Auto interior supplier Johnson Controls Inc. has spent years improving its multimaterial, multicolor capabilities in injection molding, offering up its process to carmakers as a way to change the look of a vehicle at minimal costs.
With its Ikanos concept interior, though, it is giving that technology - all centered under JCI's ``CrafTec'' process name - a spin designers will understand.
``There are a whole lot of possibilities within CrafTec that we can show customers,'' said Brian Dexter, industry design manager with JCI's Plymouth, Mich., auto group. ``Here we can bring in a designer and show them the benefits in a design setting. You can begin to look at this as a design enabler.''
Engineers understand multishot injection molding, he said. Buyers understand the price benefits compared with processes requiring added manufacturing steps.
The Ikanos concept, which debuted Jan. 9 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, highlights how a designer can offset a handle through a change in color, he said. A concept center console produced using JCI's Multi-Color Injection - or MIC - molding method marks the switch between the front row of seats and second row, without the need for additional assembly or paint.
Some of the processes under the CrafTec umbrella already are in use within JCI. The firm's partial mold behind system integrates a skin over the injection molded substrate, while partial foam-in-place adds the ability to include foam padding between substrate and skin for a more upscale feel, without requiring secondary manufacturing processes.
The firm's multicolor process will go into door panels on five new vehicles launching production this year.
At the same time, Ikanos also takes in new proposals that JCI still is developing. A concept ``perimeter overhead'' system would replace the thermoformed structural interior roof - which typically includes glass-reinforced plastics and sound-deadening acoustic barriers - with an injection molded frame circling the outer edge of the overhead area.
The frame would allow a space for molded-in storage bins, house curtain air bags and serve as a frame for the overhead decorative and acoustic material, similar to the canvas stretched across a painter's easel.
The entire overhead system would be shipped to automakers as a single module, said Rob Hamelink, chief engineer for overhead product development. The company believes it can control overall costs by developing a standard perimeter trim that would share tooling costs across a wider platform, then using CrafTec's multicolor and skin technology to change the look and feel of different vehicles.
JCI also is showing a concept seat that replaces many of the steel structural components with plastics. The Genus concept uses a thermoformed, proprietary carbon fiber and thermoplastic composite mix from Glenwood Springs, Colo., engineering group Fiberforge for the back support, marrying it with ultrathin foam on the padding.
``Thinner is an issue in seating,'' said David Dwight, Fibeforge vice president of marketing.
The molding system developed by the companies aims to produce a finished composite system for carbon fiber at high enough levels for use in the auto industry, Dwight said.
Another development replaces some of the foam on side bolsters with a flexible thermoplastic on the Genus, according to Bill Fluharty, vice president of industry design and new product strategy.