By Rhoda Miel, Plastics News Staff
Dearborn, Michigan -- Faurecia SA thinks it is close to making auto designers' dream interiors come true.
For years, said Amit Kulkarni, lead engineer for innovation project management at Faurecia's North American operations, carmakers have unveiled concept cars featuring seats that were sleek and slim, with gently flowing curves and minimal padding. By the time they made it to production, however, those cars had the standard foam filled seats in familiar shapes.
"This isn't because engineers don't like sexy seats," Kulkarni said at Ward's Auto Interiors Conference, 17 May, in Dearborn. "It's because there is a limit with what can be done in steel stamping for the structural parts."
Faurecia, with global headquarters in Paris and North American headquarters in Troy, Mich., has been pushing for a change in seating structures to change that, instead using a plastic composite for seat backs along with minimal foam that can produce a safe seat that is 1 inch (2.54 cm) thinner than standard one, and weighs in at more than 2 pounds (0.9 kg) lighter.
New tests on the composite concept are also showing it can stand up to federal crash requirements, Kulkarni said.
Faurecia is working with French resins supplier Rhodia SA of Nanterre, France, on creating a variety of seating components using Rhodia's Technyl SI, an impact-modified polyamide.
"This co-innovation project … represents a significant step towards the introduced of advanced polyamide materials as a credible alternative to steel for automotive on structural applications," said François Hincker, president of Rhodia Engineering Plastics, in a 19 May news release.
The composite seat has been developed with a compression molded structural back that can be more easily shaped to match the body's contours, compared with foam and wire used in a typical seat structure, Kulkarni said. That surface area will help eliminate some of the typical aches and pains drivers and passengers experience in long drives.
The material can also have a visible surface rather than covering it with laminate or textiles, Kulkarni added.
PIC: An extreme concept version of Faurecia's 'slim' seats shown at BASF's stand at the K fair in 2010.