Adient on lightweight, customised seating solutions for autonomous driving
Adient’s AI17 automated driving seating system shows how automated driving will impact the driver and passenger experience in a premium vehicle.
Continuing just-auto's series of interviews with tier one component manufacturers, we spoke to executives from Adient, the world's largest global automotive seating supplier. In this interview, they explained their Vision Seat, Chrysler Portal concept, AI17 seats for autonomous driving, customisation options and advances in lightweighting. By using a wide range of technologies, the supplier has reduced the overall weight of its seats by 20-30 percent over the past decade.
Could you tell us about some of the technologies that Adient highlighted this year at the most recent North American International Auto Show and your main messages?
Marking the two-month anniversary of Adient just prior to NAIAS, it was the perfect timing for our debut on this international stage. During the trade show, Adient was showcasing several future seating system concepts for the next generation mobility.
For example: How do you create an automotive seat that keeps passengers comfortable, regardless of their size and seating position? That was the challenge Adient set out to solve with its Vision Seat concept, which debuted at 2017 NAIAS. Our Vision Seat design team worked without any of the assumptions brought to traditional seat construction. Their starting point was the human side of design – studying and reacting to how people's bodies move when they are sitting in a vehicle. The result is a unique concept in the construction of interdependent sub-components that cannot be broken apart. Benefits of the new seat include a high quality, thinner and lighter seat profile, which improves vehicle interior space, better occupant kinematics for greater comfort, and easier seat adjustment that improves overall seating satisfaction.
During the 2017 NAIAS trade show, customers were also able to consider meticulously crafted, production-ready seats made with a variety of materials, technology and design solutions. Our Adient 'Luxury by Design' seat helps automakers discover the intersection of luxury and affordability, while allowing them to create distinct interiors that align to specific vehicle brands. As an example, 'Luxury by Design' shows a driver's seat trimmed in full-grain leather and a passenger's seat trimmed in synthetic leather so customers can compare and contrast the material's qualities, craftsmanship and durability, as it relates to luxury and brand. Other features show hard versus soft back panels, allow comparisons of foam and present 3D CNC sewing as a means to create a handcrafted surface appearance in endless styles.
Another current example of Adient's vision of the future seating becomes visible in the Chrysler Portal concept vehicle, which was unveiled by FCA US at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Designed with supplier partners, the Chrysler Portal is a forward-thinking interpretation of the "fifth generation" of family transportation targeted at the millennial generation. The seat concept is a thin seat that folds flat, folds up and slides fore and aft on a track system for ultimate flexibility. The seats mount to tracks embedded in the floor, enabling them to move the full length of the vehicle and, if needed, to be removed easily from the rear of the vehicle. The seat sits on tracks on a narrow pedestal design that has multiple embedded functions. For example, the pedestal includes a release handle for easy adjustment when the seat is in a flip-up position. The Chrysler Portal vehicle seat also offers a new approach to reclining, which includes a propriety relationship to cushion adjustment.
There is a lot of talk these days about the autonomous car and the future of driving. How will that impact the driver's seat and rest of the car's seats?
The interior of automated driving vehicles will play an important role as drivers and passengers spend more time on non-driving activities. Once vehicles have the capability to be computer-driven, passengers will demand far more flexibility from a vehicle's seating and interior space than ever before. At NAIAS, we unveiled the Adient AI17 Automated Driving Seating Demonstrator, which converts the impact of trends ranging from automated driving and electrification to 'the Internet of Things,' big data and artificial intelligence into real product innovations for customers and their consumers.
With solutions for level-3 and level-4 autonomous vehicles, the concept features innovations that increase interior flexibility, while also providing passengers with higher levels of safety, comfort and convenience. Among the 15-plus innovative concepts are greeting and conversation modes. In greeting mode, front seat passengers can activate integrated controls to rotate their seats up to 70 degrees outward so they can easily get in and out of the vehicle. In conversation mode, the front seats rotate 15 degrees inward to create an intimate setting for conversing. In addition, the Demonstrator applies the 'zero-gravity' concept to reclining, which ensures perfect balance at the hip for maximum comfort. Related components - head restraint, dual-sided armrests, leg rests – are synchronised to move with the body. To further support autonomous driving, the Demonstrator features thin, lightweight seating innovations to increase interior flexibility and provide more usable interior space while also providing occupants with higher levels of safety, comfort and convenience.
Last year we learned about Johnson Controls' Automotive Lifestyles baseline car seat research. In what ways have the findings from this research helped Adient?
The study of Automotive Lifestyles is concerned with the question what consumers really look for when choosing their new car, taking into account their life history, previous experiences, current family situation, working and cultural environment, economic situation and personal requirements.
The results have contributed to Adient's innovation process and helped us greatly to better understand the individual consumers' needs and requirements, explaining buyer behaviour in a more detailed way and therefore to offer the right products and services for an OEM's individual target group.
We understand that for car manufacturers as well as their suppliers, individualisation is a growth market that offers great potential for differentiation. How is Adient responding to that?
As customisation options continue to grow, the desire of many new car buyers for design alternatives is becoming increasingly important. The megatrend toward vehicle customisation can therefore clearly be seen as a growing market, offering automakers huge potential for differentiation in the future. As global leader in automotive seating, we are offering customers not only a range of different materials but also a choice of extraordinary surface structures, personalised printing or embroidered elements for customising passenger vehicle seats.
One key technology in terms of customisation offered by Adient is the inkjet printing process for trim covers. The production process is similar to that of a paper printer. Each version of the seat surface is a single file, printed one after the other. This digital inkjet printing allows inkjet printing process for trim covers. The production process is similar to that of a paper printer. Each version of the seat surface is a single file, printed one after the other. This digital inkjet printing allows automakers to test various designs and colours in small runs and limited editions without having to do additional material validation. It is also an important answer in terms of individualisation for mass production.
Besides the inkjet process, our removable, zip-out, zip-in seat covers make it easy for vehicle owners to change the look of their interior. For carmakers, the inkjet process, our removable, zip-out, zip-in seat covers make it easy for vehicle owners to change the look of their interior. For carmakers, the Adient developed in-house printing capabilities allow testing various designs and colours in small runs and limited editions. Digital printing allows exact placement of design onto seat patterns, with specific designs tailored to segment needs and market updates. The removable covers are washable with 30 degrees C water, the foam is protected by a technical cover beneath the seeable and removable surface, eliminating the need for further validation after changing the surface material.
Another option for individualisation is to offer customers a high-class complete seat as a significant upgrade compared to the standard equipment. At NAIAS, our premium brand Recaro Automotive Seating showcased a range of solutions for all kinds of performance cars – from SUV to luxury models. Based on these Recaro seats, we can offer our customers tailor-made solutions that fit perfectly into the relevant car segment and the individual interior design of the respective OEM brand.
What are other megatrends in the automotive seating industry and how could they shape the look and feel of tomorrow's car seats?
The road toward more lightweight and sustainable solutions for vehicles will continue to drive interior innovation. Therefore, helping automakers to meet the upcoming environmental and fuel economy requirements is a key driver of our interior products and processes. By using a wide range of technologies, we have been able to reduce the overall weight of our seats by a total of 20-30 percent over the past 10 years. As recently as 2010, a front seat structure weighed 14 kilograms; in 2015, we were able to reduce it to around 10 kilograms. Our express goal is to reduce the weight to well under 10 kilograms by 2020, while simultaneously making the automotive seat more and more like a multifunctional element with diverse electronic adjustment options and technical features. Our designers are faced with the challenge of combining this with the need for a reduction in weight. And, of course, with ensuring that these seats also meet the highest safety and quality standards.
The designing of seats with a very low weight has always been characteristic to the brand DNA of our product group Recaro Automotive Seating with its strong roots in motorsports. In this context, another advantage of many Recaro performance seats lies in the very low hip-point. This feature makes perfect sense not only in a race car, but also in an electric powered vehicle. If you have a car with huge battery packs in the floor, the hip-point of the seats become a crucial factor when the best possible packaging is desired. The Recaro Sport Seat Platform that gained great interest at NAIAS is probably the seat structure with the lowest h-point in the market.
Can we expect to see more fibre-reinforced composite seat back frames that provide a low mass design and improved packaging efficiency?
In order to reduce the weight of the car's seating systems, the focus of the multi-material approach is on increasing the amount of lightweight materials, such as fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP), carbon, aluminium or magnesium, in the finished seats. One example: Made from glass-fibre reinforced thermoplastics, our new front seat backrest is significantly lighter than other versions that use traditional materials like steel, aluminium or magnesium. And with a slim, fully modular design, it can be installed on any seating platform – and saves space for consumers. Though it has a multi-material structure, this product can be manufactured in one simple step – enabling cost-effective, high-volume production.
Within the portfolio of Recaro Automotive Seating, we offer several options with lightweight components based on fibre-reinforced technology, e.g. the Recaro backrests that are part of the Recaro Composite Seat concept. They not only score in terms of weight and packaging, but can also be individualised with several options of surface refinement – such as high level paint finishing or special trim options on the rear side of the backrest.
Although weight reduction is crucial if the auto industry is to meet the CAFÉ standards, is there a negative perception of thin seats amongst consumers?
Our Slim-Seat Demonstrator integrates several innovative technologies to show how weight can be reduced, and packaging increased in a stylish, safe and – of course – comfortable seat. The multi-material seat structure for mass production starts with a one-shot, injection-molded composite structure with a Class-A quality finish on the backrest, followed by thin and cutting foam layers for comfort and durability. Finally, the seat is designed and trimmed with our fabrics for a trend-setting contemporary look and feel.
Consumers look for comfort and safety in a seat. Seats should guide them, protect them, and fit to their shape and size. In general, the perception of comfort is not only based on the thickness of a seat. Adient always strives to make safe and comfortable seats with proven quality. As such, we have made improvements in technology and materials to save weight and create more legroom space, but at the same time improve comfort and safety, e.g. seat foam thickness has been reduced without compromising on comfort. The thickness of a seat is selected carefully, based on comfort studies. Therefore, comfort and seat thinness are not a paradox at Adient.
In terms of the seat structure, to what extent is there a greater use of aluminium (or steel and aluminium combined) in manufacturing either the front or rear seats?
We have shown several Aluminium hybrid concepts. However, considering the relatively low advantages versus the significantly higher costs compared to ultra-high-strength steel, we are currently not pursuing this approach any further. Magnesium might be an interesting alternative as it offers significant weight reduction potential.
I guess the use of alternative and advanced materials in seats helps reduce weight. Could you talk us through a recent seating innovation that has resulted in a significant reduction in weight?
One key material to keep the weight reduction process ongoing is magnesium. It is the lightest of all structural materials to help improve fuel economy while maintaining structural integrity [magnesium is 75 percent lighter than steel and 33 percent lighter than aluminium]. Our new lightweight cast magnesium seat structures offer a very good strength-to-weight ratio, design flexibility and excellent dimensional stability along with high dent and impact resistance. Modular designs with products such as our height adjuster series HA3000, Track 3000 asymmetric tracks and the 3000 series recliners make these world class structures adaptable to virtually any platform or body type.