Innovation sets Cecence on winning ways

Award picture

Cecence directors Mike Orange (left), Samantha Bunyan and Humphrey Bunyan
celebrate their win at JEC World 2019.

Photos: Samantha Bunyan

Following ‘the road less travelled’ is paying dividends for UK composite engineering specialist Cecence. The company has won a prestigious award for its innovative aircraft seat backs made of composite material – and they’re flying with a major flag-carrier.

Now the Hampshire-based SME is leading a NATEP-backed project to develop a low-cost composite alternative to aluminium components for aerospace.

This spring, Cecence came home from JEC World 2019, the international composites show in Paris, with the Innovation award which it won, in a public vote, for its processing methodology and production of a 16g seat back, which is Airbus line-fit approved and in service.

It’s a tribute to the company’s willingness to constantly push for new, cutting-edge development.

"Our approach enables us to do what larger more risk-averse organisations cannot, and as a result we have the freedom to be truly innovative,”
says Samantha Bunyan, Cecence founder and head of Industry Engagement. 


‘A hard task’

When it comes to innovation, Cecence has form. Another of its founders, Humphrey Bunyan, invented the composite cabling systems now widely used in F1 cars and race boats. Success there prompted the company to look at applying its understanding of new materials to larger sectors. “We gave ourselves a hard task,” said Samantha Bunyan.

They recognised any breakthrough depended on being able to manufacture components cost-effectively, quickly and in compliance with regulations on fire, smoke and toxicity (FST). Hot compression moulding gave them speed at a competitive rate. Compliance called for ingenuity.
“We said from the start we wouldn’t do anything [in aerospace] unless we could easily meet the FST standards,” she said. So, working closely with collaborative partners, they developed a portfolio of materials with compliance built in, instead of relying on coatings or further processes to meet the standard, and crucially deconstructed the manufacturing process to optimise the manufacturing parameters of these materials.

This approach allows designers greater freedom in the shaping of the component to optimise the spatial experience for the passenger.

The outcome, said Samantha, is processes and materials that are easy and fast, with six minutes of pressing in the mould yielding a component ready to trim – a far cry from the lengthy wet-layup and autoclave process commonly associated with manufacturing in composites.

Produces little waste
Pic 2 Cecence
Cecence and partners have developed a portfolio of materials with in-built FST compliance.

And the process is quick, repeatable and produces little waste – all reasons why Cecence is a strong advocate of hot compression moulding. “We deploy a number of different manufacturing methods at Cecence, including resin infusion and other more traditional methods, but hot compression moulding is our processing method of choice,” said Samantha.

Their NATEP project, titled ‘Low Cost FST Compliant Composite Components’, commenced in September 2018. It brings Cecence together with industry partners SHD Composites and Wavelength NDT, and Pitch Aircraft Seating.

The partners are developing low-cost, fast process methods and FST-compliant thermoplastic/thermoset materials to replace structural aluminium. They’re particularly interested in bio resins and low-toxicity recyclable solutions.

Pitch Aircraft Seating, on the project as end-user, has designed and manufactured lightweight aircraft seats in aluminium and wanted to understand how composites could work in place of metal. “We wanted to show that composites didn’t have to be expensive,” said Samantha. “NATEP funding has allowed us to work together".

Knowledge of which fibres work.
Pic 3 Cecence
Close-up of the short chip remouldable thermoplastic material being introduced on the NATEP project

Cecence’s ‘right fibre right application’ (RFRA) philosophy relates to everything it does. “We’ve developed good expertise and knowledge of which fibres work in which applications and with which processing methods,” she said. This translates into saving money on consumables and almost no waste. 

Short-chip fibres, for example, in the thermoplastic materials Cecence is working on are remouldable and lend themselves to “a different life” after first use.

The company believes in using non-destructive testing (NDT) as part of the development process to highlight potential problems and allow for corrections. “NDT gives customers confidence in new materials.”


Winning an industry award has boosted Cecence. “It gives a validity to the work we’ve set out to do since our inception,” said Samantha. “It shows how an SME can use its flexibility, agility and open-mindedness to come up with a solution, see it go into production and end up on a plane!”

NATEP, she said, makes you focus on the marketplace. “All too often innovative ideas remain just that, because they lack commercial viability. NATEP stops you from being trapped in lengthy academic analysis and pushes you to come up with a feasible future product. We call that ‘making innovation tangible’".