Chameleon Products founder Trevor Whetter on transforming boring surfaces into glorious finishes
Q: How long has Chameleon been going for, and what do you offer completions houses?
A: Chameleon Products was founded in 2000 with the aim of bringing a very high level of technical innovation to both the business aviation and the commercial airline markets. its unique contribution, which underpins much of our product portfolio, is the ability to take any product, however complex the shape, and enhance it by applying a pattern to the entire surface. We do this using the Chameleon water-and-ink-based transfer system, and the pattern is then sealed with a hardened lacquer, which gives it durability and longevity.
Q: Everything that you put into a business jet during the completions process has to be approved and certified. How do you deal with this side of things?
A: Our process involves creating what is effectively a painted and printed surface. What aviation authorities are looking for from that kind of product is to be satisfied that the flammability test properties of the coated product meet the regulatory requirements for the aircraft. The best way of approaching certification, then, involves negotiating a test programme with the relevant aviation authority before you start the completions process. We have already carried out detailed testing of our processes to the latest FAR 25 853 requirements for flammability, toxicity, smoke density and OSU on the most usual materials to which our product is applied. These include composite board and polycarbonate.
Basically our testing shows that our processes have very little additional effect on the flammability values of the original surfaces. We’ll work very closely with customers to help them satisfy the regulators, by providing either test specimens or flammability reports as required.
Q: It sounds like an extremely versatile coating product. What options does it open up for designers?
A: Because weight is such a critical factor for aviation, being able to put any pattern, be it a wood-like surface or a finish that looks exactly like marble, on any surface, creates a huge range of options for designers. With the hard lacquer finish, you can’t easily tell that it is not the real thing. So this enables designers to create very luxurious-looking finishes with a fraction of the weight budget that they would otherwise incur.
We have also recently added texture to the process so we can actually make the product feel like wood, with the grain raised. We really score with this product over the real wood veneers that have dominated the industry until now. The problem with real veneers is that over time the veneer either cracks or it suffers bleaching from the sun, which lowers the tone of the aircraft interior enormously.
As a result, we have several projects ongoing at the moment that involve stripping out ageing veneer surfaces and replacing them with our technology. Where the underlying veneer is still in good shape we can apply our decoration directly over the original veneer. This refreshes the whole aircraft and gets rid of the problem once and for all.
Q: What’s next from Chameleon?
A: In addition to our printing and coating processes, we are constantly working to develop new, innovative materials for completions houses and designers to work with. Our latest product is called Famoskin, a product that feels like very soft leather and has excellent durability and strength, despite being just 0.8mm thick. It works well as a soft covering for seats or where you might use leather as an upholstery option on interior monuments or side walls.
Once again, we have had the product comprehensively tested, and it has passed the CS25.853(a) 60-second and 12-second vertical burn, and smoke emissions testing. So getting it certified for business aviation will be very straightforward. It is cheaper than conventional leather.
We are also developing a new product called Famotex, a foam replacement product. Standard aircraft foam is not a very healthy or environmentally friendly product. Our foam replacement system allows air to flow through it, which helps the product to absorb body weight really well, and makes it ideal for crafting seating, for example. It is also flame retardant, when used in combination with the right fabrics. Famotex is undergoing testing at present.
Q: Is your process used only for new jets or does it work on existing furniture and monuments?
A: Our process is great for renewing and refreshing tired interiors. A dated wood-based interior that might have been in vogue 20 years ago can be transformed into a modern look, featuring, say, a black carbon fibre and white design. We take the veneer-covered pieces out and treat them at our site, or we can bring a mobile unit to the completions house. We try wherever possible to do a survey of the aircraft and to take a great many photographs to get a real feel for the existing design.
At the same time, if the client wants to keep the aircraft’s existing look, but just refresh it or add a new wood look to things, we can match what he currently has or suggest alternatives. This is an extremely versatile approach and we are always ready to help the client make the most of his or her aircraft. n