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Technology and Innovation in Weight Reduction

European regulations for the reduction of CO2 emissions from passenger cars and light commercial vehicles have had a major impact on weight reduction, as manufacturers look to meet stringent targets by improving efficiency in every component of their vehicles. This is the driving force behind the need to reduce the weight of seating in automobiles; as seating can account for 5-10% of the weight of a vehicle. It is a complex issue for manufacturers and OEMs alike, as any weight reduction must be balanced against driver comfort, ergonomics and safety; none of which must be compromised to achieve lower overall weight. Why the trend towards weight reduction? The EU directive [EC] No. 443/2009 established in 2009, legislated that passenger cars should reach CO2 emission targets of 130g CO2/km by 2015 and 95g CO2/km by 2020 (1). Additional regulations for light commercial vehicles introduced in 2011, require that they do not exceed emissions of 175g CO2/km by 2017, and 147g CO2 by 2020. In practice, this works by giving each manufacturer a target based on the overall mass of new cars registered in a given year; with the values set in such a way that heavier cars will require more reduction than lighter cars. Although the exact parameters for 2020 targets are still under some discussion, the current indexing of CO2 emissions against vehicle mass means that one way for manufacturers to work towards the targets is by reducing the weight of their vehicles. Automotive seating has historically been manufactured from metal and polyurethane (PU) foams. With weight reduction at the forefront of the seating sector, many OEMs are looking to newer technologies and different materials to reduce weight. Safety and comfort have always been the prominent drivers for seating, and rather than being in conflict with the requirements for reduced weight, a holistic approach must be taken to reconcile these important factors with lower cost and less weight. It has now become essential for car makers to consider the seating system as a whole, rather than viewing each individual segment and component separately.
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Development of thermoplastic composites The use of Carbon-fibre reinforced plastics (CFRPs) is not particularly new in automotive manufacturing. Various types of these thermoplastics have been used for interiors, trims, and non-structural components for several years. However, the key development in recent years of high performance plastics that can be massproduced cost-effectively, has led to their implementation in components where previously it had not been thought possible. The first high-end cars are being made with complete monocoques moulded from CFRPs, and manufacturers are beginning to apply this technology to seating. The high strength and lightweight potential of CFRPs creates the opportunity to replace steel as the main structural component within a seat, reducing weight without any compromise in comfort or safety. New manufacturing processes which can mass produce moulds on a large scale are making it a more cost-effective alternative than ever before. Chemical company BASF developed a seat made from thermoplastics, in cooperation with Performance Materials Corporation (2). The concept seat, pictured below, was first unveiled at the K show 2010, in Dsseldorf, Germany. It has been further developed and produced by seat manufacturer Faurecia, and is being marketed under the name of SUSCO 1.5 (an abbreviation of Sustainable Comfort). BASF developed an Ultramid (Polyamide) grade specifically for the seat, and replaces metal structural components with a one-piece plastic seat which minimises the trim and foam. The seat is approximately 30mm thinner than average car seats, and weighs around 20% less. The seat back features layers of continuous carbonfibre reinforced plastic, which is later over-moulded with BASFs ultramid. Partners, seat manufacturers Faurecia, are expected to bring the seat to the market by 2014.

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Source: BASF Colin Pawsey

References: (1) http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/transport/vehicles/cars/faq_en.htm (2) http://www.basf.com/group/pressrelease/P-10-466

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