Polymers ensure travellers' comfort
Mobil home, sweet mobil home
Travel is not always synonymous with an expedition into the Amazon forest, far from it. At a certain age, although the thirst for discovery is still present, giving up the comforts of home can be slightly difficult. This is one of the reasons for the ever growing success of motor homes and caravans. Looking through one of these houses on wheels, one quickly realises that they could not exist if it were not for polymers. The first reason is weight reduction. We have gone from wooden trailers, whose weight didn't matter too much as long as you had enough horses to pull it, to modern caravans made from aluminium. Lighter than wood or steel, these caravans could be pulled by small to medium vehicles without having to run the risk of stalling on the first incline. Aluminium was very handy, but like all metals it is particularly susceptible to corrosion, particularly in coastal environments. The appearance of plastics in the 1950s and 1960s would sound the death knell for aluminium caravans.
Polyester wins the battle
There is almost no more metal or wood to be found in campers (or caravans). Metal can still be found in the chassis, and although wood was used to make the cell's (habitable part) skeleton, it has now been replaced by polyurethane which is lighter, more flexible, and just as resistant (if not more in the event of twisting). The body panels are made of polyester, a robust polymer which is easily moulded that does not suffer the ravages of time and which can withstand bad weather includings hail. More specifically, these are polystyrene-based insulating materials sandwiched between two layers of polyester. The windows have long been made from PMMA, a polymer better known under the name of ‘Plexiglas’. This material allows double-glazed windows to be manufactured, providing better thermal and acoustic comfort than glass. Finally, some countries prohibit the use of any other material, including glass, even if it is Safety glass, for obvious safety reasons.
Polymers have also been used in car interiors for many years. Polyester has the lion's share, all the way from entry-level models to the most luxurious, and always for the same reasons: it is light and can be formed into designers' wildest creations. Competition is tough in this area, and an innovative storage solution or a decorative detail can make a difference. As it is easy to mould, it is easy to design one-piece elements for the sanitary parts. They are easy to install and easier to maintain. The same principle applies for storage space. However, polymers are useful for other applications than the purely practical aspects of vehicle construction. Current trends revolve around rounded shapes, and sharp edges seem to have been banished forever for obvious safety reasons.
The interiors of the most luxurious models are even covered with veneers of a resin that perfectly imitates various woods, thus creating particularly warm spaces in which one immediately feels comfortable. According to manufacturers, this is a way of meeting the needs of their wealthier customers for whom it is important to feel at home even thousands of kilometres from their homes.
Polymers take to the skies
The airline companies of the Gulf have fully understood the issue. There' no special secret to gaining a well-off clientele: you have to offer luxury! And in an airplane, luxury means extreme comfort. And it pays off! This is why some of the older airline companies are currently trying to catch up by gradually replacing their seats and by investing millions of Euros into modernising what is called, in airline jargon, the forward cabin (the part of the airplane seating business and first class passengers). It is a considerable investment given that a single seat costs between 100,000 and 500,000 Euros. Technical requirements in this regard are extremely high. Manufacturing airplane seats is different to manufacturing car seats. Their resistance to shocks is a key element in obtaining certification.
However, this is not the only requirement; they must also be comfortable for all passengers. But are they still seats? Not really, because in first class, and to a lesser extent in business class, they are actually small totally soundproof cabins with a surface area of around ten square metres in which it is possible to recline the seat all the way down to convert it into a bed.
Not much is known about their design, except that it takes two years to develop the seats; they are also made from composites of polymers and their structure is honeycomb-shaped - an ultra-resistant architecture that serves to reduce weight. This is as far from mass production as you can get, and each seat-cabin requires hours of manual labour to create. This is why some manufacturers have their own research centres and mould their own materials from a range of resolutely high-tech composites.
Polymers keep it light
However, seats are also a strategic element in economy class for airline companies. It is the section in which it is most difficult for them to turn a profit. The battle is waged on lightening seats in order to reduce fuel consumption while transporting a greater number of passengers. This was a complex equation to solve prior to the arrival of Expliseat, a French start-up that managed to design an economy-class seat for short-haul flights which weighs four kilos, two times less than the lightest seat on the market. Thanks to this new seat, it is expected that around 400,000 dollars can be saved per year per airplane. It should be enough to make quite a few airline companies profitable again! The company achieved this feat by using materials such as titanium and carbon fibre impregnated with a polymer resin.
In addition to reduced weight, the seat's ergonomics were entirely redesigned and it is five centimetres deeper than other models. Better yet, the polymers used in the backrest act as shock absorbers for the legs and the tray and absorb the impacts from the passengers behind them accidentally kicking the seat. Four years after the company was created, the seats have already been fitted in the aircraft of four separate airlines. No mean feat in an industry in which habits are not easily changed and in which, until recently, three manufacturers had a quasi monopoly on the world market.
Plastics keep the peace in households
Parents are well aware of the fact that travelling with young children requires a lot of preparation. Pushchairs, folding beds, diaper changing supplies, baby bottles, etc. In short, the car boot is often not big enough to store all the necessary supplies. In order to give families a helping hand, auto accessory manufacturers came up with the idea of designing an object that is now a must-have: the roof box. Since its first appearance in the 1980s, it has been continuously improved. Generally made from ABS, an ultra-resistant and light polymer, roof boxes are now easy to fit and remove thanks to clever snap fasteners. In addition, the polymers are so easy to mould that the boxes can be designed with elegant and aerodynamic lines. Their storage capacity effectively allows users to store twice the volume that would fit into the boot of an average-sized car. More than enough space to fit all the supplies to ensure a comfortable trip for the children, and avoid a nervous breakdown when going on holiday./p>