Detroit — Automakers and suppliers are making a case for future mobility — that is, they are focusing more and more on megatrends in connected, autonomous, shared and electric vehicles.
Adient Ltd., an automotive seating supplier with headquarters in Plymouth, Mich., while it builds a new headquarters in downtown Detroit, is taking those trends into account as it moves to reduce weight through the use of alternative materials and composites in its seating options.
"We always say … the race for lightweight is on," Detlef Juerss, Adient's vice president of engineering and chief technical officer, said Jan. 15 during an interview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
During the past 10 years, the company said it has reduced the weight of its vehicle seats by 20 to 30 percent. And by 2020, Adient has a goal of reducing the weight of standard seat structures by 22 pounds. Meeting that goal, the company said, requires a multimaterial approach.
In the future, especially in autonomous vehicles where drivers are now passengers who can take their eyes off the road and hands off the steering wheel — if there even is one — plastics, in particular, will play a greater role.
Juerss said there will be more functionality incorporated into seats in the form of tray tables, reading lights, sensors, switches and other products.
"It will have more use of plastic parts, definitely. It will have more use of composites. It will have more use of lightweight foams," he said. "All of a sudden [plastics] come into play much more than in a traditional seat, where you would basically just have a metal structure, a piece of foam, maybe a leather or a fabric."
On display near Adient's multimaterial lightweight seat structures made from die-cast magnesium were examples of the company's hybrid seats, which feature extensive use of plastic components.
A front seat for automaker Daimler AG, for example, uses 50 percent glass-fiber-reinforced nylon as well as expanded polypropylene foam to "fill in the gaps and make it nice and comfortable," Juerss said.
Adient's use of glass-fiber-reinforced plastic in a front seat backrest, for example, enables weight reductions of up to 30 percent, the company said.
"We will even see weight-saving plastic parts inside metal structures, which then, in addition to just preventing the metal structure from collapsing [in a crash], also can then house a sensor, a switch or reading light," Juerss said.
A seat for electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc. was manufactured with 30 percent glass-reinforced nylon and additional plastic side components and a plastic seat pan.
"The cars of the future will probably see a lot of batteries in the load floor … so the seats in general, unless you want the car to go up in size, which you don't want to have, the seats have to be lower," he said. "Composites and plastic parts, in general, allow very intelligent integration of that."
As part of the auto supplier's focus on new mobility, Adient also showed its AI18 interior seating concept, which is designed for urban, electrically powered and autonomous vehicles. The concept highlights Adient's partnership with automotive safety systems supplier Autoliv Inc. on improving passenger safety in different seating positions.
Seating in the AI18 concept, for example, shows an integrated seatbelt design that keeps the seatbelt in the proper place despite these new seating positions, such as a deep recline.
"With our cooperation with Autoliv, we're really thinking about keeping people safe in all these other awkward positions," Juerss said. "And that also makes use of totally different materials, totally different integration opportunities."
The seats also include hidden sensors housed in plastic that can assess body position and pressure points to optimize comfort as well as integrated health monitoring to provide feedback on a passenger's physical condition.
"You have to really design for manufacturing, specifically when it comes to plastics and composites, so we're really rethinking how the seat of the future will look for widespread use of composite materials," he said.