Issue: Jan 2016


The science of seating



by Nick Palmen

Interior and seating design has become a mix of engineering functionality combined with flexible and appealing shapes, materials and uses. As always there is a continual focus on safety and costs. One of the leaders in the field is Johnson Controls.

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Andreas Maashoff, Director Industrial Design & Craftsmanship, Consumer & Market Research Industrial Design, Automotive Experience at Johnson Controls what technologies the company showcased at IAA in 2015.

Maashoff: At the IAA in Frankfurt we demonstrated a range of composite structure features. One project is CAMISMA (Carbon- Amide-Metal-based Interior Structure using a multi-material system approach), where we are working on a lightweight backrest structure for use in large-scale production. In it we combine steel, FRP, carbon-fiber nonwoven material and thermoplastic tapes made of carbon filaments in a multi-layer design.

This was shown in the seating demonstrator vehicle, the SD15. The simulated vehicle environment focuses on first- and second-row seating while addressing

the three automotive megatrends from a seating perspective: autonomous driving, lightweight, and increasing customer demands towards individualization and style for future urban mobility.

If we examine the needs of the people that work and live in an urban environment, we see that they are typically looking for is flexibility and versatility in the interior. They are also looking for a great deal of differentiation and individualization in the interior. With electric vehicles there are certain additional features that you want to have or you would expect to find.

AI: How will the urban mobility trend affect design of vehicles in 2020 and beyond?

Maashoff: A number of trends are already addressed in the SD15 Demonstrator. We’ve picked the theme of urban mobility to be a driving factor for the future mix of technologies and innovations. At the same time we understand that cost will be a factor.

What we’ve done is to look at who is driving those vehicles – the younger people that we call generation Y. People who grew up with the internet, with picking and choosing, mixing and matching mobile devices and individualizing everything. They will transfer these trends into the vehicle interior, and this is the challenge we respond to with innovations such as featured jet ink print covers, for example. This idea has a great individualization potential, with some unique advantages for the OEMs. You can ink jet print seat covers for special editions, smaller vehicles or for a specific line. You eliminate stock in your warehouses because you literally print to demand. OEMs can also update their designs on a regular basis.

With ink jet printing you can create effects that are not possible with any other technology. We are the only ones to have vertical integration from the fabrics and the fibers that we are weaving to the ink jet printing process, to the finishing, to the cutting, to the sewing, to the seat covers, to the foam, to the metal and to the plastics.

AI: What are the biggest challenges that are presented to you by the carmakers?

Maashoff: The usual things – cost down/ weight down, more sustainability and more flexibility. That’s what they demand. Seats should always get lighter, the cost should go down, versatility and flexibility, modularity and global application should go up. The weight should go down by 30%. You can imagine that this is quite a challenge, because eventually, just mathematically and physically, there are certain boundaries. We see that we are getting closer and closer to what is physically possible, what the materials can do.

That is why we are going into composites technologies and into combining certain technologies – having hybrid structures, alternative joining methods like laser welding, riveting, gluing, so that we can mix and match our technologies to hold up to the requirements of the OEMs. We also have a global footprint which allows us to produce everywhere in the world with the same quality. If necessary we can source locally, but we always strive for global application.

AI: What does the new Recaro Sport Seat Platform offer to both OEM’s and the end customers?

Maashoff: With the new Recaro Sport Seat Platform (RSSP), now ready for series production we are combining lightweight design and modularity with numerous possibilities for customization. Generally, it is the same approach that we have on the side of the mass market products. We offer a great deal of common modules from our global portfolio applied to that sports platform. At the same time, we allow for a sufficient degree of customization. The idea is to have the structure itself – the load-bearing features – to come from our core product portfolio so there is a function or shell around which we adapt the seat to the specifics of the environment and the styling. It makes it unique to the customer, but the under layer is a modular structure that is a pure functionality. The features can be adjusted to the needs of the end consumer. With this innovation Recaro is addressing OEM customers who want to highlight distinctiveness with an attractive, lightweight car seat for their sporty and super sporty models, as well as electric vehicles.

AI: At what stage do you get involved in a project with an OEM?

Maashoff: Some OEMs ask us to start our research early in the design process to provide them with trends and insights and work with them basically from day one. That typically happens in the growth markets. Others provide us with their styling and technology requirements, and we provide specifications using their designs. In effect we industrialize their styling. In this case the OEM does the styling. They create the vision, the iconic direction, and they go as far as defining the style of the surfaces. But that is not necessarily the version for mass production. Johnson engineering does the structural development to those requirements, injecting innovative structural and manufacturing technologies. We are all designers and stylists, but our job is to turn it into something that can be mass produced. We work closely on all fronts with the styling studios and engineering teams of the OEMs. The level of involvement can vary from the complete package - from research to the final product – to starting later when there is need for styling. We can also build to print.

AI: What can we expect from Jonson Controls in the future?

Maashoff: We will continue in the same direction. All the challenges that we are addressing right now will be relevant for the next 5-10 years to come. Developments like autonomous driving, car sharing and urban mobility will drive a bigger part of our thought process, of what to do with structures, mechanisms, foam, fabric, trim and the complete seat.



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