DEVELOPMENT OF A NEW INTEGRAL CAR SEAT SUPPORT BY NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND OVER-INJECTION
The automotive industry is, and will continue to be, a fundamental pillar of the European economy, which justifies its marked presence on both national and European road maps. The objective set by the EU to reach 20% of gross domestic product through manufacturing industry in 2020 will only be possible with a strong presence of the automotive sector, so it is essential to maintain the key elements of the value chain in Europe. However, globalization is not only a great opportunity linked to the growth forecasts of the sector of 100 million vehicles in 2020, but also a serious threat in which delocalization phenomena are increasingly present. In this regard, it should be noted that a large proportion of the processes used in the automotive industry are relatively mature, and these, together with those at a lower technological level, carry a greater risk of being offshored to countries with cheaper labor. Which is, in short, the motivation of the DESPEGA (“take-off” in Spanish) solution.
The seat module is of great importance for car manufacturers, as it represents the 2nd highest cost in a vehicle, also accounting for 6% of the total weight. Working to improve on them, therefore, has great potential for the reduction of cost and weight, which is so important for the sector. Car seats involve much great complexity, even more so the greater the performance of the specific vehicle. Safety and comfort are the basic premises of new developments. Gradually, seats have been incorporating new features to respond to the search for new functionalities and greater passenger comfort, especially in the driver’s seat. It cannot be forgotten, moreover, that these represent the first contact with the potential consumer, so they constitute a commercial tool of great importance, and ultimately, a key element for vehicle innovations.
Generally, their manufacturing involves subdivision into multiple stages resulting in an inefficient process with a large consumption of resources in terms, essentially, of time and materials. It therefore offers great potential for the strategy to improve the profitability of new designs: DFMA (Design for Manufacturing and Assembly). The DESPEGA solution is the answer to the continuous search for process improvement which features so prominently in European research agendas. Thus, according to lean philosophy, the integration of three manufacturing stages into one will be carried out, for which the optimization and redesign of the current components is necessary, with its consequent complexity. A distinction is usually made between the manufacture of foam, the integration of the cover and the mechanisms in different stages. Distinguishing, in turn, the assembly from the casing differentiating between the seat and backrest functions, which are finally integrated at a later stage. DESPEGA sets out to carry out the foam filling and integrate the cover and reinforcement in a single stage. In this way, manufacturing and assembly operations are facilitated, and costs are reduced by optimizing the use of manufacturing tools and equipment. Thus, it will act on the mold that means a crossover enabling technology, of great importance in the manufacture of a host of products. Current advances in the field of automation and mechatronic engineering enable greater control and robustness of processes. In this way, it is also possible to act on the processing window, which makes more complex operations possible. In this regard, the development of a new concept of molds, active molds or active reactors will be carried out, in which the reaction will be controlled. These new molds, as opposed to the passive molds characteristic of the state of the art, will incorporate a temperature and pressure compensation system based on computational control. Hence, they will represent a technological leap forward in contrast to conventional processes. On the one hand, in contrast to the process of foaming in-situ, it is possible to manufacture the cover and foam in the same stage, to the detriment of the comfort performance of the product obtained. Also, instead of the conventional manufacturing process in successive stages, with the consequent problem explained above. The foam formulation must also be optimized, to adjust to the new processing conditions and achieve good adhesion and filling with both the cover and the metal reinforcement. Finally, a redesign of the metal reinforcement will be carried out to adapt to the new process conditions, as well as the design of new mechanisms to perform the final assembly.
In short, the DESPEGA project will enable a complex pre-assembled system with great appeal for seat assembly lines or directly for OEMs. In this regard, it is worth highlighting the operating mode of the sector where the components industry is acquiring an increasing importance in the entire automobile production process. That is why in recent years the sector has been tackling more complex functions such as coordination with other suppliers and investment in RDI.
In order to meet the technological challenge posed by the DESPEGA solution, it is necessary to involve all the companies involved in the seat module value chain. Thus, COPO GROUP TECHNOLOGICAL CENTER, mold maker and foam formulator, COPO IBÉRICA seat foam manufacture, and VIZA AUTOMOCIÓN, which specializes in the manufacture of structures and seating mechanisms will be able to work on the different elements of the solution. In order to achieve the proposed objectives, it is also necessary to bring on board a company that specializes in process automation: SYSPRO, which will enable the active mold concept to be developed. Finally, and in order to achieve greater efficiency in the process, the TECNIMACOR company will work on optimizing the demolding process. This is one of the biggest bottlenecks in the polyurethane injection process. The consortium described requires the support of two research entities, the AIMEN and CTAG Technology Centers and the Universities of Córdoba and Granada for those tasks that have a greater scientific and technical element. Their experience in the proposed lines of research will be essential in order to achieve the objectives set in the project.
DESPEGA is also aligned with the smart specialization strategy (RIS3) of Galicia. This strategy seeks to concentrate resources in a limited set of priority areas in which the region has competitive advantages. Thus, the automotive sector is one of the most important drivers of Galicia, representing a vital element for the survival of the region’s industrial fabric and also enjoying a strong position in relation to Spain as a whole. The Galician automotive sector, led by PSA Vigo, has become an international leader. So much so that in 2014, vehicle production in Galicia represented about 16% of Spain’s total production. This figure makes the Vigo plant the 2nd largest production plant in Spain, surpassed only by SEAT Martorell (with 18%). An important component industry has developed around the factory, financed by French capital, which continues to attract foreign investment. This situation is further strengthened by the setting up of the CEAGA Cluster (in 1997), as a consolidating element of the component industry, which currently has 106 member companies. In the comparison by autonomous regions, Galicia is the fifth autonomy in number of companies in the component sub-sector (52).
As pointed out above, the relocation of value chain companies is a patent fact, which translates into an industrial landscape in which CETEC is currently one of the few polyurethane mold manufacturers that carry out the design and manufacture in Europe of these key parts. This gives great agility to the seat module value chain due to its physical location and its proximity to suppliers and OEMs. And it shows the strategic importance of the DESPEGA project to reinforce and guarantee the permanence of the seat module value chain in Galicia.
This project was supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), by the CDTI and by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.