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Magna technology brings high-tech look to car interiors

By: Rhoda Miel

April 4, 2012

ORLANDO, FLA. (April 4, 8 p.m. ET) — Molding and electronics are creating a whole new way to put your car radio controls at your fingertips.

Unlike the mechanical dials, switches and buttons — and the flat screen system used on some cars now — Magna International Inc.’s Intelligent Surface is a system that integrates a capacitor film through in-mold technology to create one part with touch control placed on sculptured shapes that fit nicely in a driver’s hand.

For the system on display at Engel Machinery Inc. (Booth 943), that combination of technologies has created a sample that is very familiar to anyone who has ever used a computer mouse.

“It’s a very intuitive shape,” said Mike West, manager of product/process development for Magna. “People like the way it feels, and it only takes them a few minutes to understand it.”

The part is made using Engel clearmelt technology and Magna’s capacitive foil. The foil is located on the back surface of the part, but is triggered by touch and allows a driver to easily adjust a car’s temperature, adjust the radio or even place a call. Unlike a flat screen surface, the molded surface allows the company to integrate a raised surface to guide a user’s finger along the controls, so it is easier to manipulate the controls without taking your eyes off the road.

“We are able to create real sculptured surfaces,” said Georg Laukart, executive director for product line cockpit and instrument panels with Magna’s operations in Europe.

The capacitive foil is not only flexible – allowing it to be used on curved surfaces – it can also work with a leather skin, which will allow automakers more design options for various car trim levels, and also allow drivers to operate the controls while wearing gloves, unlike a smart phone, West said.

Magna can also set the system to activate when it senses nearby movement rather than touch, which would, for instance, turn on a glove box light automatically when someone reaches into it.

At NPE2012, an Engel duo 350 injection molding machine is producing the center consoles. Using spin-stack technology, the thermoplastic center console top carrier, made of ABS-Polycarbonate is injected while a molded part, created in the previous cycle, is overmolded with polyurethane in the second half of the mold.

The capacitive foil is insert placed into the mold via linear robots.

Beyond the aesthetics of the curved surfaces and the operation, the capacitive film also allows Magna and its customers to cut the amount of space needed for electronic controls. Without bulky wiring harnesses, carmakers have more space inside the car for the driver and passengers. Interior suppliers also can reduce the gap required between parts, improving interior fit and finish, said Tom Pilette, vice president of product and process development.

In addition to its typical automotive customer base, Magna has been showing the integrated film technology to a variety of other industries, such as the makers of home spas and agricultural equipment. The film may launch in commercial production in any of those industries soon, West said.

The auto industry is changing, and plastics have a good future, Peter Neumann, Engel’s president and CEO, said at the machinery maker’s press conference April 3.

“The philosophy to build cars will change dramatically in the next 10 to 15 years, and for us in the plastics industry, this is a great opportunity,” Neumann said.

Just as the Magna center console combines a plastic substrate with foil with electrical connections, Neumann said future growth in automotive plastics will marry two or more materials, such as plastics and metal, and highly automated production.

“Engel has our own automation company, so we are really well prepared for the challenges,” he said.