AirGo develops innovative lightweight technologies for demanding applications in industries such as airline interiors, e-mobility, Urban Air Mobility (UAM), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s), food processing and medical. Using its award-winning composite technology, AirGo has previously created the world’s first full-composite aircraft seat which is 50% lighter than conventional aluminum seats.
Thermoplastics are a growing segment in the composites market, with their unique benefits of reusability and sustainability.
1. Please can you start by introducing yourself, telling us about your background and that of AirGo
Alireza: My name is Alireza Yaghoubi. I started AirGo back in 2013 with a couple of friends. The original idea behind the company stems from a new aircraft seating concept I designed in 2012 while I was an undergrad student.
Alireza Yaghoubi, Co-Founder, AirGo Design
The design ended up winning a James Dyson Award which subsequently led to an avalanche of news articles in the international media. Prior to starting AirGo, I used to work as a materials scientist at University of Malaya, where I worked on the applications of nanomaterials in clean energy, biomedical implants, and high-performance ceramics.
2. Could you tell us about which current market and technology trends are driving AirGo’s business strategy?
Alireza: Our core business was aircraft interiors up until 2020. With the pandemic and its devastating effect on the aviation industry, we had to reinvent ourselves. Currently, we focus on 3 main verticals now. One, mobility which still includes aerospace, but with the addition of automotive and UAVs. The value proposition in clear here. You need energy to move things. Lighter objects need less energy and we capitalize on that with our composite technology. EVs are among major trends where lightweighting is critical. Two, automation which relies on fast-moving production lines, for example, packaging, filling, and handling equipment. And three, consumer products where weight-saving positively impacts portability, and a reduction in power consumption.
3. The situation in the largest and most growing markets for thermoplastic composites like aerospace, automotive and oil & gas is extremely challenging. Has it reshaped your strategy for the future in Aerospace?
Alireza: I am not sure if “challenging” here refers to the business environment or the technical aspect. From a commercial perspective, all industries are looking for streamlined supply chain that can lead to cost-saving. This is perfectly in line with the advantage of thermoplastics that offer higher production rate, lower waste, and reduced production cost against traditional technologies like metals. From a technical perspective, challenges are complex and unique to each application. There are areas that thermoplastic is a clear winner. For example, in highly corrosive environments, advanced thermoplastic composites are far more durable than metals. The biggest technical challenge is the issue of ductility. Metals are ductile, meaning that while they are stiff and strong, under high impact, they can deform (without breaking) and absorb energy. This is a key requirement in many applications in automotive. Thermoplastic-based solutions can achieve a similar performance in many cases, but extensive developments are required.
4. The Aerospace field present a wide variety of possible applications where composite materials can be key components, and customization is a big part of the benefits composites can bring. How do you imagine their future use in new and upcoming applications?
Alireza: Composites have a long history in aerospace. Traditional composites, aka prepregs, are based on thermosets and continuous fiber reinforcement. There are thermoplastic prepregs as well, but they require completely new infrastructure which does not make them attractive for many applications from a cost perspective. Thermoplastic-based discontinuous fiber composites (DFC) on the other hand are processed on a typical injection molding machine. They are accessible and cost-effective. However, they are not meant to replace traditional prepregs in most cases, but rather metallic components.
Replacing machined metals in aerospace with thermoplastic DFC is still in its infancy. Aerospace is a highly regulated industry where introduction of new technologies is time-consuming and expensive. As industries are pressured to put sustainability first, certainly, there is going to be an ever-increasing level of interest. Standardizing qualification and certification requirements would help speed up this transition in the industry. In contrast, lower volume businesses could slow down this trend. DFCs are not suitable for making only a handful of components. There is a critical threshold of 100 pcs or more that could justify the significant investment in production molds.
5. You will deliver a presentation focusing on “Sustainable Composites: Lighweighting and Cost-saving across Aerospace, Automotive and Drones “. Please could you please give us a quick overview of what you would be sharing with our audience?
Alireza: I will be speaking about the latest developments in composite materials with a focus on sustainability. The first half of the presentation will be focused on the application of thermoplastics in aerospace, with emphasis on the growing UAV/drone market. In the second half of my talk, I will go beyond and cover sustainable solutions in thermoset composites as well as automotive and industrial applications.
ALIREZA WILL BE SPEAKING ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE INNOVATE TECH SHOW 2022 HELD AT MATRADE KUALA LUMPUR FROM 19-21 OCTOBER 2022 WHERE THE GLOBAL DRONE CONFERENCE IS CO-LOCATED.