In May 2022, at the North American meeting of The Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE), 3M joined a panel of aerospace industry leaders to discuss current process innovations in passenger air travel. The panel, titled “Innovative Advanced Material Solutions for Safe and Healthy Flying,” was hosted by Boeing and invited experts from major airlines, aircraft OEMs and Tier providers. Together they explored how the unprecedented materials systems and processes advancements brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic are continuing to revolutionize aircraft cabin cleaning, sanitation and disinfection.
Covering a range of applications, design challenges and solutions, the panelists made one point clear: things have changed. No matter what the future holds for the pandemic or the aerospace industry, pre-COVID-19 standards of aircraft cabin cleanliness no longer apply.
Peter Maroulis, technical lead for aircraft interior product and technology development at 3M, was one of the panelists. During his presentation, Maroulis noted a shift from reactive to proactive approaches to cabin cleanliness, stressing that “keeping surfaces clean has always been a pain point, and following the pandemic a deeper cleaning could be expected to be the new normal.”
“Killing microbes and viruses through routine disinfection isn't enough,” Maroulis continued. “After all, what happens to a surface after a cleaning, before it is cleaned again? People touch it and recontaminate the surface. And microbes and viruses can still be transferred through touch.”
“What's needed in the industry,” Maroulis concluded, “is constant, proactive mitigation and systematic management of cabin surfaces to address time between cleanings. The ideal goal is to minimize in-flight touch transfer, and every touch counts.”
3M is engineering a novel mitigation technology to help aircraft OEMs and Tiers meet the high standards of cabin cleanliness. A new fluoropolymer film being developed by 3M Aerospace has potential to provide continuous and reliable protection of the surface from liquids, scrapes, dust and dirt and more. In the prototyping phase, it has demonstrated potential to dramatically decrease the transfer of microbes when the surface is touched as well as facilitate microbe removal during cleaning.
“When it comes to protecting aircraft interior surfaces,” Maroulis noted, “this film will have quite a bit to offer. It will provide great stain resistance to protect interior surfaces from graffiti as well as things like cosmetics, drinks and other liquids. And it’s tough. It will be able to protect against scrapes from luggage and help minimize yellowing with its powerful UV-resistant properties.”
“What’s more,” Maroulis added, “the advanced properties of the film will make removing dust and dirt much easier. These features will all come together to provide the kind of consistent protection and enhanced cleanability that’s needed in this day and age.”
“And the cherry on top,” according to Maroulis, “is a microstructure that is designed to reduce microbial transfer when touched.” A microstructure is a precise, repeating pattern of microscopic shapes covering a film, lens or other surface. It is created through a proprietary 3M technology called microreplication. Maroulis emphasized how the film's microstructure "is being designed to minimize the transfer of microbes from the film surface when touched. In addition, this microstructure has potential to enable microbes to be easily cleaned off the surface using only water and a cloth, without the need to use chemicals.”
The film is designed to be compatible with many common disinfectants, and the film’s microstructure improves wet out to help evenly disperse liquid cleaning and disinfecting chemicals across the surface. The 3M team is working with external laboratories to demonstrate the film’s capabilities to reduce touch transfer of bacteria, fungi and viruses – potentially including SARS-CoV-2.
The film is being designed to be easily added to existing aerospace industry processes:
The film is being tested for flammability, chemical resistance, mechanical abrasion and UV durability in accordance with industry requirements.
The pandemic has shifted the aerospace industry from a reactive to a proactive approach to cabin cleanliness. To minimize in-flight touch transfer of microbes, routine cleanings must be supplemented with constant mitigation and systematic management of frequently touched surfaces. Through this advanced film technology and more, 3M is helping aircraft OEMs and Tiers engineer the future of cabin cleanliness.
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