Used & Abused: The Life of an Airplane Seat.

By Ganesh Sethuraman

Air Travel. What kind of thoughts comes to mind when you think of it? Luxury? Glamour? More often than not, these days it conjures up more stoic terms: endurance, perseverance. Well if that’s how you feel imagine what it’s like if you’re an airplane seat, and I’m not talking about those fancy business class (let alone first class) seats, no I think of the lowly economy class seat, for which the very same terms would absolutely apply.

Whether it’s the having to withstand passengers sitting down, getting up, pulling on them, pushing on them, economy seats are constantly stressed. Add to that, they can never fail because that could mean taking the plane out of operation and incur huge losses of revenue while it is being repaired. And this isn’t even before taking into consideration accounting for all sorts of worst-case in-flight scenarios. So they need to be indestructible, but as with everything on a plane, they need to be lightweight. 

I think it stated best in this article: “…Airlines want the lightest viable seats they can buy, and almost no carrier wants anything heavier than 9 kilograms, or about 20 pounds. “You could make an indestructible seat,” Savian said. “That’s not the issue. It’s to make a seat at the weight required. “The weight tends to whittle away at the robustness.”

Still, seat makers say they get close to making products no one can ruin, despite what airlines demand.” ( credit to Brian Summers,

One of the ways of striking that balance between light-as-possible and robustness is to optimize the structural integrity of these seats to account for all of these myriad load cases. And while we’ve been talking about the benefits of designer topology optimization in our ongoing series on simulation-driven design, this is where it is necessary to look to the analyst level NX Nastran topology optimization solution. 

In this video below we show how we can go about doing just that. Using the newly released capabilities in Simcenter 3D 12 and NX Nastran 12 we are able to optimize the shape of the seat supports to account for all of those loading conditions and be as light as possible, thus making life easier for airplane seats.

Making life easier for passengers though? ….That’s another story.

This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at