A Passion for Creation

posted on 2nd March 2020
A Passion for Creation

MSB Design specialises in designing, building and prototyping exceptional cabin components, with an unwavering commitment to ingenuity and quality. Sales Director Jean-François Thibault explains

Boucherville, Quebec-based MSB Design produces a variety of exquisite interior components for VIP and business jet cabins, blending advanced design techniques and fine materials to create items of exact form and function. Its inserts, for example, prevent crystal, china and flatware ‘chattering’, holding items firmly, with precision, preventing damage and distracting noise through simple, effective engineering.

The company is also held in high regard for its Hi-Lo pedestal tables, available in a range of styles and individually customisable, yet all based on the same exacting engineering, built to work perfectly and to last. These tables join the inserts and ready to assemble customised cabin kits as the cornerstone of MSB’s output. On top of this, it has its bespoke and prototyping work, including, for example, a retracting tablet-holder, debuted at NBAA-BACE last October.

A simple push on its ‘lid’ has the holder popping out of the sideledge and unfolding in a series of precise motions to present a handy, adjustable and secure mounting point. It’s just as easy to retract, the process of extending and stowing proving such a delight that ‘playing with’ the device is almost entertainment enough.

So carefully are MSB’s products crafted that they become part of the cabin fabric, as much Gulfstream or Bombardier as they are MSB, to the point where one could be forgiven for never considering where they came from; it’s as though they grew with the aircraft. Add to that the fact that MSB Design was founded only in 2005 and is therefore still relatively young, and it’s easy to overlook the origins of its creations.

To that end, Sales Director Jean-François Thibault, says: “We’ve worked very hard to ensure the leading aircraft manufacturers understand our offering. Our business started in Montreal and we had connections with Bombardier, with which we have worked since our inception. Our sales team has worked hard to forge relationships with other OEMs. Embraer was the second company to make our crystal, china and flatware holders line-fit options.

“A further significant step in our development was opening in Savannah. it demonstrated to Gulfstream, with which we also work closely, that we wanted to deliver to them the quality they needed. That brought many benefits to them and to us as a business. It improved efficiencies and communication, reducing budgets, since there was less distance to cover, no Forex issues (our suppliers are mostly in the US) and minimised issues at border control.

“When Sogeclair became our owner in 2014, their international experience added value to our strategy and we were given the resources needed to approach not just other OEMs but also designers and completion centres. This strategic growth has been essential to our success. We know we still have a long way to go and many territories to cover, but our name and brand is becoming more familiar. We now receive requests from all over the world and that wouldn’t have happened five years ago.”

Changing Experience

Meanwhile, cabin experience is increasingly about detail design in materials and integration, combined with effective functionality that turns the most mundane, prosaic task – holding an iPad, for example – into a micro-experience. As more passengers turn to personal devices to supplement or even replace viewing on traditional monitors, Thibault sees items like the new MSB tablet holder becoming more important.

“The market is definitely towards much more of a ‘bring your own device mentality’. Most passengers will have two or three devices to hand, so having efficient stowage systems that declutter the cabin and make it easy for passengers and crew to optimise their devices is becoming more significant.

“The cabin is increasingly connected and the tools users connect with are essential to a productive flight. Our mission is to make sure they are easy to use and can be efficiently stowed, as well as ensuring the cabin environment remains streamlined. Space is at a premium on any aircraft and MSB likes to optimise space in the most useful ways possible.

“Because so many of the products we provide directly interface with the aircraft owner or passenger, they are becoming the user experience. We are seeing a trend towards companies recognising that interior comforts are as important to their customers, or perhaps even more so, than aircraft performance. While each OEM pushes to achieve fuel economy or distance records, many are quietly winning customers by showing them that their cabin experience will be excellent – quiet, comfortable and functional. MSB has become a big part of that message.”

Passion for Creation

The passion of its staff, for aviation and engineering, is fundamental to MSB’s success. “We are passionate about creating amazing products of the highest quality and get a real kick out of thinking up new and interesting ways of making the inflight experience even better. Our engineers are given the opportunity to take an idea and create something new, which is so rewarding. Each individual is essential to the success of our business. Without them we would not succeed,” Thibault declares.

Much of the team’s work is typical of the business and VIP aviation juxtaposition of traditional craftsmanship and thinking applied to modern materials and engineering. In an industry that struggles to recruit young people and a particular niche where considerable skill is required, MSB is careful to attract and recruit the right people and here, as in all it does, the company takes an unusual approach.

“We want to grow and develop our team and aim to encourage their development. So, on the one hand we look for skilled craftspeople, while on the other we look for people with the right attitude – that’s harder to teach and is therefore one of our guiding principles when recruiting team members. We are also lucky enough to work with a pool of talent through the work package and contract division of our MSB Global Resources organisation. Some of those team members choose to join us and already have knowledge of what we do, our approach and what is needed to succeed.”

And how does this expert team apply its talents to the well understood environment of the aircraft cabin? “Through working directly with the OEMs to resolve engineering issues we gain an understanding of the needs of the market, the OEM and the customer, which is shared internally, guiding us as we develop and build our new products. We recognise and understand our customers’ problems and often provide innovative ideas to help them add value to their aircraft.

“Our drawer-sliders, for example, function better than existing solutions and remove 20lb of weight from the cabin. That’s the kind of product business aircraft manufacturers like to install. We don’t always set out to respond to a customer need, but by working closely with our OEM customers we see opportunities to improve cabin experience in many different areas. Creating space, optimising functionality and improving and enhancing the passenger experience are core to what we do.”

It ought to come as no surprise that MSB’s methods for working day-to-day with its customers are also innovative and unusual. Thibault explains: “When we launched the business it developed into two clear divisions. First, there was the contract and work packages element, which put contractors we managed into a variety of aerospace environments. At the same time, we were manufacturing three product lines, optimising our in-house engineering experience: the CCF [inserts], Hi-Lo [table] and cabinetry kits.

“Reflecting the industry, the ‘edges’ between these two operations began to blur as contractors that had worked with our OEM customers were inspired to suggest new ideas, or the customer would mention they’d met a challenge and we’d make a suggestion to resolve it. This has developed into our R&D division, which we expanded in 2019. Our precision expertise and our ability to rapidly react and resolve challenges has helped build our reputation, which also includes a commitment to quality and customer service.

“As we started working with individual design houses, bespoke items were requested more often; where it makes sense, we adapt and modify these for customers according to their needs. Our ability to create, develop, design, manufacture and install the products makes it seamless for the customer in terms of development and we can continually build on our knowledge and experience. It’s a unique proposition, but one that benefits the complete value and supply chain. Once we became part Sogeclair, our capabilities also grew as their knowledge of structures enhanced our offering.”

Working very closely with its customers on bespoke design helps MSB overcome the major challenges of such efforts – time and budget. “It is our job to translate the customer request into a product that can be made on time, on budget and delivered to the completion line at the right time. This is particularly true of brand new concepts and we spend significant time making sure we have the basics right before moving on to the final product.

Its abilities for lateral thinking, prototyping and traditional craftsmanship mean that MSB never stands still. “That’s one of the reasons we opened a dedicated research and development building at our Boucherville facility last year. We continue to look at how the market is developing and aim to predict what’s coming next. Recent initiatives have included a new bulkhead door mechanism that is smoother and lighter, and a retractable shower that we anticipate will be popular in the Middle Eastern market.”

In MSB’s most specialist work though, Boucherville says: “Communication with the customer is key, which is one of the reasons we try to be as close geographically to the customer as possible. It might be considered old fashioned, but sitting in a room with a customer and really getting to understand what they need, and what can be provided, is as important now as it was when we started out. The connections, communication and relationship building are essential. With design centres, the challenges may be different and relate more to, perhaps, the possibility of translating an expectation into a reality – sometimes it takes some serious lateral thinking. The rewards are when we deliver the prototype and the customer is delighted. This makes it all worthwhile.”