approximately 30 seconds. The system allows the passenger to halt the process at any desired light-blocking level, and the unit does not require continuous power to stay dark or clear. It also does not demonstrate a color change while going through the process between 70-percent and 15-percent light transmission.

The idea behind ATG’s product line is not merely shades that take the cabin from light to dark and back again, but are also decorative window treatments that offer the passenger natural light control and feature attractive cellular, pleated, translucent and fully opaque shade fabrics. ATG shades come in 12 standard colors but with a two-week lead time the company can also provide custom-colored shades.

Last year, even with continued major investments in research and development, ATG opened a new 63,000-sq-ft facility in Boca Raton, Fla., in which 40,000 sq ft is devoted to manufacturing. According to Kay, the plant has more than 125 employees and is capable of producing 30,000 shade systems annually. In support of its product lines, the company provides a 24/7/365 technical and product support hotline, four-hour AOG support, 24-hour expedite and seven-day standard shipping policy. Three dedicated field representatives are located in Little Rock, Ark.; Savannah, Ga.; and Luton in the UK. Service and support facilities (factory and approved) are located in eight cities worldwide, from Singapore to Dubai to West Palm Beach.

Despite the hit taken by the aviation industry during the recession, ATG has weathered the hard times quite nicely. According to Kay, revenue in 2011 more than doubled that of 2010 and revenue expectations for 2012 are expected to be up 30 percent from 2011. Beyond that, as new aircraft go into service over the next several years with ATG shades as standard or optional, Kay is looking at similar growth in 2013 and going forward.

At NBAA, ATG’s Powertech shade system can be seen installed in a Hawker Beechcraft 800XP on the static display line. o