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Project: Transpose Modular Aircraft Cabin 

A^3 logo
Transpose aircraft cabin render
Transpose restaurant module
aircraft restaurant module
aircraft sleeping cabin module

Photos courtesy of Airbus

Project Summary

Project Transpose proposed to create a modular platform to decouple the design of the passenger environment from the aircraft design and to enable innovative passenger experiences. Differentiation, if conducted through the conventional cabin design process, is expensive, time consuming, and risky, which contributes to the relatively slow pace of innovation in the airline passenger experience. By using an existing aircraft design and creating modular environments to fit within the existing space, customization cost can be substantially reduced. 

NK Labs was selected by A^3 as the Structural Workstream Lead and the Electrical and Systems Workstream Lead for this ambitious endeavor.

The Design Process

The A330-200F cargo aircraft was selected for the focus of the module concept as it is a currently flying platform equipped with a large cargo door through which the modules would be loaded and also exists as a passenger version. NK Labs approached this new design by breaking it down into a series of smaller tasks with each one providing the foundation for the subsequent steps.

Requirements Flowdown
We first set about defining the requirements for the various areas. We defined a set of high-level requirements, as well as a set of derived requirements flowing from each of the high level requirements. For example, the Electrical Workstream gathered the electrical requirements for the systems in a typical aircraft galley to define a power capacity for the module. The Structural Workstream had similar lists for physical characteristics such as weight and dimensions.


Trade Study

After setting up the initial requirements, we explored a variety of solutions for each system.  For example, for the data network topology we considered configurations such as mesh, star, tree, daisy-chain, data bus, and wireless.  Each approach was evaluated using quantifiable metrics in order to inform the design decisions.

​Rapid Prototyping / Mockups

Once the initial structural concept was developed, the Structural Workstream made physical models using rapid prototyping techniques. These models facilitated visualization and discussion of the concepts within all the subsystem workstreams to further refine the system design.

Transpose 3D prints

Scaled 3D prints of modular cabin and base module frame


Detailed Design and Iteration

Next, we performed the detailed engineering design to bring the concept into a working product. For the Structural Workstream, this involved carefully integrating the module structure CAD into the structure of the A330-200F in collaboration with Airbus engineers to ensure secure attachment to the airframe and module compatibility with the aircraft's electrical and mechanical systems. NK Labs also conducted detailed simulations of the stress experienced by the module and interior structures to ensure they met all safety requirements.

Transpose module structural model

COMSOL simulation of module structure under load


For the Electrical and Systems Workstream, NK Labs developed plans for integration and routing of ventilation and wet systems, as well as power, data, oxygen, and other electrical systems. In all cases, managing the interfaces between aircraft-module and module-cabin (interior) were critical for keeping all the workstreams coordinated and the subsystems' design objectives aligned.

Transpose module electrical routing

Routing of Systems in module (courtesy of Airbus)

Transpose air casters

Image showing air caster loading system (courtesy of The Verge)


The Results

A^3 created a full scale fuselage and upper deck for an A330 inside a warehouse in San Jose, CA. The mockup included all important features such as the main cargo and evacuation doors, ventilation, seat tracks, etc. 

Transpose module full-scale

Full-scale mockup of the A330 for laying out the Transpose modules (courtesy of Airbus)


Under the direction of A^3, NK Lab delivered detailed plans to a module fabricator for construction of the module frames and paneling. Airbus engineers and designers created environments to showcase different experience options such as a restaurant and sleeping berths. NK Labs also assisted in the installation of the completed modules within the fuselage structure. The project culminated with a full scale demonstration of modular environments, including the loading system.

Transpose electrical system development

NK Labs engineers working on the electrical system of the full-scale Transpose mockup.

Transpose completed mockup

NK Labs team with the completed mockup


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