9/1/2004 | 3 MINUTE READ

Inner Sense: Realistic Interior Technology

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When they're not busy running nationwide "e-panels" with 16-year-old girls to see what they want in car interiors (a removable clothes closet and CD storage on the headliner, if you must know), investigating new materials ("bullfrog"* and bamboo are next), trying to integrate numerous suppliers on a program, or save features as budgets are cut, interior suppliers are working on new ideas. Things like positive-stop seat adjusters with a maximum of 2-mm engagement space, center consoles with integral vacuum cleaners, and modular storage systems that can be personalized or changed when the vehicle comes off lease. Or items like the following four that are quickly gaining acceptance with U.S. OEMs.


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Heads Up!


Grammer Automotive—USA's (Troy, MI) electronically activated head restraint design is already in use on BMW's 5 Series and 7 Series models (shown). The 650-g units uses a pyrotechnic device linked to the airbag sensors to extend a piston and move the headrest closer to the occupant's head in a rear collision. The company's second-generation design is a fully mechanical unit that can be reset after deployment, greatly reduces cost, and can be used on any seat with a separate headrest. When triggered by the airbag sensor, a magnetic switch triggers the U-shaped locking device, and two coil springs extend the cushion portion of the head restraint forward along a notched ramp. When cushion and head meet, the ramp settles into one of the notches, which prevents the headrest from retracting. Resetting the restraint involves pressing a release button and pushing the cushion back into place until it locks.


More Boost


"ICBS" is not something Haley Joel Osment said in The Sixth Sense. It's an acronym for "Integrated Child Booster Seat," a technology Grammer is promoting to U.S. OEMs. (ICBS is optional in European market Audi A6s and VW Passats.) The unit raises the rear seat lower cushion so children who weigh more than 50 lb. can properly use the factory-installed seatbelts. Activation efforts are low enough for children as young as four to deploy or stow the unit, and the ICBS is designed to prevent a child from "submarining" under the seatbelt in an accident, while eliminating the storage problems separate booster seats create when not in use. Total supply chain cost for the unit is said to be equivalent to the price of a quality aftermarket booster seat (about $125 to $150). A removable head restraint/cushion (shown) also is available.


Back Seat Drivers


Third row seats in SUVs are nice, but getting to them can be a major problem. Not only is the space between the seatback and C-pillar limited in most vehicles, the mechanism used to fold the middle row seat out of the way often takes a doctorate to operate. When activated, Lear Corp.'s (Southfield, MI) stadium seating unit slides forward 350 mm, and tilts the lower seat cushion forward. This lets the seatback fold up tightly against the cushion, increases the space through which occupants can enter the rear of the vehicle, and is activated by a single handle. The design also slides fore/aft 100 mm, folds flat against the floor, and has a reclining seatback.

Despite consumer preference for third-row seats, however, more than 50% would like them to fold flat into the floor when not in use. This isn't always possible, so Lear created a thin profile seat that folds flat against the load floor and stacks just 130 mm high. Pulling the release collapses the headrest and releases the seatback, and a remote release can be used if desired. A new foam design makes the seats reasonably comfortable, and mechanical collapsing bolster supports can be added to the base design, as can a reclining seatback.


Under the Skin


Behr America's (Troy, MI) Thermo-Structure module is based around a hybrid cross-car beam that incorporates the HVAC unit, air ducting and distribution into one unit. Brackets and assembly supports can be injection molded as part of the structure and used for locating the steering column, front passenger airbag module, control attachments, and provide partial integration of the center stack and console if the OEM desires.

The advantages of the design include: less air pressure drop, tighter tolerances, less air leakage, more space for the air ducts, less material use, lower complexity, and reduce variability. Behr America says the design has been validated (for vehicles from economy cars to vans) and is ready for integration with vehicle programs at the start of the design phase. The greatest obstacle to production, according to Behr? Getting the vehicle structure and HVAC people to talk to each other.

* Bullfrog looks like the skin of said animal, replicating the grain and shift in hue no matter the color chosen.

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