BASF (basf.com)—working collaboratively with Performance Materials Corp. (performancematerials.com) and Faurecia (faurecia.com)—has come up with a significant innovation in automotive seating: A seat back that integrates the seat frame and back panel integrated into a single thermoplastic structure. It reduces the amount of foam required as well as simplifies the trimming process and yet meets crash requirements. What’s more, it requires less room in the cabin, and it opens up the potential of integrating more elements (e.g., lumbar support, heating and cooling elements).
BASF engineers started examining the possibilities of using continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastics (CFRTs) for automotive applications because the materials—proven in defense and aerospace applications—can provide a stiff, strong, and lightweight product thanks to their higher modulus, impact strength and overall durability as compared with traditional filled thermoplastics. Their work involved doing extensive computer-aided engineering, including use of its own Ultrasim numerical material module. Ultrasim combines traditional tooling and process data with experimental data so that optimum part and process designs can be determined. They set to developing the seatbacks with continuous fiber reinforcements over-molded with Ultramid Polyamid 6 (PA 6) resin.
Next they went to work with Camarillo, California-based Performance Materials, which has expertise in the development and manufacture of CFRT products. The physical materials were tested multiple times with the results compared with the predictions that had been made with finite element analysis. Said Thomas Smith, CEO of performance materials: “Using these leading-edge analysis techniques we have worked closely with BASF to develop both a CFRT material and a part design, which is not only compatible in the injection over-molding process, but can provide the necessary structural performance in a cost-effective, lightweight seat application as demonstrated in actual crash tests.”
Then it was on to working with a seating supplier that would actually engage in this undertaking, which led to Faurecia. Faurecia developed what is now known as the “SUSCO 1.5” seat. BASF and Faurecia are now working with automotive OEMs with the objective of getting the innovative seat into series production by 2014.