Lightweight “green” foam, high comfort key factors in automotive seating
By Liz White
In automotive seating and interiors, suppliers are faced with increasingly complex and often conflicting demands. For example, seat makers
have to reduce weight, while keeping comfort at the very high levels that car makers, particularly the premium-brand German OEMs, expect, said Eugenio Toccalino, marketing manager for Dow Automotive, based in Schwalbach in Germany.
And Toccalino feels the urgency to reduce weight has stepped up a beat now, "driven both from this C02 regulation proposed for 2012 in Europe, and as well by fuel efficiency." Added impetus here comes from soaring fuel prices, which are hitting consumers, not only in Europe but in North America as well," he said.
So there is a strong drive towards lighter weight parts, and since seating systems represent almost 40 percent of the weight of a vehicle's main interior components, "it's clearly a major target," Toccalino said.
For automotive seat maker Lear Corporation based in Southfield, Michigan, “environment is a big thing, so anything that improves the renewability or recyclability or safety of the product is of great importance to our customer,” commented Ash Galbraith, Lear’s director of advanced materials and comfort engineering. Here, renewable soya polyols from Lear also give very low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), “a very important aspect,” he said.
It is “seemingly becoming even more important as we go forward to reduce vehicle emissions,” and potential exposure to whatever comes out, Galbraith said.
Lightweight is also a significant demand, he agreed, and must be achieved while, “trying to attain the same level of responsiveness and durability in the foams… With thin constructions, that’s very critical,” Galbraith added.
One approach Lear has taken here is the introduction of extremely lightweight expanded polypropylene (EPP)foams, combined with PU foam, in seating as described in the box below.
In Europe, seat foam maker Proseat, is also working on EPP for use in structure of rear seat frames. EPP is, “extremely light, has a certain firmness, [and] you can use it for antisubmarine parts,” and it can be used in combination with PU foam to solve structural problems, to make parts stronger at light weight, said Raphael Thienpoint, president and CEO of Proseat.
EPP can be combined with polyurethane: injection moulded structural parts can be over moulded with EPP and then foam, he added.
OEMs, specifically VW, but also BMW, Audi and French carmakers, are already using Proseat’s EPP approach in their rear seats, Thienpoint added.
“Volvo is also following that route… It is all a question of… Creating ideas to reduce the weight,” said Thienpoint.
He feels Proseat is able to develop optimal use of EPP and PU, to add more value to the seat makers or the OEMs. Proseat works with EPP manufacturer Storopack on seat uses, and will install equipment to develop the technology, Thienpoint said.
“We also developed a foam which we call Compact Foam,” which offers the same comfort at lower thickness, compared to conventional foams Thienpoint added. New paragraph it may be no surprise to industry experts that, when asked about significant trends in automotive seating Thienpoint chose to focus first on pricing. Technical aspects are important he agreed. “But what we are confronted with – not only in seating but in everything in the car – is every year or even several times a year, this story about raw materials prices going up,” he said, a topic discussed further in the box below.
“This is a story which is taking so much time, that we are missing out on being creative in new business,” the Proseat boss stressed.
That aside, Thienpoint identified two main demands: “comfort, comfort, comfort… And the other thing of course is low weight due to fuel consumption of the car.”
According to Thienpoint, comfort is “mainly related to a soft step in touch and a good support,” as well as passive or active climate controls.
While most of those interviewed did not feel PU had serious competition in seat cushions Galbraith saw it differently. “Lear is aggressively looking at the use of alternative materials for side arms or trim laminate,” he commented.
“Alternative materials are a really big deal,” he continued, citing specifically use of non-woven polyester, to replace some foam. This adds to complexity of course, he agreed. “But areas such as console covers, where we laminate the foam, and areas of lessons contact all lower durability risk,” these “really show some promise with alternative materials,” he said.
PET, for example, is 100% recyclable, can be sourced as a recital it also, “and you get zero VOCs so it is cost competitive, those quotes Galbraith said.
Fehrer feels thermoplastic-fibre techniques do “not reach physical properties, durability and design and concept targets as PU does,” said Dirk-Endres Hein, head of research and development at the Kitzingen, Germany-based seat foam moulder in written answers to Urethanes Technology International.
At Bayer materials science, flexible foam expert Dr Sven Meyer-Ahrens sees the possibility of alternative materials are placing PU foam – but only “for a little insert here and there this might be an opportunity for entry-level cars, but not for series models,” he added.
Greening the seat sector
As well as its enthusiasm for alternatives to foam, Lear places considerable emphasis on its in-house soya polyols: “our goal is to convert our entire global product line over to renewable resources as soon as we can,” Galbraith commented.
Lear has provided soya-based foam for the Ford Mustang seats since last summer and is also converting other vehicles, he said.
“We are converting by plant, so that involves multiple customers,” he said. Lear also has joint projects with suppliers, some of these are staged to change soon, Galbraith added.
With TDI foams, he said, soya polyols can currently be used at about 5% in seat pads, and with MDI, they can go up to 28%. “We are working both internally and with our supplier partners to increase that,” he added.
In sharp contrast, European sources were much less positive about the use of natural oil polyols (NOP).
Proseat’s Thienpoint said only a very small level of by a polyol is being used in seat foam although he said in the future “when there is a second or third generation in bio products which are not in competition with food,” they could be worth evaluating.
And Fehrer’s Hein said in Europe NOP’s do not seem to be a big priority. If they were fully compatible with specifications and gave cost advantages, that would be different, he added.
Fehrer is prepared to incorporate NOP’s into its products, but sees limits to how much can be added without decreasing physical properties and comfort. “Especially in the case of high-performance seat pads and back rest.”
Some 5 to 10% of the base polyol can be replaced, but not with lower cost Hein added, and pointed out that “the ecological impact of such quite low amounts is questionable. He also queried whether it “makes sense to ship American Steuer products to Europe?” Other NOP is available in Europe could be more interesting, but amounts are strongly limited, Hein added.
Galbraith feels that a more likely hindrance to wire soya polyol use in Europe is that American soya can be genetically modified and Europe is not keen on this.
Europe has also focused more on rape seed oil and castor oil some nonedible sources, he pointed out “I understand the controversy over replacing food crops,” Galbraith said, but he feels “these materials have such minor impact on that volume, compared to biodiesel – and he said that excess soya oil is available.
For Woodbridge, also a supplier of soya-based foam, the drive to use NOP’s is “a little bit stronger in North America than most probably in Europe, although in Europe they have started to ask about it… To see if it could be included in their portfolio,” said Khalil.
In Japan natural polyols are also in demand because of the green car “everybody is trying to include as much green content” using natural fibres and polylactic acid plastics, said Khalil.
In Europe, BMW and Daimler have been using “door panels made from natural fibre for many, many years in their portfolio,” said Khalil.
Toccalino pointed out that North American OEMs have publicly announce some very aggressive plans to reach double-digit percent of renewable material in platforms before 2015. Going from 0 to 15 or 20% renewable content in plastics is a lot he added.
With PU representing on average 20% of the plastic content in a vehicle, it has to contribute, he added
Dow has a renewable polyol technology “and we target the seating clearly and NBH (noise vibration harshness) uses,” for up to 20% of the polyol fraction.
Despite the seemingly low take-up of NOP’s in seat foam in Europe, Dow has seen clear statements from some OEMs that they are also looking at 20% renewables use in Europe, he added
Toccalino also pointed out with oil at high prices (hundred and $15 per barrel as of 15 August), the argument for NOP is being lower cost is becoming stronger.
At the raw material supplier last two grand, Dr Thomas Bartz, general manager for its European automotive business unit, agreed that while the interest in NOP’s in the US market is because of both cost reduction and green marketing, in Europe evidence for cost reduction is not so strong. And he is among those concerned that “using agricultural products will fuel substitution, whether directly or in plastics… Will put food prices up.”
“What I do see is the green marketing more and more, customers looking for biobased materials," he said. BASF has a castor oil based slab stock polyol, and is looking now to develop a similar product for seating, he said since slab stock polyols are not useful for seating.
“For us, the most important point is also a complete eco-efficiency analysis,” said Bartz. A green product is not necessarily more eco-efficient than the synthetic one, he added.
Natural oils have to be modified and fertilisers and transport must be considered “you have to do the work on analysing it,” the Elastogran expert stressed.
MDI and TDI use
All contributors agreed that MDI is being more widely used in seat foam.
“The global trend is clear… Towards MDI although it’s not like in NVH where you have full MDI formulation, said Dow’s Toccalino. In seat foam blends, of TDI/MDI are widely used: the TDI is needed “for the overall resilience and comfort of the seat,” he said.
Liz Galbraith also pointed to MDI’s advantages over TDI in vibration mitigation in foam systems, “quotes which is important to comfort or can be, depending on the design.” And he said that this will become more vital in “thinner profile foam pads, because it still afford some high-density potentials.”
Leah also has chewed and coring technology. “We actually core the B surface of the foam, and still get better comfort performance by putting openings in the right location. MDI is very conducive to this kind of application and also reduces the weight and mass, Galbraith said.
Toccalino said in Europe, MDI formulations are used in the front seats quite widely, while for the receipts 8080 formulation (80% TDI) is more common.
“But we see attempts to move this T80 towards more T20 type of blends and more MDI. The Japanese are already mostly in T20 and the US is still mostly in T80,” but is moving more to formulations with higher MDI levels he commented.
Myer-Ahrens of BMS said he sees only a minor reintroduction of MDI/TDI blends “where it makes sense from a technical and economical point of view.” He pointed out that switching formulations is tricky, and requires, “re-approval from final customers.”
Also, “you have to adjust mould tooling and venting, for different reactivity and flow patterns. This is “not something you do overnight.”
At foamer Proseat, Thienpoint said the trend to use more MDI is for two reasons: “because we can meet better comfort solutions but also because of the strong increase in price of TDI material.” He doesn’t see any TDI shortage, at least in Europe. Although he says this may be different in the US.
Khalil of Woodbridge suggested that “the shift from TDI to MDI its [mostly} because of economics, not because of performance. TDI is very short and there is a surplus of MDI around the world and this is causing a shift in the technology both in North America and in Europe, either to go to pure MDI or a blend of MDI and TDI.”
Khalil sees the technology differing from one OEM to another. “Some people don’t really care – here’s my specification, I want the seats to be made and cushions and you’re going to do it,” while others are adamant – “we want the proof that you’re using 100% MDI.”
Partly, Khalil indicated, this is a result of industry myths. In BMW’s five series, the seats had the reputation of being the finest around on the front seat cushions happened to be made from 100% MDI, so everybody wants to imitate them. Similarly, a few years ago, the Lexus 300 and the viscoelastic topper and again everyone wanted to follow suit, he commented.
But, “if you ever sit on a piece of viscoelastic it [the feel] is gone in seconds… It bottoms… Very quickly,” he said, while the foam “that’s nice and firm and stays, that’s a different story.”
Pressure on seat emissions
In seating, premium OEMs want low emission systems for seating, but also good processing, which is not so easy when some additives are not allowed in low emission systems, commented Bartz of Elastogran.
In interior surfaces, emissions issue has largely been dealt with, but seating is different because processing is both “dependent on chemicals and very cost driven,” Bartz added.
Previously, in seating, the OEMs “tended to live with so-so solutions,” but now “for new systems, the demand is very strong,” he said.
Lowering emissions has become a high priority in seat foam, agreed Toccalino. “Cabin air quality is a big topic, mostly at the premium OEMs, the German or Swedish or British or even very importantly, the Japanese,” he said.
Japan’s OEMs have very stringent requirements in terms of emissions, not just on VOCs but also on specific components such as formaldehyde, he added.
Seat foam has always been a big contributor to emissions Toccalino said, but it was also previously “considered out of scope because of the potential impact it would have on the cost and other aspects like comfort.”
Dow has developed PU systems that meet some of the very stringent specifications on emissions, Toccalino said, pointing out that at the same time “we need long-term durability, long-term ageing performance, that is always the conflict of interest.”
“We are finding the balance now, we have some very encouraging results on the complete seating for German and Japanese OEMs,” he added
In his view there is need for some harmonisation because currently, optimising emissions for one OEM doesn’t mean the job has been done for another carmaker.
For head rests and seating, Dow has been formulating systems by taking the best polyol technology and “capping this with what we consider the right catalytic packages and so on,” he added specifically for MDI based formulations Dow offers its Voractive polyols which work well in VOC reduction, he said.
Among OEMs reporting to be asking for low emission seat foam VW and premium OEMs including Daimler and BMW, as well as some of the French companies.
Bartz said BASF’s customers are already very good at formulating the polyol side, and BASF has supported this with its recent development of low emission isocyanates.
At BMS meanwhile, Meyer-Ahrens said the groups polymer polyols imported from the US for automotive applications already meet very high standards, while materials from its new polymer piles plant being built in Antwerp will be “even better in terms of VOCs.”
Whose foam wins?
Seat and foam making in North America is quite consolidated business with only a few big players in each segment. In Europe, the seat and the phone business is somewhat more diverse. Nevertheless, in both regions some of the sea produce make some of their own foam seat pads while some do not, making for a complex business structure.
French seat maker Fauricia, for example, is generally recognised to be a major foamer as well as a seat assembler.
Seat supplier Lear Corporation, has itself move more strongly into foaming in North America. Why did you take this step? Galbraith said the move was seen as “an opportunity to add value in PU foams for seating. Comfort is becoming much more important to our customers as are the environmental opportunities, and comfort improvement through the use of vibration control.”
Lee is extra capability in foaming follows its purchase of the foam moulding part of Renosol in North America, said Galbraith. The seating group has also set up foaming operations in China and Mexico.
Previously “Lear and Renosol had a JV in moulding and systems formulating,” and Lear still has part ownership of the Renosol blended foam formulations unit, Galbraith said.
Lear also has its own internal foam moulding operation in Poland.
As a result of the changes, in North America the now makes half it seat foam pads: in Europe it only makes 20%, while in China, Lear makes all its own seat foam. In contrast, in South America, it buys all its foam.
For Lear, the move also allows to exploit “some unique chemistries. We have our soya bean-based PU foam… That is available everywhere but our phone is unique in that it provides low VOCs emissions, which is very critical to our customers,” Galbraith said.
“Other than that, it’s a regional supply issue regarding proximity,” in terms of following customers in China and Mexico, he added.
“We are working on advanced technology on improving vibration, and line rates and durability,” Galbraith continued, saying the foaming “gives as an opportunity to really focus advanced engineering on the foam itself, and provide some proprietary advantages for live finish products.”
In North America, Woodbridge has suffered as a result of Liz move into foam manufacture. Woodbridge is foam cells dropped 8.5% over three years said Khalil. “At the same time they still remain our largest customer and we still remain the largest supplier.”
Khalil sees Liz move partly as a response to the automotive industry’s attempt to control sourcing in foam a little, by talking to foamers and selling and telling see makers “this is the foam that we are going to use to build our seats. OEMs go to the tier 1, either Johnson Controls Faurecia or Lear and say: ‘this is the foam that you are going to use’,” he said.
Woodbridge adapted to the cells dropped by using its existing capacity to make other products, “and our expansion in the [foam] really is in China, India and Korea and Thailand,” via “joint ventures in which we are the technology partners,” said Khalil.
Nevertheless, Khalil feels foamers can make foam “much better, much faster and much cheaper” than non-dedicated foamers. “You really, really need a lot of expertise in order to make them properly,” he emphasised.
Thienpoint stressed that Proseat, as a Tier 2 foam part maker, wants to be involved in the design process, and feels the OEMs are more and more interested in doing this, to promote innovative solutions. “We must not just be the supplier to the OEM but we must be the guys that they are talking to from the moment they start talking about foam,” he said.
Foamer Proseat, – a joint-venture combining Woodbridge and Recticel’s European seat foam units – is keen to get involved in cooperative deals to use existing foaming capacity fully.
It now has two joint ventures in Slovakia and in Poland with seat maker Johnson Controls. Here Thienpoint said, “I think it makes sense not to repeat the mistakes that we made in Western Europe – everybody putting up capacities and they’re not able to fill up.”
JCI and Proseat pulled resources in the region to use these facilities together.
Discussing regional differences Meyer-Ahrens said that, compared to the US, Europe has a lot of medium-size big players in the seat and seat foam market. He identified a new development in Europe towards “new players in the market which are assigned smaller jobs,” possibly in Eastern Europe. “There are foam producers and even see producers working for Western European OEMs or Eastern European automotive OEMs which can be considered quite new in the business,” he said
And while some manufacturing has relocated to Eastern Europe, with supplies following the OEMs, premium cars – Mercedes and BMWs – are still being made in Western Europe Meyer-Ahrens added.
Dynamic situation in Eastern Europe
Another factor is, “pretty dynamic growth in manufacturing in Eastern Europe of entry-level cars,” such as the Dacia Logan, designed to meet emerging demand in these countries.”
High disposable income means people want to buy “nice furniture, at house and also a car.” That is fuelling local demand for these kind of entry-level cars, Meyer-Arens said.
Such models need basic foam properties and this has a bearing on the raw materials used, he said, adding that foam based on TDI and polymeric polyols is exploited, with significant use of MDI for high-density.
Parts of Elastogran said that seat makers and seat foamers have a fair number of sub suppliers and transplants that do the work for them, particularly in Eastern Europe.
A well-known example here is the Dacia Logan, where a big Romanian foamer Spumotim, supplied the foam.
Referring to the idea that cost pressures have led to a lack of innovation in the automotive seating business, Meyer-Arens said, “these new kids on the block… Have been given some smaller jobs… As a kind of test to see if they can meet the technological demands required.”
And the BMS expert feels in Europe the market is not moving towards consolidation. “I think OEMs wants to get their hands more again on the technology for seating… To bring innovation into the market by breaking up the old supply chains and roots, he said.
“They have driven suppliers to it through this severe price pressure, he added.
Finally, Meyer Ahrens made the point that, “OEMs are all competing via product differentiation, so new models still proliferate. This increases the complexity because “you are focusing more and more niche models.” As a result, many seat cushions are needed, which can create a lot of problems for foamer he pointed out
ABOUT THIS FEATURE
Seat makers, foam suppliers and raw materials experts contributed to this look at the future of automotive seating, largely in telephone interviews in early August.
Most agreed that green trends will be important: in the US they already crucial as OEMs demand up to 20% renewable content.
Also critical is the need for lighter weight, driven not only by demands for fuel savings, as oil prices soar, but also by forthcoming directive from the EU on CO2 emissions to meet the EU’s part in the Kyoto agreement.
A further part of this automotive feature, covering development in interior skins, headliners and acoustic parts has been held over to the next issue as a result of space limits.
Many thanks to all those who contributed their time and views for this article.
RM COSTS UP 100 % IN 6 YEARS
Euro-Moulders, the European association of automotive polyurethane foamers, started its raw materials cost index last year as a means of offering customers an independent, objective, assessment of how foamers' prices for five basic raw materials were changing.
It did this in the face of "steady demand for rebates," on supply contracts from the OEMs, who regard it as "absolutely normal to have a rebate of 5 percent a year, said Bernd Welzel, vice president and ceo of seat foam supplier Fehrer GmbH.
Welzel pointed out that "the latest BMW demand is for 2 x 10 percent rebates for the coming years," joking that "five percent is already a good result," in this context.
Pressure from customers means foamers always have to keep tight control of costs, have detailed breakdowns and an open book policy so Tier 1s and OEMs "can look pretty deeply into your numbers," said Welzel, at the Europur/Euro-Moulders annual meeting in Seville,Spain,12-13 June.
Anonymous internet auctions have added to supplier's anxieties: in such "marvellous systems" suppliers can bid for projects worth say €200 million, he explained.
Foamers raw materials costs have risen dramatically in the last six years: since 2002 foam makers have seen prices for the polyol-isocyanate mix rise by around 100 percent.
For a small automotive supplier such as Fehrer, its raw materials costs form 20-25 percent of its total costs, he said, while at some Euro-Moulders members this figure rises to 50 percent.
"So how do we deal with this issue," of small automotive suppliers caught between the two sides: "what can they do?" Welzel asked.
First of all "they must constantly look for new ideas, new materials, other ways of solving technical problems, try to find other opportunities," said Welzel.
COSTS ACROSS THE VALUE CHAIN
Tier ls and OEMs have "major resistance," to paying more for components, said Dr Hamdy Khalil, Woodbridge Corp.'s global director of research and product development. This is the case although, "they know the facts if they make their own foam: they know what they are paying for raw materials and they know that the prices are increasing. But there is major resistance in accepting price increases from Tier 2s like ourselves," Khalil added.
With raw materials, "What is happening really is, because of [high demand in] China and India, they say "this is our price, if you want it take it, if you don't want it, we have other people waiting for it."
Canadian-headquartered Woodbridge has seen raw materials prices rise three time over the last year or so. Khalil and Thienpont both said their raw materials prices had risen by 20 percent during this period (see box p30 for another take on this debate from the Euro-Moulders group of automotive foam makers).
For raw materials supplier Dow, however, the "burning question is the cost-spread across the value chain," according to Toccalino. "We should see a more open and dynamic and a more sustainable share of value along the complete value chain."
Price pressure is at levels never seen before and the volatility and unpredictability has led to an "unprecedented situation," he said.
"For the first time OEMs have been increasing prices of their vehicles ... and saying this is due to the raw material increases," he commented.
Toccalino thinks that in the end consumers will have to pay more for their cars. The fact that oil prices have become so visible to all has made translating this across the value chain easier, he added.
Suppliers such as Dow, and a lot of the Tiers, have raised efficiency and productivity and "absorbed a lot of the higher prices in our plants," in recent times, he said.
Another avenue for Dow to keep costs down is its joint venture with partners in the Middle East "to have production where manufacture and availability for raw material is the most competitive."
Toccalino also mentioned the potential of further consolidation. "I would say if suppliers are not able to go for profitable and sustainable business they run the risk of bankruptcy."
This is not in the interest of the OEMs because when they lose a big supplier,they lose key components, so often they have to buy in and take back some component production, Toccalino said.
He also reiterated Thienpont's comments about innovation: seating is an area where the OEMs depend on innovation from the Tier 1 and 2 suppliers, he said: if they are not able to innovate because they don't make enough money, it's going to be bad for the OEM as well.
Toccalino said, short term "we will see some prices going up,maybe some volume contracting," but investing in innovation will result in better energy efficiency, less use of resources and better products for the consumer,he said.
Asked if raw material increases can be passed on to customers in the automotive business, Thienpont commented: "We have had to adopt the very strange habit that they started in North America: threatening up front with cash before deliveries."
And he made the same point as Toccalino about transparency in prices: "It has been easier because everyone knows that prices are going up now.
LEAR ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT EPP
Lear has reengineered some products to make them thinner "using our DECS product (Dynamic Environmental Comfort Structural System) where we substitute a portion of the polyurethane foam with alternative foam structures such as expanded polypropylene (EPP) foam," said Galbreath.
Lear was "actually the first to use EPP foam, in the Audi Eco model in Europe, then the first in North America with the GM Impala 2nd row and the Ford 500 bolster," Galbreath claimed.
The group has partnered with EPP suppliers such as JSP International to develop this technology, and it has been used all over the vehicle for crash avoidance, side impact protection, roll-over protection. "It's a pretty common automotive material," Galbreath said.
"By doing that, we're able to eliminate the typical moulded-in frame in the polyurethane structure, or reinforcing wires, or B surface treatment to protect it from the springs or the frame," said Galbreath, pointing out that this is "really a common issue, of trying to engineer that and still provide adequate comfort."
Lear calls the EPP a semi-durability layer (see pictures). Remarkably, it has obtained a 15-85 percent weight reduction over conventional foams just using this system, said Galbreath.
Another benefit is the ability to mould-in openings, replacing foam/steel with air and then mould-in attachment points in the EPP, Galbreath added.
Analysis "shows we can get front-row comfort in the second row with this system," he said.
PANEL RATIONALISES TESTS
Every month a small, dedicated group of automotive industry experts meets in the US to discuss reducing redundancy in testing of moulded polyurethane seat foam. These representatives from car makers, Tier 1 and 2 suppliers and raw materials makers form an Automotive Industry Panel, instigated by Canadian foamer Woodbridge in 2004, to work on developing best practice for measuring seat-foam performance.
The team (see pie) is intent on harmonising specifications for testing automotive seat foam, to reduce the complexity of these, said Dr Hamdy Khalil, Woodbridge's global director of research and product development, and chairman of the panel, in a 1 Aug telephone interview.
"Our mission is really to harmonise specifications within the three groups [GM, Chrysler and Ford] in North America," Khalil said.
Does the panel intend to move on to global specifications? Khalil said. "First let us clean our act in North America." He has had interest from Europe, Japan and Korea, but for now the focus is on the Big Three, Khalil explained.
"The intent is to eliminate redundancy in testing and to make the tests functional. because most of the specifications lingering in the automotive industry specifically for seating were really established when latex foam and other materials were used for seating, but not what's being used today," he said.
When the panel was set up, the industry had a proliferation of tests for the physical properties of foam - for example,32 ways of measuring hardness.
In a paper to be presented at the CPI conference in San Antonio, Texas, in September, the panel says GM, Chrysler and Ford's specifications for seat foam had "not been updated for many years• and were a mish mash of in-house, industry and national and international standards." Often they had little relevance to seat performance,t he paper adds.
"So we've tried to clean that up - and have moved from 250 tests to ten Khalil explained.
Too many tests unhelpful
Proliferation of tests is unhelpful to the industry, Khalil agreed. "That's why we have the three companies sitting around the same table - Chrysler, Ford and General Motors - with no conflict of interest. no interference in marketing or anything," Khalil continued.
Emissions are a key concern in the automotive
sector, and "is something that we are working diligently on Khalil said. But at this stage, "we are focusing really on the physical testing ... what is the best test for durability, what's the best test for comfort," ...the kind of functional physical testing that is required for performance assessment, he said.
For Chrysler, the industry panel helped reduce 14 tests to 11 and cut costs from $2225 to $1425, while for GM, 14 tests were cut to ten, and the costs cut from $2745 to $1360.
"If you look at the newly published Chrysler specification, it is these ten specifications. If you look at the global specifications that have been currently drafted by General Motors and being discussed with Opal and the European partners of GM, they have taken the ten as core."
"And this is really what we are hoping for when it comes to emissions and VOCs Khalil continued. The industry panel has reached consensus very quickly
on most aspects, Khalil said. "We are very lucky to have the people who can make things happen on the industry panel ... we are dealing with the people
that can make the decisions," Khalil stressed.
Industry Panel Required Tests
Flammability (FMVSS 302)
Odour (SAE J1351)
Fogging (SAE J1756)
Staining (ASTM 0925, A)
Industry Panel Core Tests
Firmness (ASTM 03574) IFD and IRGl
Hysteresis oss (ASTM 03574)
Tear Resistance (ASTM 0624,Die()
Wet Compression Set (ASTM 03574)
Foam Fatigue (ASTM 03574)
Aged CFD oss (ASTM 03574)