Aerospace-Grade Aluminum: The Perfect Metal for Rocket Ships and Car Seats
A conversation with the WAYB Product Team on one of our favorite materials.
Aluminum is the most abundant metallic element on Earth. Its super strength and light weight make it the perfect material for everything from planes and trains to rocket ships! That's why we chose aluminum (instead of the plastic used in traditional seats) for the Pico Portable Car Seat. There are so many great reasons why we chose aluminum for the Pico - from design to strength to sustainability. We recently sat down with our Product Team, Innovation Discovery Chief Jeff Lockie and Product Developer Suah Yu, to talk about our favorite metal and why it was the perfect match for Pico.
So what do the Pico and rocket ships have in common?
JL: They both go to outer space! [Laughter] Pico is not approved for outer space use… They both have aluminum!
Where did we originally get the idea to consider using aluminum for the Pico?
JL: Our production partners have a lot of experience in it. Michael Crooke, our Co-founder and former CEO of Patagonia, also spent a lot of time studying the benefits of aluminum: its recycling potential and abundance, strength, durability, the safety of those features and, of course, the fact that it’s so lightweight.
So when it came to the design inspiration for the car seat, it was all centered around the idea of aluminum. Using aluminum allowed us to hit the targets of strength, safety, durability, weight, and environmental footprint; and it matched perfectly with the expertise of our manufacturing partner.
Was the decision to move from plastic to aluminum driven by the environmental mission, or did aluminum’s performance benefits play a big part as well?
JL: Our decision was driven by multiple priorities. With aluminum, we were definitely excited first and foremost about its strength, weight, and durability. Safety and performance always come first. We always strive to create the best possible product with the smallest possible environmental footprint.
As a company, our mission is to create products that are better for people and better for the planet -- “way better,” which is actually the root of our name, WAYB. We’re always looking for opportunities to limit our use of plastics in an effort to combat the global plastic pollution problem, and aluminum is integral to that core tenet of our design approach.
Can you talk about how the Pico is manufactured? I’ve heard the term extrusion used for aluminum manufacturing. What exactly is extrusion?
JL: When it comes to extrusion, the best example is probably a Play-Doh fun factory. If you take a billet (a small bar of metal), which is like your Play-Doh, and you force it through the desired shape in your Play-Doh fun factory (call this your die) - spaghetti or whatnot - it comes out in that shape. Extrusion is kind of the same thing. It’s a process that transforms aluminum billets into shapes, and that’s how we create the shape of the Pico Car Seat frame.
What type of aluminum is used in the Pico?
The Pico contains two different types of aluminum: 6000-series and 7000-series. The main frame is 6000-series, and the tubes that help the Pico’s bottom and backrest fabric covers keep their shape are 7000-series.
6000-series aluminum has more give, allowing it to absorb energy forces in a crash, and you can weld with it and to it.
On the other hand, 7000-series aluminum is stronger in terms of its strength-to-weight ratio. It’s often used in products like hiking poles, tent poles, and backpacks, so it’s the perfect material for Pico’s aluminum tubing where we need something strong and could hold shape.
Fun fact: Our manufacturer is one of the few that extrudes their own 7000-series aluminum.
Did using aluminum offer benefits from a design standpoint that you may not have gotten with other materials?
JL: Color. The ability to emphasize color, as that’s really the first thing people see.
SY: It’s certainly got a stronger visual impact compared to using plastic. It provides a more engineered and cohesive feel when we’re able to add color to the base construction of the seat.
On that note, you’ve talked a lot about the benefits of aluminum over plastic. What are some sustainability benefits of aluminum that make it so central to your product development process?
JL: Aluminum is the most abundant naturally-occurring material on Earth! Did you know 75% of the aluminum used in manufacturing is made of recycled content? We love that aluminum is infinitely recyclable -- you can use and reuse it over and over and over again. Infinitely.
SY: Usually with plastics, there’s a limit. You can recycle it once, maybe twice, and then it just loses its structural integrity the more it’s recycled.
JL: And if you’re looking at the entire supply chain of our operations, lighter-weight products have a lower environmental impact than heavier alternatives when it comes to transportation in terms of freight and delivery. So using a lighter weight option like aluminum in place of steel or plastic can have a big impact overall.
What’s next for WAYB and aluminum? Is there more to come?
SY: We definitely have stuff in the works!
JL: Yeah, we’re going to continue to use it. The aluminum frame on the Pico has performed really well. It allows us a beautiful design, which is a pretty cool signature.
SY: Aluminum will always be an iconic material for WAYB. We’re always looking for ways where we can use aluminum, especially in place of plastic.