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Topology optimization of a car seat frame

Jos Oliveira1,a, Pedro Teixeira1,b, Gilberto Lobo2,c, Joo Duarte1,d, Ana


INEGI, University of Porto, Rua Dr. Roberto Frias 400, 4200-465 Porto, Portugal

SUNVIAUTO, S.A., Rua da Bela Vista, Jaca, 4415-170, Vila Nova Gaia, Portugal

FEUP, University of Porto, Rua Dr. Roberto Frias sn, 4200-465 Porto, Portugal,,,,


Keywords: Topology optimization, Weight reduction, Lightweight concepts.

Abstract. The optimization of consumer products through the use of numerical simulations has
become a key factor to a continuously increasing requirement for time and cost efficiency, for
quality improvement and materials saving, in many manufacturing areas such as automotive,
aerospace, building, packaging and electronic industries.
Environmental protection, fuel economy and safety specifications are today major concerns in
automotive industry. Part of the overall strategy is a lower car weight which means increased
performance, reduction of fuel consumption achieving a lower vehicle exhaust emissions to the
environment. At the same time, the occupant safety must be continuously improved, as the safety
specifications are more demanding. To meet these requirements, a call for new lightweight concepts
and crash structures was raised, using lighter and/or stronger materials. In the last decade we have
assisted to a development and application of high-strength steels and aluminum alloys in the
manufacture of automotive structures.
This paper presents a structural design problem of a car seat frame, aiming the desired weight
reduction while satisfying a set of performance constraints. The numerical model of the seat frame
has been developed and the numerical results were validated against experimental data obtained
during static loading tests. Using the developed computational model, an optimized topology of the
linear elastic structure has been determined, reaching a significant weight reduction.
The concept of optimization is nowadays present in many areas of knowledge, as are the cases of
engineering, management, medicine, biology, physics, and statistics, among others. Focusing on
engineering, environmental concerns and the great technological competitiveness have motivated
the search for ever lighter products in structural applications. Companies need to adopt strategies to
remain at the lead, such as a strong investment in researches that enables the placement on the
market of reliable, efficient and lightweight designs, and the minimizing of manufacturing times.
In automotive and aircraft industries the use of numerical simulation tools is of the utmost
importance in the product developing stage, in order to achieve the desired weight targets and
reduced development time.
Powerful structural optimization algorithms have been integrated in many of the finite element
software. The structural optimization tools support designers in the hard task of searching for the
optimal design, and simultaneously ensure the right structural performance of the component (e.g.
stress and strain limits, failure criteria).

According to the design variables used, we can distinguish three different types of structural
optimization. The following is a general description of the main differences among sizing, shape
and topology optimization problems [1,2,3].
Sizing Optimization: in this type of problems, the structures domain is not a design
variable, i.e. it is assumed a pre-defined shape for the structure. Some dimensions like
thickness, height and length which characterize the structure geometry are selected as
design variables. For some given constraints of the problem, the sizing optimization
consists in the determination of those dimensions that provide better mechanical
characteristics to the structure (e.g. greater stiffness, lower deflection).
Shape Optimization: in this type of problems, the structures domain change at the
boundary. The contours of the components geometry are changed, while the connectivity
between its subdomains remains constant. The external contours of the structure are
parameterized by spline curves and the design variables are the parameters that define
them. Shape optimization aims to determine the optimal parameters of these curves. It is
used at a late stage of product development and leads to a homogenization of the
components stresses [4,5].
Topology Optimization: in this type of problems, the optimal design is found by the
change of the structures topology. Unlike the other types of optimization, the topology
of the initial component is not fixed throughout the optimization process. At each point of
the design domain subjected to some given constraints, topology optimization determines
whether or not the material exists. Topology optimization can be formulated as a material
distribution problem that optimally distributes solid and void material over a fixed design
domain [6]. Thus, in the topology optimization, the analyzed component domains
connectivity is changed. Its application at an early stage of the project is of crucial
importance for the development of new products.
Fig. 1 a), b) and c), presented below, compares schematically the three types of structural
optimization listed above. On the left are shown the initial models and on the right the optimized

Fig. 1 a), b), c) Comparison of three types of structural optimization [7]: a) sizing optimization of a
truss structure; b) shape optimization; c) topology optimization
Topology optimization has become an interesting scientific research area in the field of structural
optimization, and has also been applied to many engineering areas with success [7]. Although many
optimization approaches have been integrated into different commercial finite elements programs,
the complex problems that have to be solved in industry must be abstracted dramatically and
carefully analyzed [1].
This study did not cover topological optimization algorithms that are integrated in numerical
programs such as ABAQUS. More information about this topic, especially about the compliance
based methods, can be found in [1,7,8].
The present paper studies the use of the finite element software ABAQUS in the design of a car
seat frame. In order to reproduce the behavior of the seats frame in study, when subjected to the
static tests imposed by the applied legislation, a highly reliable finite element model is build using

this software. Later, we use the compliance formulated topology optimization methods available in
ABAQUS to suggest an optimal design for this component.
Optimization of a car seat frame
The car seat studied here is integrated into medical emergency vehicles such as ambulances. This
type of vehicles just like all the other vehicles of collective transport are subjected to specific
legislation relating to anchorages for motor vehicle safety belts (Council Directive 76/115/EEC [9]).
It is intended that the new design satisfy all the specifications of the applied test. As a
simplification, only the main structural components of the seat frame have been considered for this
analysis. The considered components are presented below in the Fig. 2 and their masses are listed in
descending order in Table 1.

Fig. 2 a), b), c) Main components of the seats metallic structure: a) backrests structure; b) bases
structure (black) and cushions structure (green); c) rotary foot
Table 1 Mass of the main components of the car seat frame
Component designation
Mass (kg)
rotary foot
bases structure
backrests structure
cushions structure
The components listed above represent approximately 74% of the total weight of the seat (38
kg). These are the components on which we must work in order to reduce the seats weight.
Then, the finite element model (Fig. 3) that allowed us to study the car seat frame is sumarized.
More detailed information about this finite element model may be found in [10].

Fig. 3 Geometry and finite element mesh

In order to reduce the computational cost of the numerical model, some simplifications have
been made in the geometry definition. Thus, some fillets and holes without significant importance
to the structural behavior of the seat have not been considered. Many of these geometric details
bring problems in the generation of the finite element mesh. The welded joints were also not
considered. Due to these simplifications, the mass of the modeled components differs slightly from
the real mass of the components shown above. Table 2 shows the comparison between the real mass
of the components and the mass of the modeled components.
Table 2 Comparison of the real mass of the components with the mass of the
modeled components
Component designation
Real Mass (kg)
Modeled Mass(kg)
rotary foot
bases structure
backrests structure
cushions structure
The major difference observed for the rotary foot is due to the fact that a mechanism responsible
for seats rotation was not modeled.
According to the applied legislation, permanent deformation is admitted in components after the
loading. The elastic properties of the steel are insufficient when it is desired to consider the plastic
behavior of material. Several tensile test were made to determine the approximate stress-strain
curves of the both steels used in the seat frame (S 235 JR, S 420 MC). We use Hollomons equation
to determine the relation between stress and plastic strain. The approximate true stress-plastic strain
curves are presented in Fig. 4.

Stress [MPa]

S235 - STRESS [MPa]
S420 - STRESS [MPa]






Fig. 4 Stress-Strain curves of S235 and S420 steels

All the connections and contact interactions between the different components of the seat frame
were also carefully modeled. The definition of the loads and boundary conditions were made
according with the stipulations of the directive. According to this directive, a test load of 13500 N
shall be applied to the upper belt anchorages and a tractive force of 21100 N shall be applied to
lower belt anchorages. Fig. 5 shows the positioning of the traction devices during a test.

Fig. 5 Positioning of traction devices during a test

The rotary foot is fixed to the ground during the tests and it was modeled in this numerical
model. Additional information about the numerical modeling of the connections, contact, loads and
boundary conditions in this study can be found in [10].
The high geometrical complexity of the seat frame led to the use of quadratic tetrahedral finite
elements (C3D10 in ABAQUS), since these elements are easily adaptable to any kind of geometry,
and the meshes are generated very easily. The second order tetrahedral elements also allow a better
representation of the surfaces contours of pieces.
The mesh refinement can severely affect the computational cost of a finite element simulation.
Thus, only areas of interest to the analysis were refined, in order to obtain a higher productivity
over several simulations.
The results obtained with this finite element model are presented below. Fig. 6 shows the nondeformed structure (gray) and the deformed structure (green) at the end of simulation. For the final
instant of the simulation, loads are at their maximum amplitude. More below, in Fig. 7 a), b) and c)
it is presented respectively the stress field, the displacement in the z-axis, and the plastic strain at
the end of simulation.

Fig. 6 Initial structure and deformed structure at the end of simulation

Fig. 7 a), b), c) Results at the end of simulation: a) stress field [MPa]; b) the displacement in the zaxis [mm]; c) plastic strain [%];
Analyzing the previous figures it is quite evident that the structures deformation caused by the
loading occurs mostly at the backrest and cushion. The higher stresses are concentrated mostly in
the base. These results are due to the fact that the lower anchorages of seat belt to which are
transferred large part of efforts are integrated in this component. The stress values exceed the yield
strength in diverse points of the seat frame, so that some regions of the component show plasticity
(Fig. 7 c)). As expected, the maximum displacement in the z-axis occurs in the region of upper
anchorage of the seat belt.

In order to validate the numerical model, it is presented in Fig. 8 a) and b) the experimental
results for the displacement of the upper anchorage of the seat belt. On the left we show the results
of a test performed in the company, and on the right, the results of a test performed in a certified
company for the seats approval.

a) u=327.35 mm
b) u=329.02mm
Fig. 8 a), b) Experimental results: a) tested performed in the company; b) test performed
in a certified company for approval of seats
The displacement in the z-axis, obtained in the numerical simulation for the upper anchorage of
the seat belt, is approximately about 320.96 mm. Comparing this value with experimental results,
we obtain errors lower than 2.5%.
After the validation of the displacements, we proceed with the validation of stresses. For this, we
performed a numerical simulation in which the springback was taken in consideration, i.e. forces
were discharged at the end of the simulation. The permanent deformation at the end of simulation
was then compared with the permanent deformation existing in the seat frame tested in the
company. As we can see in the Fig. 9, qualitatively there are many similarities.

Fig. 9 Comparison of permanent deformation in the simulated seat frame and in the
tested seat frame
Before proceeding to the presentation of possible optimized solutions to the seat frame, it is
important to mention that the process of structural optimization is an iterative process. Changes
made in the current seat frame were performed in a progressive way, and the impact that these
changes have on the simulations was analyzed successively. The main aspect considered to validate
the changes that were made was that the displacement of the upper anchorage could not exceed 380
mm in the z-axis.

Different topologies were achieved, with the topology optimization algorithms available in the
software ABAQUS. Here, we only present the topologies that provide better structural performance
to the seat frame, and that seem to be easily manufactured. For the rotary foot and the cushion the
topologies achieved are presented in Fig. 10 a) and b) respectively. The design areas for the
topology optimization task are represented in blue.

Fig. 10 a), b) Optimized Topology from ABAQUS software: a) rotary foot; b) cushion
Additionally, either to the rotary foot or to the backrest, the use of a high-strength steel (DP 780)
has been considered and their thickness has been reduced.
The changes mentioned previously were approximately modeled and integrated into a new finite
element model. The results of this simulation are shown in Fig. 11.

Fig. 11 a), b) Results at the optimized simulation: a) stress field [MPa]; b) displacement [mm]
The changes suggested above, have led to a new solution that satisfies the applied legislation.
The mass reduction verified by the introduction of the new topologies is shown in Table 3.
Table 3 Mass Reduction associated to the changes suggested
Component designation
Mass Reduction (kg)
rotary foot
The global mass reduction associated to the suggested changes is approximately 4.47 kg.
This study shows how useful the use of finite element tools can be, in the design of lightweight
concepts. The developed numerical model reproduces the structural behavior of the car seat frame
with complex geometries, when subjected to all the conditions imposed by legislation. Special

attention was taken for a correct modeling of the loads and boundary conditions of the different
The experimentation associated with this study allowed the validation of the finite element
model. Experimental results obtained during the static loading trials are responsible for the
reliability and success of the constructed finite element model. The good concordance between the
numerical results and the experimental data is an important point to highlight.
Starting from the current topology of the car seat frame, an alternative and innovative solution
was studied and presented here. The computer simulation results based on the topology
optimization method and the application of high-strength steels led to a new design. It is expected
that the proposed changes to the current car seat frame are directly linked with a substantial
reduction of mass.
The topology optimization method can support design engineers of different experiences levels
solving the hard problem of distributing a limited amount of material in a certain design space.
Authors gratefully acknowledge funding under project SUNVITECH, Aviso 03/SI/2011
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