A company that formed after acquiring the interiors business of Lear is adding facilities and technologies to its portfolio from a defunct supplier, and the payoff is showing up inside the cabins of current production vehicles.
The 2008 Lincoln MKZ's instrument panel, door panel, and floor console are produced from a patented slush-molding process developed by Collins and Aikman (C&A). "Based on analysis, it's at least a 30% energy cost savings versus the traditional heating method used for slush molding," said Ken Shaner, Vice President of Advanced Engineering for International Automotive Components (IAC) Group North America. A 430,000-ft² (40,000-m²) manufacturing plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, that was acquired from C&A is the production and assembly site for the interior components.
A large portion of the current Chevrolet Corvette's interior, including the instrument panel, door panel, floor console, and garnish trim, are supplied by IAC. The leather-wrapped instrument panel features a seamless airbag door. "It's one of the first vehicles in the industry to use a seamless airbag system with a leather-wrapped cover. The leather, which is scored for airbag deployment safety reasons, is attached to the slush-molded skin via an adhesive," said Shaner.
The instrument panel, door panels, headliner, and carpet are among the IAC-supplied interior elements on the 2008 Chrysler Town & Country minivan. A two-shot molding process is used to produce the door panels. "It's the first time we've done an entire door panel with the process," said Maurice Sessel, Vice President of Product Engineering for IAC. Two U.S. plants supply the products needed for the molding process that allows for structure and rigidity as well as a soft surface finish in one assembly.
IAC engineers are working on advancing the two-shot process, called FreeForm. "FreeForm Plus is the next generation of FreeForm. The new development is a soft, tunable material that is a substitute to [products made via] the traditional foam-in-place process. It's concept-ready, so it may be used as early as 2011 model-year vehicles," said Sessel.
A blow-molded HVAC duct—at 5.5 ft (1.7 m) one of the largest in the industry—is fitted on the current Toyota Tundra full-size pickup truck. IAC also supplies a unique under-seat storage box made of polypropylene. "We were able to develop with Toyota a storage area large enough to stow up to 4-ft-long products, such as sporting and camping goods," said Sessel.
IAC recently has developed an energy-absorbing device for door panels. "It's a plastic, injection-molded, tunable energy-absorbing bracket. Instead of using larger and thicker energy-absorbing foam blocks on the backside of the door for increased side-impact protection, which is being mandated, the [MY2008] Nissan Altima coupe is the first vehicle to use the patented brackets," said Sessel.
Compared to foam blocks, the energy-absorbing brackets present a 10 to 15% weight savings, and the brackets also enable "a lot more packaging flexibility," said Sessel, adding, "It's very easy with FEA modeling to analyze how much crash energy the brackets will absorb, so it is predictable in terms of understanding the performance."