By Rhoda Miel, Plastics News Staff
Detroit, Illinois -- Soya-bean based polyurethane foam blends have been a big hit for auto interiors maker Johnson Controls Inc.
Since their launch two years ago, the soyafoam seats have found a place on 11 different vehicles platforms in North America. But there was a problem taking the eco-friendly seating globally - the fact that soybean oil was not available in quite the same way worldwide.
So now JCI is giving some international agricultural flair to its plant-based urethane programme.
In Asia, it will make urethane foam with about 5 percent content from palm oil, while European foams will use a combination of castor oil and canola oil. JCI calls the materials natural-oil polyols or NOPs.
"You want to be able to achieve the environmental aspect in other regions," said Dan LaFlamme, product development manager for JCI's Plymouth, Michigan-based interiors unit, during a 13 Jan interview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The palm oil blend will hit the market first, with a JCI facility in Malaysia set to begin production later this year. The castor and canola blends in Europe are still getting their final technical tweaks.
In North America, soyabeans are a major crop typically used in animal feed, with soya oil a by-product, but it isn't grown or processed in exactly the same way elsewhere, LaFlamme said. Transferring the technology from soya into other plant oil blends makes sense.
JCI is reconfiguring other parts of its seating offerings for automakers with its thin profile Synergy Seat which uses a glass-filled polypropylene structural form encompassing the back and sides of the seat in place of wire and foam.
The company has shown the PP 'Comfort Shell' proposal before, but the structure was attached to a unique metal frame structure, which raised the price, LaFlamme said. For Synergy, the company re-engineered the injection molded part to work with the same frame structure it uses on 32 different vehicle platforms. That high volume drives down production cost, and makes the shell and the thin seat a competitively priced product.
The PP combined with a lighter weight steel and aluminum structure and a high density thin urethane foam allows the company to cut up to 40 percent out of the seat's cost, said Byron Foster, group vice president, global product centers. JCI is showing the seat to carmakers now for future production.