Wood has historically remained a staple in virtually all private aviation interiors going all the way back to the beginning. And it hasn't changed in all the decades. There is something about being surrounded by a rich wood in all of its natural natural, organic warmth - at 51,000 ft above the earth."
Continued from main page . . .
JCFM: When did Collins acquire and what kind of changes did that bring about?
BV: Booth Veneers has been incorporated into larger and larger businesses throughout the years. Carl initially sold the business to DeCrane in 2000, who sold to Goodrich in 2010, who became part of United Technologies Corp (UTC Aerospace) in 2012. In 2018, UTC bought Rockwell-Collins and Collins Aerospace was formed. UTC went on to merge with Raytheon in 2020, forming Raytheon Technologies. In the corporate structure, Booth stayed a part of Collins Aerospace and reports into the Collins Aerospace Seating Group within the Interiors business unit.
The changes that has brought about are very positive. There are employee benefits, such as the employee scholar program, where Collins will pay for anyone in the workforce to take classes towards earning a degree. There are dozens of our employees who have taken advantage of this program, and it would not be unusual to find one of our craftsman or machine operators working on the production floor who has an MBA. The Collins structure has also allowed us to invest much more heavily into the business. We have added new machines to increase our capabilities and capacity and we stood up a complete engineering lab for product testing and lifecycle evaluation to name a few.
JCFM: One of the major components of our subscriber base is Designers and Completion Centers. They have options of course when it comes to veneers. What would you say to them in defining the things that set you apart from other suppliers?
BV: We are fully aware that we aren’t the only game in town anymore, which fuels us to be better today than we were yesterday. Our whole company is focused on continuous improvement, and that flows into every process within our plant. From the products we offer to the personal, attentive service we provide our customers, we are constantly trying to make a more perfect customer experience. Our employees are a huge part of our differentiator as well. Our workforce has an average tenure of 15-years, and we had two employees this year alone roll over the 30-year mark. Our craftsmen have made hundreds, sometimes thousands of shipsets and know our customers and their platforms extremely well. It’s not unusual for a designer to request a particular craftsman for a particular project because of the trust they have in them.
We have also really focused on product development over the last five years. We want to provide options that are more contemporary, lighter, more fire-retardant, and easier to work with. An example of catering to a more contemporary design is our carbon fiber veneer that we released a few years ago. Working with our suppliers, we incorporate a fire-retardant resin into the carbon fiber veneer sheets that we can then adhere to our traditional substrate. The result is a product that is the same thickness as our traditional wood products, but has a very modern aesthetic. Keeping the thickness the same is important so engineering doesn’t have to change at all; it’s plug and play. Our carbon fiber product has really taken off over the last couple years. And that really is our goal; to innovate new products that not only meet current design trends, but also enable designers to lead the industry with their own ideas and imagination.
JCFM: Can you take us through the process from when a designer shows up at your facility to select veneers for a project? When they leave, what then does Booth go through in preparing the veneers for shipping an installation at the center?
BV: Sure, so nine times out of ten, the designers will approach us with an idea of what they want and or perhaps a specie they favor, the cut etc. Or maybe it’s something the customer has in his car or their home or maybe even an existing aircraft; something they’re trying to match to. Or they might say, I’m looking for a flat cut walnut not too heavily figured and we will look at our inventory, talk to our suppliers and try to present them with as many options as we possibly can. Also, one thing people don't necessarily know about our businesses is that when somebody is looking at various samples they're not approving a flat cut walnut they're approving that specific ‘log’ that will ultimately go on their aircraft. So we do what we call a type sample initially saying this is what a flat cut walnut looks like, whereas a ‘live sample’ means we're sending you this sample and we are reserving that log for your customer. And once we get their thumbs up (or thumbs down), at that point we either release the log or we'll turn that into their ship set.
This is the artistry side of our manufacturing and where our vast experience and skill comes in. Laying out the individual pieces is so critical because every log has its flaws; character marks as we like to say.
JCFM: Would you mind giving our readers a quick synopsis of what happens from that point?
BV: Sure, so, once we have the order, we're going to match to the sample. We take photos of it, make sure that it matches what we can achieve out of the log. This of course ensures that the live sample the designer signed off on, can actually be achieved from the log across the entirety of the aircraft. It then goes through our normal manufacturing process of drying, trimming, cut to size through an internal inspection prior to getting adhered, glued up, trimmed, sanded and receiving fire blocking if required. It then goes through another lengthy inspection process just prior to being packaged up and shipped to the customer.
JCFM: Just to make sure I’m clear, are you saying it is a normal part of Booth’s process to layup each flitch to a pattern for each bulkhead or piece of furniture in the aircraft?
BV: That’s correct. This is a huge and vitally important part of what we do for our customers on each and every project. This ensures that when our veneer arrives to the completion center, it is fully mapped, cut and precisely trimmed for each veneer surface – fully ready to be installed.
This is the artistry side of our manufacturing and where our vast experience and skill comes in. Laying out the individual pieces is so critical because every log has its flaws; character marks as we like to say, but they're flaws in others eyes - so we need to cut around those while still maintaining a very consistent and unique look throughout the aircraft.
JCFM: Can you tell us how much of your process with the veneers themselves is by hand vs. machine - and one or the other is necessary for that part?
BV: One of the most fascinating aspects of our products is that every individual log requires its own unique game plan on how we will transform it into a beautiful, seamless shipset. No log is perfect so they all require smart decision-making and a robust understanding of where panels will end up on the airplane. It truly is a craft, and something that cannot be taught using a standardized work instruction. So whether the process is accomplished by hand or by machine, there must be a well-trained human eye in the loop. For instance, we have pneumatic knives that can cut through several sheets of veneer, which obviously helps speed up production, but the decision on where to make that cut is the most crucial decision in the process.
To turn the individual veneer leaves into panels can be accomplished either by hand or using an edge-weld machine (aka glueline machine). The decision to use one or the other is based solely on the individual characteristics of the log. Typically longwoods (straight-grain woods) are able to go through the edge-welder, but sometimes they won’t, particularly if it’s a very grainy wood like some oaks for instance. All burls are taped together by hand. It’s an extremely laborious process, but we feel it is the only way to produce a high-quality burl panel.
JCFM: Does it matter what will ultimately be put on a particular veneer or wood type? In other words, can a particular kind of clearcoat change or otherwise cause a problem?
BV: Our customers all have their own clearcoats and processes they have developed over time, and they can be very different from one customer to the next. The one thing they all have in common is that they are going to “wet” the wood once they are applied, which does change the color slightly. You can imagine if you spilled water on a raw leaf of veneer, you’d be able to tell where it was wet because of the slight color difference. Clearcoats essentially lock that color change in permanently, which is why it is very rare for the end customer to even see a raw wood sample. Customers are shown veneer samples with the finish applied so they can approve the exact look and color that will be in the aircraft. Providing samples is a key process in our business, and virtually every customer would consider applying their finish to those samples to be a key process for them. Everyone in the finish industry has very mature processes and issues caused by the clearcoat are exceedingly rare.
JCFM: How difficult is it to get Brazilian Rosewood these days - or other varietals that may be on the endangered / protected fringes.
BV: Rick, I can tell you with absolute confidence that we have the world's largest inventory of exotic aviation grade veneer right here, on site in Jeffersonville - or within our direct control. And with that being said, we do not have any Brazilian rosewood veneer currently in stock. The reason for that is because it’s literally that hard to get. As you suggest, some of these species go on the endangered list and it just makes them impossible to acquire. On top of that, we only purchase logs that are sustainably and ethically harvested – as well as compliant with the FCS (Forest Stewardship Council). That certification is vitally important to us, our customers and in maintaining integrity across the industry. You may not be familiar with the term ‘log pirates’ but it’s a common one in our industry. These are people that will illegally cut trees and try and sell them to veneer manufacturers or elsewhere. Fortunately, those practices aren’t as common as they once were but as an industry, it’s one way we ensure ethical responsibility in our daily trade.
JCFM: What about when a customer or designer has identified a wood that he or she loves in terms of its character, grain etc. but the coloration is not quite what they’re looking for? I know that back in the day, aniline dyes were often used in achieving a particular color or hue to suit the client. Is this still a practice?
BV: It does happen, yes. We're actually working on a program now where the customer wants something along the gray lines, which is very popular right now - but they love the figure of a Eucalyptus which does not naturally produce those color characteristics. In this case and other rare cases, we do occasionally utilize dyes to push the color in one direction or another to achieve the customer’s desires. It can add some time to the project and as you might imagine, it is an extremely specialized expertise – and not something we do internally. There is really only one vendor in the world that we feel comfortable using and that’s simply because they’re the best in achieving not only the desired color tonalities, but an absolutely perfect consistency across the order – which is imperative.
JCFM: Back in the nineties, it seems like everybody was into Birdseye Maple. What sorts of varieties are trending now with aviation designers.
BV: It is very interesting to watch the trends in the aviation market. Right now, walnut could not be more popular. Whether it’s flat-cut or quartered, figured or not, everyone wants walnut. We are also seeing a trend into the gray color tones, which is interesting because it’s something Mother Nature doesn’t make in natural woods. This has led to a strong demand for composite (or reconstituted) veneers, which are made from wood but are engineered using dyes to produce a wood-grain pattern in colors that are not naturally occurring. I would also say that the lighter-toned oaks are becoming more popular, particularly in Europe.
Booth maintains a full-range in-house flame testing lab
JCFM: What sort of major innovations have occurred in veneers over the last ten years or so? For example, can your veneers now cover surfaces or geometry that wasn't possible before?
BV: The biggest innovation for us in many years is developing a product that can pass the flammability requirements of commercial aviation. Those requirements are much more stringent than for business aviation, particularly the Ohio State University 65/65 heat release test. The OSU 65/65 test is the reason you do not see real wood on commercial airlines, and for years they have had to use laminates or hydrographics to get a wood look. We have worked for well over 5-years to engineer a product that could pass that test, and finally launched the product late last year. We call it the CertiFly system. CertiFly veneer uses the same beautiful veneers we always allow our customers to choose from, but uses metallics in the backing material. Additionally, we had to develop the CertiFly finishing system that is used in combination with the special veneer panel. This system is proven to pass all the requirements of commercial aviation, and we are actually in production for our first commercial program. To break into this new market is very exciting for our business, as we are once again pioneering aviation veneer.
JCFM: All aviation suppliers are constantly developing new products. What new products or techniques does Booth have or have planned for rollout in the near-term?
BV: We have a product we introduced in 2019 called FLiteFlex which is 60% lighter than our traditional veneer product. With this product we can take any customer-chosen face veneer and adhere it to a polymer backer that is very thin, flexible, and stable. This product can take up to 200-pounds off of a large business jet, which is quite impactful. The first airplane where this product was utilized was actually a VIP 737 which was very weight sensitive. We were able to save hundreds of pound on that program just by using FLiteFlex instead of our traditional 3-ply veneer. It is also much more durable than traditional felt or paper-backed veneers, which makes the cabinet shop’s job that much easier. With some species of wood, you can actually bend it around a ballpoint pen.
While I can’t tell you everything we have in our R&D pipeline, I will say we are constantly showing designers prototypes of new products and ideas we have to get their feedback. We prioritize on what resonates with them the most. But I think where we really shine is when someone brings us an idea or a problem and says, “How can we accomplish this?” The expertise on our team and our culture of developing novel solutions makes us uniquely equipped to be the best problem-solvers in the industry. We like launching new products to sell to everyone, but we really enjoy partnering with our customers to solve unique design challenges for their customers.
JCFM: Gentlemen this has been a lot of fun and very rewarding in terms of what I’ve learned and what our readers will no doubt take from it. But before we go, I wanted to ask you what other factors besides the process, the inventory etc that account for your success. As we close our Q&A, would you speak to that just a little bit?
Sure, it’s our favorite subject. We've got people here, direct labor folks that could literally go out and run another veneer business right now – an average of 15 years plus right down there on the floor. That’s obviously huge in and of itself. But the other part of it is our relentless focus on the overall customer experience. If I had to sum it up quickly, those are undoubtedly the two biggest drivers of our success. We have that tenured experience, and we continually sharpen that customer focus on literally every new customer that walks through our door.
Well, that’s a good way to take us out. Thank you. Lastly, I heard one of you pitch out a phrase a few minutes ago; something about magic.
Ahh yes. It was a phrase coined back in the nineties, I’m not even sure who by – but it’s…
…The Booth Magic.
We still hear it often and we like to think it’s what we deliver to our customers.
Our sincere thanks to:
Brian K. Barnett – Senior Manager, Sales & Engineering,
Michael Thompson – General Manager / Value Stream Leader, and
Archie Sims - Quality Manager
For more info, visit: boothveneers.com