iPhone Dock for Business Jet

When one of the world’s largest In-Flight Entertainment and Connectivity (IFEC) providers wanted a docking station for iPhones across their corporate, private and VIP aircraft divisions they came to IFPL to provide the solution. It was a solution that needed to be simple, but one that worked to enhance the passengers’ experience and comfort.

The Situation

Long gone are the days when mobile phones were considered a luxury. Today, they offer ease of communication, entertainment and versatility and for many are considered a necessary part of everyday life. IFPL were asked to design and produce an iDoc to meet the growing passenger demand to both charge and interface their iPhones with an aircraft’s IFEC systems.

The requirement was to provide an iDoc unit to be installed within corporate, private and VIP aircraft and suitable for iPhone 5, 6 and 6+, using Apple’s compact Lightning cable.

The unit would enable a passenger to interface with an aircraft’s digital In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) and Cabin Management Systems (CMS). The unit would enable passengers to take full advantage of an aircraft’s HD audio, large screen and luxury theatre systems, video on demand and satellite communications, in addition to lighting, temperature and window shade control, attendant call and more.

The new unit also had to be capable of being installed into new aircraft, but also available as a retro-fit across the existing in service fleet. Plus, due to the nature of the requirement it had to be elegant in design. Initial production units were required in service within six-months.

The Challenges

As one of the world’s leading providers of IFEC components and solutions, IFPL fully understand the requirements of interfacing Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) such as iPhones with an aircraft’s IFEC systems. However, for this project a conventional approach would not suffice due to a number of key issues:

Production volumes would be low – when compared with more traditional IFEC products and therefore the normal economies of scale that would support the costs of product development, tooling and production cycles could not be applied. Methods would have to be adopted that would ensure a cost effective solution could be provided.

Timescales were tight – with demand from customers growing quickly, a solution needed to be developed and in-place within a six-month timeframe. This timescale did not allow for a conventional design, development and manufacturing approach.

Flexibility – the solution needed to be suitable not only for new-build aircraft but also as a simple retro-fit onto existing aircraft.

Why IFPL?

Widely regarded for their innovation, technical expertise and manufacturing capabilities across IFEC solutions for the world’s leading airlines, IFPL had already worked closely with the client and established an excellent working relationship. IFPL was therefore the logical choice for the customer to begin exploring this innovative solution.

After initial discussions and due to IFPL’s in-house end-to-end manufacturing capabilities, IFPL were also selected to develop the product due to their:

  • Research and development skills.
  • Industrial design.
  • Rapid prototyping abilities.
  • Mechanical and electrical design expertise.
  • Material science knowledge.
  • Pre-qualification testing facilities.
  • Extensive manufacturing capabilities.

IFPL could provide a reduced development time and give the customer the confidence that air worthiness approvals could be obtained and the product completed within the six-month project schedule. Ultimately, IFPL were the natural choice for the client to provide the new iDoc.

A solution delivered – “UK creativity and design at its best”

In considering the parameters of the brief, the IFPL project team of designers, engineers and manufacturing specialists identified aluminium as the best material from which to create the new iDoc.

Several considerations established this as the most suitable production material:

  • By its nature, milled aluminium offered greater flexibility in design and would enable IFPL to produce an innovative, elegant, modern and natural design for the new iDoc. The unit would also be tactile and highly attractive. This was a key requirement of the brief and would not have been possible if using more traditional materials and manufacturing techniques.
  • Machined from solid aluminium the iDoc could also be produced in low volume, within short lead times and without cost penalty, as no formal tooling would be required.
  • As a material, aluminium enabled IFPL to provide a unit with high durability and low maintenance over the long term.
  • Aluminium is light yet strong; delivering a high strength-to-weight ratio.
  • The material provides zero toxicity and is highly corrosion resistant, making it perfect for use within an aircraft’s interior and helping to ensure that air worthiness approvals would be simpler to obtain.

From initial Statement of Requirement (SOR) and Statement of Works (SOW), IFPL created design concepts for review with the client.

Following minor modifications to design, initial and rapid prototypes were produced by IFPL for further testing and approval with the client. Once approved, initial production batches were made ready for deployment into aircraft.

IFPL took the time to understand the client’s brief and using the depth and breadth of their design and manufacturing capabilities, ensured that a simple but effective solution could be provided.

The iDoc unit ultimately works to enhance the passenger experience and comfort on board corporate, private and VIP aircraft.