By: Rhoda Miel
January 15, 2013
AUBURN HILLS, MICH. -- Faurecia SA has been showing its potential weight-saving composite seating to automakers for a few years. But just in case carmakers aren't ready to change their seats completely, the auto supplier also is showing them how to bring new seating concepts into an existing production infrastructure.
"We're not backing off from [the composite proposal] but we're showing them how they can take plastic and apply it to an existing structure," said Mike Miner, product line manager for seating for Faurecia North America, during a Dec. 19 interview at Faurecia's North American headquarters in Auburn Hills.
Faurecia showed its latest concept interiors and seating to automakers at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November.
In seating, the company is continuing to use injection molding for structural shells to support thinner and lighter seating, but its Urban Rhythm concept married them with a steel frame, rather than composite proposals shown previously on the 2011 Performance Seat concept.
While automakers need to bring down vehicle weight to meet requirements for lower fuel consumption — and seating is a big focus for potential weight savings — automakers also know that seats must pass rigorous crash requirements. That makes it harder to commit to large-scale changes in material standards.
Urban Rhythm would allow them to keep familiar structures that have passed crash tests for years, but also to trim seating weight and sizes within that structure, Miner said. The combination of steel and plastics could provide the fastest way to bring Faurecia's concepts to the market.
The seats also build on previous Faurecia proposals by expanding the use of an injection molded shell to the seat cushion in addition to the seat back.
A typical seat cushion uses foam and springs on top of a steel base. Faurecia proposes to exchange that for a specially designed thermoplastic base that can be engineered to move with the occupant, similar to the way injection molding has been used in executive seating in the office furniture industry.
Faurecia already has worked with office furniture giant Steelcase Inc. to adapt the Steelcase Leap chair technology for seat backs for concept lightweight seats. Miner said it extended that thinking under its own engineering team to the seat cushion, with a shape designed to move along with people in a "bio-sympathetic" form.
The injection molded base would be molded with a foam-in-place cover skin for a thin profile, maxing out with 35 millimeters of foam.
Urban Rhythm is focused on smaller cars, although it could go into any size vehicle, Miner said.
Faurecia will kick off tooling development for prototype production of the seat backs in 2013. Seat cushion development is about a year from prototype tooling.
Faurecia also is looking at ways to make it easier for automakers to adapt new technology in interior trim.
The supplier has used a natural material composite in substrates for years, in parts such as door panels. It has produced the substrate in more than 60 vehicles over 20 years. Natural materials reduce weight by 25-40 percent compared with a glass-reinforced substrate, but the desire to maintain a standard appearance in interior trim prompted automakers to cover them with cloth or a skin, which brings weight back onto the part.
With its new Ligneco process, Faurecia can combine the compression molded substrate with a very thin polypropylene decorative foil, which provides a familiar surface but at a lower cost and weight, said Jay Hutchins, director of marketing and product planning.
"We've done a lot as an industry with development of technology," Hutchins said. "Breakthrough technology is great, but it's always a big step for the industry. So, what can we do that will be easier for the entire industry to use?"