By Rhoda Miel, Plastics News staff
Dearborn, Michigan -- As interior suppliers try to come up with ways to make auto seats lighter but still comfortable, automotive seating supplier Lear Corp. wants to tweak their existing structure, rather than come up with all-new materials.
Production already exists around the globe, said Karl Henn, manager of Southfield, Michigan-based Lear's seating systems division research and development group, during an interview at Ward's Auto Interiors Conference 19 May in Dearborn. But, by refining the way materials are used, the company claims it can make seats that are 25-percent lighter than current models.
"Lear spent the past five to eight years building a good manufacturing footprint," he said. "We have the capacity. To throw that all away and start over with something futuristic-looking doesn't make sense."
That is not to say that Lear will not make any changes. In fact, its 'Evolution' seat takes in seven different technologies that separate it from its ancestors. These include the use of expanded polypropylene in the structural base in place of foam and wire -- which Lear first brought on the market in 2005 -- soy-based polyurethane, used since 2008, and a new thin layer called 'Eco Padding' which replaces some PU foam with a foam created from the timber industry's cast-offs, mostly used now in air filters.
The Evolution marries the best technologies in one package, Henn said, and should hit the market in Asia by 2011.
"Every one of these technologies has been in production as a piece, but now we blend them together and use them to their best to get everything out of them," he said.
Lightweighting has been an increasing demand from automakers who must meet higher fuel economy standards. Global suppliers have turned to composites, EPP and other materials to produce concept seats that will be lighter and smaller.
Lear wanted to make sure that the solutions it sought would be easily adaptable to any region in the world, so it stayed away from exotic materials, Henn explained.
Other weight-saving concepts look at new structures in instrument panels that would replace some of the steel beams with composites as well as further use of natural fibres in place of glass reinforcement in thermoplastic composite substrates.
"There will be a concentration on mass and recyclable materials, balancing the needs of the consumer, the [automaker] and the environment," said Ken Gassman, engineering group manager for interior supplier Inteva Products llc of Troy, Michigan.