Sounds of Silence
Silence 'or the absence of external noises' is becoming an increasingly important component in the marketing mix of new vehicles. Automotive Industries talks to Larry Carlson, president of Carcoustics USA, Inc. specializing in the control of sound in the passenger compartment.
Automotive Industries (AI): How important is acoustics to the customer appeal of a car?
Larry Carlson: The type of sound a vehicle makes is one of the key impressions a driver gets, even though this is very often a subconscious process. Ideally, the sound can promote a feeling of well being, of luxury and protection, while in a worst-case scenario it can be disturbing and distracting. Besides rational reasons, there are also emotional components that greatly influence the decision on which car to buy. An acoustically superior automobile appeals to both the mind and the 'gut'.
Furthermore, increased availability of voice-controlled equipment such as navigation systems and cell phones has constantly increased the importance of the articulation index (the ability to distinguish and understand speech within the interior of an automobile). Together with safety, vehicle acoustics is now playing an increasingly important role. Lower noise emissions mean less stress on the road and improved endurance for the driver.
For the prospective car buyer, well-developed vehicle acoustics can have a two-fold convincing effect:
On a test drive: the car is found to be 'an oasis of quiet' and can, especially for buyers that are changing vehicle makes, clinch the deal because of its better quietness, the lack of any distracting frequencies and the comforting engine sound.
During everyday use: on long journeys and in congested traffic, the driver experiences less stress thanks to acoustic comfort.
AI: Are these expectations moving down-market to the lower-priced vehicles?
Carlson: Our analysis shows that there is a growing readiness on the part of the OEMs to invest in the acoustics systems for their lower-priced models as long as they are convinced this might give them a competitive edge.
AI: What are the challenges in the design of components that dampen sound?
Carlson: The OEM is looking for acoustic solutions that can fulfill three criteria: weight reduction; cost reduction and optimized, improved systems approach that gives better acoustic performance. In order to meet these challenges, we need above-average investment in R & D. One example is blow-molded engine encapsulation, something that shows that genuine leaps forward really are possible in the effort to fulfill the above criteria. Our blow-molded engine encapsulation is very easy to recycle thanks to its single-material construction; its weight is up to 15 % lower than the previous product. The design process is optimized by simulation software that also shortens development time.
AI: What new challenges are being presented by the switch to diesel power and continued focus on mass reduction?
Carlson: Carcoustics made an early start on the acoustic problems of Diesel engines, and now has a very efficient and effective product range that clearly reduces the amount of heavy-layer material compared to the past. Acoustic measures around the engine now use much less broad-range absorbers in favor of compact and localized encapsulation of engines or nearby aggregates. Such measures allow for an individual analysis of the annoying frequencies generated in each component as well as their targeted absorption and for cost reductions through the use of less broadly scattered acoustic components. In the development of dash systems, Carcoustics can tap in to various production technologies. Three Carcoustic processes are available to better distribute and 'thicken' the heavy layer mass: TPE/MCM, RRIM and TPE injection molding.
AI: What differentiates your company - why do people do business with you?
Carlson: We do not strive to position ourselves in the same league of the mega-suppliers of the industry, but rather to offer the OEMs clear advantages in our ability to provide domestic solutions using materials and processes originally designed and developed for our long standing relationships with our European suppliers. Our small size states emphasis on speed and innovation, as well as our technical know how combined for an effective, nimble supplier to our customers. Our expertise and our ability to react rapidly to the needs of our customers is the reason why our customers like working with us. Carcoustics places great value on its independence as regards materials and processes. We are not vertically integrated, but rather develop tailor made solutions to particular problems. Our economic independence in the choice of raw materials puts us in a better position to propose optimized technological solutions to our customers rather than having to act within corporate restrictions.
AI: What constitutes customer satisfaction?
Carlson: At Carcoustics, we have devoted a lot of resources in an effort to come up with an answer to this question. The answer included a proposition that places not just our customers, but also the customers of our customers at the focal point of our attention. One example: if the customer so wishes, we can carry out joint opinion polls of the buyers of his cars to find out the degree of their satisfaction with the acoustics of the vehicles. Carcoustics considers such philosophy to be absolutely relevant and it has not simply been borrowed from some generic corporate guidelines.
Ford World Excellence Award for Carcoustics
Carcoustics was one of 52 Ford suppliers from around the world to receive the 2004 Ford World Excellence Award -Fords highest honor.
Keynote speaker Jim Padilla, Ford president and chief operating officer, told suppliers they were paramount to Ford's success in an extremely competitive global marketplace.
"You are an impressive group providing us with a wide range of outstanding products - from stampings to lighting to aluminum wheels," said Tony Brown, senior vice president, Ford Global Purchasing. "Your excellence and commitment has not gone unnoticed."