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  1. Interview
November 3, 2015

Q&A: Johnson Controls on how fuel efficiency, individualisation and autonomous driving are shaping tomorrow’s car seat

Continuing just-auto's series of interviews with tier one suppliers, Matthew Beecham talked with Dr. Detlef Jurss, group vice president and general manager Seating Components, Johnson Controls Automotive Seating.

Continuing just-auto’s series of interviews with tier one suppliers, Matthew Beecham talked with Dr. Detlef Jurss, group vice president and general manager Seating Components, Johnson Controls Automotive Seating.

What megatrends in the automotive seating industry and how could that shape the look and feel of tomorrow’s car seats?

Currently we see three megatrends impacting the global automotive industry: These hot topics include fuel efficiency, individualisation and autonomous driving. All three are obviously connected to each other and also influence urban mobility and car connectivity.

These megatrends strongly influence the development of tomorrow’s car seat. For example, fuel efficiency and CO2 requirements can only be achieved with weight reduction. Johnson Controls has recognised these challenges very early and has given high priority to R&D in lightweight design for years. Our declared goal is to reduce the weight of seat structures to significantly below ten kilograms before 2020. At the same time seats have to carry more and more functions and functionalities without compromising quality, comfort or safety.

Individualisation is another growing trend with all its aspects such as customisation, x-covers, niche products – but all based on large scale global platforms. We at Johnson Controls provide solutions for styling trends, colours, shapes and material selection. With our innovative processes in the fields of textile printing, embossing, sewing and embroidery, as well as one-off production and processing methods for textile materials, from comfortable breathable fabrics over design stitching and customised embossing to hard and soft breathable forms. On top of that, or Seating Demonstrator SD15 which we presented at this year’s IAA in Frankfurt is full of features that extend flexibility of seating systems a great deal – already with regards to the coming steps in autonomous driving in the vehicle of tomorrow.

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?

Autonomous driving will definitely be a reality. But not overnight – it will evolve gradually. We are already experiencing numerous driver assistance systems that support us and facilitate driving. In the Car of Tomorrow, assistance systems are increasingly taking responsibility – the space behind the wheel is transforming into a comfortably designed control and entertainment center. The role of the car cabin – maybe even without a steering wheel – will transform into a comfortably designed control and entertainment centre, a workplace and an area to rest. The seat of the future is an all-rounder: It will need to fulfill new demands towards communication, health, relaxation and comfort while at the same time being a major part of the car’s safety system. Future seats will become an even more active safety system – much more than today. The seat will be an integral part of passenger protection, linked to all active safety systems of the vehicle. Additional seat functions such as the option to rotate the direction of the seat to allow direct communication with other passengers, or a seat in a reclined relaxation position, must provide maximum crash safety.

At Johnson Controls, we have been working for several years on the challenges brought on by these mobility trends for our vehicle seats. About ten years ago, we launched a fully approved rear seat system featuring a lounge sleeping position.

Although weight reduction is crucial if the auto industry is to meet the CAFE standards, is there a negative perception of thin seats amongst consumers? How can you make seats thinner yet maintain seat integrity?

Thanks to the use of various technologies, we reduced the total weight of our seats in the last two generations by a total of 20 – 30 percent. Seats are the interface between passenger and car. Safety and comfort requirements are increasing. Simultaneously, the car seat is more and more a multi-functional carrier with diverse electronic settings and technical equipment. The challenge for our engineers is to combine this with weight reduction. And of course, these seats must meet the highest standards of safety and quality.

For us as a supplier, this means that the standards for the next decade have clearly been set: The greatest expertise in processing lightweight materials will determine who will become the leading suppliers in the decades to come. Besides maintaining at the highest safety and comfort features, the aim is not only to reduce the weight of the seats, but also to produce them as cost-effectively as possible. By doing so we are convinced to maintain a positive customer perception and even improve it.

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?

I would say, the technology and material race is on. The focus of the multi-material approach is to increase the share of light materials such as glass fibre reinforced plastic, carbon, aluminium or magnesium mix – and to combine it all with the newest bonding technologies. But the race is also on for super high strength steel combined with innovative manufacturing processes. In any case technology still has a huge potential for weight saving. Depending on the approach we can save from 10 to 40 percent of weight.

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?

Developing more advanced lightweight technological capabilities is crucial for us. Over the past five years, we have therefore invested a total sum of about US$100 million globally in the advancement of lightweight technology. Johnson Controls’ expertise can already be seen in many of our current development projects, such as our award winning CAMISMA (Carbon-Amide-Metal-based Interior Structure using a Multi-material system Approach), Tailored Hybrid Tubes and the RECARO Sport Seat Platform (RSSP), which is ready for series production.

The innovation of the RSSP for example lies in separating the load-bearing structure from the design shell within the backrest. Even more unique is the seat’s low weight combined with increased safety: the load-bearing backrest structure mainly consists of carbon fibre materials, while the seating shell is constructed using high-strength steel and Organosheets.

Talking about the CAMISMA backrest, it is more than 40 percent lighter than conventional backrests made of metal, with equivalent performance in terms of safety. Also, carbon can be processed far more efficiently than before – reducing waste from 50 percent to less than five percent.

Besides using lightweight materials, Johnson Controls also manages to reduce weight with new seat concepts featuring integrated functions that require less material. While offering the same range of features, today’s seats require far fewer components, with each component performing multiple functions. Johnson Controls managed to decrease the amount of parts for a backrest structure by about 50 percent. As less parts are required, far fewer assembly and production steps are needed, which in turn reduces costs.

With so many devices and materials packaged into new vehicles seats these days, is there competition for real estate in the seat?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto’s QUBE Global light vehicle seating market- forecasts to 2030

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