By Rhoda Miel, Plastics News Staff
Los Angeles, California -- Auto supplier Faurecia SA is refining its concept of a better car seat to not only create an interesting design, but to design something that can actually be made at high production levels.
And this may not be good news for the foam sector.
The company worked with BASF AG on a new nylon blend that will allow Faurecia to injection-mould a new type of seat, which would replace much of the metal, foam and traditional textile covering with a two-piece plastic structure.
It debuted its concept seat, the Sustainable Comfort 1.5, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles 2 Dec. While it does not have any contracts in hand, the company could be ready to begin production by 2014, said Greg Brncick, innovation manager for Faurecia's seating products group, in a 30 Nov interview.
Faurecia, with global offices in Nanterre, France, and North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, showed a version of the Sustainable Comfort seat as part of its 2008 auto concepts, noting that it would be 17 percent lighter and up to 30 mm thinner than a traditional front seat. While the company is not giving specifics on its 1.5 version, it still expects to meet or beat those targets.
The weight savings will be important to automakers who must meet higher fuel economy standards. Thinner seats provide car designers with the ability to make smaller cars more comfortable by reducing the space taken up by seats.
"The amount of mass we can reduce is going to be very important," Brncick said.
A traditional seat uses a structural steel skeleton along with wire and polyurethane foam to shape the seat. Faurecia's concept marries two plastics, with an inner layer of a compression moulded continuous-fibre-reinforced thermoplastic for its "performance cushioning" and an injection-moulded seat back, said Amit Kulkarni, innovation manager with Faurecia's Troy, Michigan, North American offices.
The design resembles the cushioning of an athletic shoe, and Faurecia plays that up with LED lighting within the seat.
The seat's injection moulded back represents a separate breakthrough in moving the seat from concept to production ready status. Faurecia and BASF had to create a proprietary nylon 6 blend that provides nearly all the structural support for the seat back - the only metal is two small brackets, rather than the entire frame - while also looking good out of the press without the need for paint or a textile cover. The company and its partners spent a lot of time in virtual development and tooling to create a final product that would avoid flow lines and other visual flaws, while still meeting structural requirements, he said.
"It takes the seat back to the next level," Kulkarni said.
A traditional seat is either covered with textile or has a decorative plastic trim, Brncick said. Faurecia's seat is both functional and decorative.
"We're not just laying a second component on for a colour trim," he said. "The colour comes with the process itself."