Carmakers discovered LED mood lighting for their vehicles this year, introducing cars, trucks, sport utility vehicles and minivans with the tiny lights tucked into roof systems, instrument panels and doors.
Now 3M Co. wants to take light-emitting-diode technology to the next level, and is introducing automotive designers to its proprietary way of bending and shaping light to accent even the tightest spaces.
Using the company's Precision Lighting Elements, the firm can squeeze lights into a package space just a quarter of an inch in diameter, said Robert Miller, lighting designer and auto market manager, during an Aug. 16 interview at 3M's Livonia automotive office.
The St. Paul, Minn.-based company brought a customized sports utility vehicle to Livonia to demonstrate to car designers and engineers what it can do with lights and other new interior trim concepts it is introducing to the marketplace.
Precision Lighting Elements channel the light from two LEDs along a narrow piece of extruded plastic, either in a solid rod ready for use on seat backs, or in a flexible format that automakers and suppliers can bend around parts such as cup holders.
Existing LED systems use strings of lights. The PLE format reduces the number of lights needed, since there is only one light on each end of the extrusion - which reduces heat output from the lights and decreases electrical requirements for the interior lighting package, according to Miller.
The company also is introducing new films that mimic the look and feel of wood or metal in interior trim parts.
The proprietary 3M film, which can be thermoformed, is likely to go into commercial production in 2008.