Soybean-based polyurethane foam blends have been a big hit for auto interiors maker Johnson Controls Inc.
Since their launch two years ago, the soy foam seats have found a place on 11 different vehicle platforms in North America. But the firm encountered a problem in taking the eco-friendly seating global soybean oil was not as available in other parts of the world.
So now JCI is adding some international agricultural flair to its plant-based urethane program.
In Asia, it will make urethane foam with about 5 percent content from palm oil, while European foams will use a combination of castor oil and canola oil. JCI is calling the foam ``natural-oil polyols'' or ``NOPs,'' rather than the older ``soyfoam'' label.
``You want to be able to achieve the environmental aspect in other regions,'' said Dan LaFlamme, product development manager for JCI's Plymouth, Mich.-based interiors unit, during a Jan. 13 interview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The palm oil blend will hit the market first, with a JCI facility in Malaysia set to begin production later this year.
The castor and canola blends in Europe still are getting their final technical tweaks.
In North America, soybeans are a major crop typically used in animal feed, with soy oil as a byproduct. But the soybean isn't grown or processed in exactly the same way elsewhere, LaFlamme said. Transferring the technology from soy into other plant oil blends makes sense.
JCI is reconfiguring other parts of its seating offerings for automakers with its thin-profile Synergy Seat, which uses a glass-filled polypropylene structural form encompassing the back and sides of the seat in place of wire and foam.
The company has shown the PP ``Comfort Shell'' proposal before, but the structure was attached to a unique metal frame structure, which raised the price, LaFlamme said.
For Synergy, the company re-engineered the injection molded part to work with the same frame structure it uses on 32 different vehicle platforms. That high volume drives down production costs, and makes the shell and the thin seat a competitively priced product.
The PP combined with a lighter-weight steel and aluminum structure and a high density thin urethane foam allows the company to cut up to 40 percent out of the seat's cost, according to Byron Foster, group vice president of global product centers.
JCI is showing the seat to carmakers now for future production.
Johnson Controls is based in Glendale, Wis.