TROY, MICH. — As lightweighting continues to be a driving force in automotive design, demand is growing for natural fiber-filled composites and highly crafted parts, said Rose Ryntz, vice president of Advanced Development and Material Development at International Automotive Components Group.
Ryntz spoke at the Society of Plastics Engineers' AutoEPCON May 5 in Troy.
As safety features and electronics add weight to vehicles, composites can help achieve weight savings to offset those gains, Ryntz said. Interiors are seeing increased use of exposed natural fibers, particularly in the European market where it is often used as a selling point.
A key design focus is enabling Class A capability for these composites, which is challenged by the natural inconsistency of the reinforcing material.
“When you talk about reinforced composites, can you use that as a Class A surface, or can you change the scheme on the interior of the vehicle to accept that as a Class A surface?” Ryntz asked.
Ryntz also sees a shift in consumer expectations, with more demand for the interior performance of increasingly popular mid-size vehicles to be comparable to larger, luxury vehicles. This manifests in details like more stitching and wrapping very contoured parts.
“[It's] very apparent that we're becoming more crafted, and the way in which we apply coverstocks to those substrates is becoming more difficult,” Ryntz said.
Interactivity was also identified as a design focus at the Wards Auto Interiors Conference May 13 in Detroit, with the trend driven in part by the buying preferences of millennials, speakers said.
Jim Wilson of Sabic Innovative Plastics predicted a growth in polycarbonate glazing, which could be used to create heads-up displays and selective wavelength features for color customization, and Mario Enriquez of Johnson Controls Inc. highlighted smart materials — materials with properties that can react to changes in their environment — as a key trend for interiors.
“In our future, down in the future, our kids … will be asking ‘What do you mean a door panel was just a door panel? It didn't have all the things it has now?' ” Enriquez said.
Sabic's Wilson also spoke on the need to consider design and process as well as the material itself when developing a new product, an idea echoed by both designers and engineers at industry conferences this month.
“Lightweighting has to be part of the core recipe for designers,” Julien Montousse, interior design manager for Mazda's North American operations, said May 13.
IAC's Ryntz shared the perspective:
“You can have the best material in the world but if it's not in the right design space, or not processed correctly, you won't ever achieve the end goal.”