Auto supplier Faurecia SA is moving toward being able to manufacture its concept Sustainable Comfort car seat at high production levels.
The company worked with BASF SE on a new nylon blend for injection molding a new type of seat that would replace much of the metal, foam and traditional textile covering with a two-piece plastic structure.
It debuted its concept seat, the Sustainable Comfort 1.5, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles on Dec. 2. Although Faurecia does not have any contracts in hand, it could be ready to begin producing the seats by 2014, said Greg Brncick, innovation manager for the seating products group.
Faurecia, with its North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., showed a version of the Sustainable Comfort seat as part of its 2008 auto concepts, noting that it would be 17 percent lighter and up to 30 millimeters thinner than a traditional front seat. The company is not giving specifics on its 1.5 version, but it still expects to meet or beat those targets.
The weight savings will be important to automakers that must meet higher fuel economy standards. Thinner seats let car designers make smaller cars more comfortable by reducing the space taken up by seats.
The amount of mass we can reduce is going to be very important, Brncick said in a Nov. 30 telephone interview.
A traditional seat uses a structural steel skeleton along with wire and polyurethane foam for shape. Faurecia's concept marries two plastics, with an inner layer of a compression molded continuous-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic for its performance cushioning and an injection molded seat back, according to Amit Kulkarni, an innovation manager in Faurecia's Troy, Mich., office.
The design resembles the cushioning of an athletic shoe, and Faurecia plays that up with LED lighting within the seat.
The concept seat's injection molded back represents a separate breakthrough in moving the seat from concept to production ready status. Nanterre, France-based Faurecia and BASF, of Ludwigshafen, Germany, had to create a proprietary nylon 6 blend that provides nearly all the structural support for the seat back the only metal parts are two small brackets, rather than the entire frame.
The nylon also looks good straight out of the press, without the need for paint or a textile cover. The company and its partners spent a great deal of time in virtual development and tooling to create a final product that would avoid flow lines and other visual flaws but still meet structural requirements, according to Kulkarni.
It takes the seat back to the next level, he said.
A traditional seat is either covered with textile or has a decorative plastic trim, Brncick said. Faurecia's seat is both functional and decorative.
We're not just laying a second component on for a color trim, he said. The color comes with the process itself.
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