Detroit — Adient's new seating technology relies on a flexible plastic shell to achieve the thin profile in demand for vehicles of the future.
The seating supplier's design supports the occupant with shaped seat and back panels made from Hytrel thermoplastic elastomer. The material flexes as the occupant changes position, providing support without more bulky padding materials, said Tom Gould, director of industrial design and research.
The seat does incorporate a thin layer of foam, and while it replaces certain metal parts such as the seat pan, it retains metal safety-related components and mechanisms, Gould said.
“[The plastic shell] is sitting on a more traditional seat structure — but with this we can thin things up considerably,” Gould said, comparing the plastic form to structures used in office furniture. “… When we tested these seats just sitting on the plastic, it feels really good just sitting on the plastic. The trim and foam are really for aesthetic reasons.”
The shell's slatted design enhances its flexibility and allows for the integration of temperature control and other systems, said Chief Engineer Eric Michalak.
Adient is displaying the thin-profile seat system, expected to be available in 2020, as part of its AI17 demonstrator at the North American International Auto Show, held this month in Detroit. Seats in the demonstrator swing outward to ease entry and exit, and turn inward to enable conversation with a passenger in the case of autonomous capabilities.
Adient also collaborated with FCA US LLC on the seating for its Chrysler Portal concept vehicle, designed to be a “third space” for consumers in the age of autonomous driving.
Occupants of autonomous vehicles, said Adient's vice president of innovation Richard Chung, will want more space around their seats and the ability to change seat positions. The smaller package space of the thin-profile design can enable this flexibility, and can further be used to save weight and increase legroom in more conventional vehicles. In electric vehicles where batteries are located in the floor of the vehicle, a few extra inches can make a big difference.