Preh Inc. has inked its second contract to develop human-machine interfaces for Ford. The German component supplier will produce the center stack panel for the 2010 Lincoln MKZ sedan employing designs and manufacturing techniques previously used only on European luxury vehicles.
The MKZ’s center stack interface includes both infotainment and climate controls in vehicles without navigation systems. It was designed over an 18-month period by a joint development team that leveraged European designs.
“Some features have so far only been implemented in European premium vehicles,” said Nick Lontscharitsch, Preh’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales.
This includes buttons that are reinforced by a metal bracket to allow a uniform push force whether the driver pushes them on the side or the center. That is important on wide buttons, which can twist when they are pushed on the sides.
Preh also uses European design and manufacturing techniques for push buttons. It improves gap adjustments for a cleaner look while also providing more fluid movement.
These push buttons are assembled from two parts that are snap fit together. The upper part that users see is made out of a transparent material that is painted and laser etched with symbols. The lower part uses a material with easy sliding characteristics.
These techniques let engineers shrink gaps between buttons to improve appearance and help engineers meet size requirements. “Design challenges for the panel’s engineering team included adapting to a very small packaging space,” Lontscharitsch said.
The MKZ’s HMI will also include rotary knobs that feature haptic feedback, which is becoming popular in digital controls that provide little or no physical response. Using what is called the Preh-Encoder, it lets engineers decouple the encoder’s electronic and mechanical functions.
That makes it possible to fine-tune torque, detents, and even sound of the knobs so all knobs will have homogeneous haptic feedback. This also provides what Ford engineers feel is a higher-quality haptic feel.
The Lincoln contract follows Preh’s first order with Ford last October for the design of the HVAC control heads for the MY 2009 Ford F-150 pickup truck. Preh completed that hardware and software in 12 months.
The F-150’s dual-zone automatic temperature control uses optical encoders that are embedded in the printed circuit board, making it simpler to adjust the tactile feel to various requirements. The push-button guides were designed so there are no gaps in the climate control front, preventing dust or liquids from entering the control head.