Advancing Design and Driver Safety
Seating is one of the areas in which design and innovation is advancing rapidly in the automotive sector. With EC regulations dictating that the overall mass of vehicles should be reduced to aid the reduction in carbon emissions and with more demands from consumers for extra comfort, security and safety, manufacturers are faced with the task of marrying weight reduction with improved driver safety. There are a variety of ways in which seat manufacturers are innovating and designing new seating concepts to achieve these aims, from developing new materials, to introducing better functionality for comfort and safety.
Many manufacturers are embracing new technology and developing new designs for seating as they strive to reduce weight and improve functionality. The use of thermoplastics and CFRP’s (Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastics) are becoming more and more commonplace, and several seat manufacturers are investing in the development of the production of one-piece seat structures which are much lighter than conventional steel structures, while retaining or improving upon strength.
Another part of the seat which is subject to new research and development is the padding and cushioning. Typically in seat manufacture the cushioning has been made up of PU foam, but due to the weight this material adds to the seat, manufacturers are looking to newer materials to afford the same level of comfort and safety while reducing weight. Foams derived from renewable sources and from recyclable materials are being developed, while some chemical firms are developing ‘plastic’ polypropylene foams which offer the same level of support as conventional foams.
Seating design is a complex process which often requires detailed communication between auto manufacturers, seating suppliers and components manufacturers (1). With the improvement in technology and computing, comes the ability for designers to create much more complex models and designs for manufacturers to work with. One company which facilitates this process is Vistagy, with their Seat Design Environment (SDE) software. The industry-specific software is fully integrated into commercial CAD systems, and gives engineers the functionality to create detailed 3D digital models of their seats and internal components. Vistagy says that SDE is the first ever seat design software which addresses the entire seat manufacturing process.
The software enables designers to create a complete product definition, digitally defining the seat style and the soft-goods requirements such as trim cover surfaces and sew lines. It can assess the design production and highlight any potential issues, such as wrinkling of seat covers, all without the need for a prototype. It is able to generate flat patterns which can be edited with 2D software before being imported back into the 3D model, without formatting problems. Designers are able to use the software to create engineering drawings and data, detailed sewing instructions, and parts lists. The software can also give an accurate report on the parts and costs involved in any particular design; essential when considering the cost-effectiveness of a design.