Future trends and technologies on show at 2018 Automotive Interiors Expo, Novi
The 2018 edition of Automotive Interiors Expo in Novi, Michigan saw more than 1,600 attendees visit the Suburban Collection Showcase in search of the latest product launches and demonstrations, while the show also helped highlight the future direction of car cabin technologies.
Some 30% bigger than last year’s event, even more of the industry’s leading companies were on hand to reveal an exciting array of world firsts, exclusive announcements and the latest developments in materials, manufacturing, lighting, design and much more.
One of the biggest themes at the 2018 show was the rise of smart vehicle surfaces, with many companies displaying creative ideas and solutions to turn non-active cabin elements such as dashboards and panels into interactive and informative features.
Calsonic Kansei presented a full vehicle dash concept, whereby the typical flat surfaces found on instrument panels utilize a translucent material to display vehicle data such as climate, temperature and time.
“We brought this to the USA just for this expo, to show the OEMs here – and there are two of them that are very interested – one of them being a ‘big three’ manufacturer,” said Brian Bober, new business development, engineering IP, console and cockpit module at Calsonic Kansei. “There’s a European OEM too that we are working with to deliver this technology.”
The console offers touch-capacitive controls electronically printed beneath a wooden-finish section of the dash, achieved by in-mold structural electronics where the printing of the circuit is on the decorated part itself.
“I foresee the smarter use of surfaces within the IP and the cabin, turning the decorative surfaces functional,” Bober continued. “AC temperature, blind spot warnings, turn signals and other items that are traditionally in the IP dials can all be integrated, but we also have to be cognizant of safety such as airbag deployment or impact in collisions – we have to design for all these factors.”
Meanwhile, Plastic Plate, a division of Lacks Enterprises, made the case for greater integration of lighting technology within materials.
“With the rise of autonomous vehicles, the cabin will be more of a living room type of space, so we are really focused on making sure passengers and drivers feel comfortable and have more individuality,” said Ryan Lacks, director, sales and marketing, Plastic Plate.
The company demonstrated how its design and development is evolving as a result of changing consumer trends – with a particular focus on new 3D-textured finishes.
“Originally we were an electroplater on plastics, but we’ve combined that technology with actual 3D high-definition textures,” says Lacks. “They offer a very precise, tactile feel, created using a laser injection mold for added depth.”
Lacks adds that consumers increasingly want more choice, which has meant changing manufacturing methods at the company. “It actually adds a lot of complexity on our part because instead of having one part with one finish, we now have multiple finishes and textures.”
Nakan, which specializes in synthetic leather created from PVC, TPE and TPO blends, exhibited its latest collection of synthetic leather finishes, including innovative effects created through 3D printing and slush molding. On its booth, visitors can find a full-size dash panel featuring one of the company’s IP skins created using slush molding.
“We have the capability of two-dimensional or three-dimensional printing, which can create different colors and designs,” explains Michael Cestkowski, development engineer at Nakan.
“We have a robot that is able to print in the tool, where the image is transferred onto the vinyl, or it can post-print once the panel is made.”
Cestkowski revealed that industry regulations regarding VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are pushing the company to adapt its strategy and innovate. “Odor right now is a real concern, and the new car smell isn’t as favorable anymore,” he said. “We are looking at the different constituents contributing to that and looking for a reduction in the odor. Our development group in France is coming up with the chemistries for that.”
Cabin lighting was also very much in evidence on the show floor. Oshino Lamps displayed a number of lighting designs currently in production, as well as a dynamic lighting concept that is able to pulse and flash or welcome occupants into the car with a customized light display.
“There are five lenses and each is individually activated with an RGB, so you can produce a stack or rainbow effect,” explained David Tyler, Oshino’s managing director.
Tyler revealed that the company has also been looking at integrating lighting in further experimental areas of the cabin, including the steering wheel.
“Last year we had a conversation about lighting in the steering wheel that would light up red if the vehicle notices you’re too close to the car in front,” he said. “There’s also the function of introducing lighting to the vehicle bin that lights up when it recognizes a hand approaching it. There are lots of different functions.”
The use of lighting could also be an important safety feature, preventing drivers falling asleep at the wheel. Oshino is currently experimenting with a blue light located above the driver’s sun visor, which is intended to keep the driver refreshed, much like natural light, as opposed to the number of red and orange lights on the road that can add to fatigue.
Tyler also noted the increasing affordability of lighting, with ambient solutions once only found in luxury car models now being rolled out to cheaper vehicles.
“The technology is becoming more available in more affordable models. The products we have are for Jaguar Land Rover, which is where you typically saw ambient lighting, but now we’re talking to people about opportunities for use within Honda Civics, for example,” he said.
“It also used to be all standard colors but now you have RGB and dynamic lighting that can change depending on the time of day, much like that seen in an airplane. You’re also seeing how lighting is changing on the exterior of the vehicle too, with badges and logos lit up.”
Carbon, which creates 3D printing machines, generated a lot of interest at this year’s show, with visitors curious about its work with sportswear company Adidas, for which it has created 3D-printed soles for sneakers.
Norik Elchibegian, transportation and industrial sales director at Carbon, suggested the cutting-edge technology could potentially be a replacement for foam in vehicle seating in the future.
“We spend a lot of time in finding the right applications for 3D printing, and we’re seeing a lot of foam replacement applications,” he said. “What we can do is match the performance of any given foam and replace that with various lattice densities of the structure so that, with the same material, you can get a totally different behavior. You can get lumbar support or something softer for an armrest, for example.”
Carbon displayed its 3D printing machine at its booth, along with a number of products created using liquid resin.
Diamond Coatings, which creates indium tin oxide coatings on interior parts for capacitive touch functionality, saw a lot of interest in one of its lenses that has been sputter coated with indium tin oxide (directly onto the part). The lens is found within every Jaguar Land Rover vehicle and is used to operate the cabin lighting without the need for a rocker switch. Jason Eite, president of Diamond Coatings, revealed that in over eight million lenses supplied, the company has had only one warranty claim.
“A lot of vehicles have capacitive lighting but they’re doing it with the bezel behind or a copper cable that goes around the outside,” he said. “Both of those are expensive options and come with touch issues. The problem with alternatives such as placing a capacitive film somewhere on the part is that you’re adding two more failure modes – the adhesive and the plastic. In hot cars, for example, optical laminates begin to degrade and de-bond, and you get touch sensitivity issues as the film breaks down and peels away.”
Meanwhile, Seal Methods Inc was at the show to inform visitors it is now working with a new robot that can offer a more efficient way to disperse foam around fixings and help eliminate foam wastage.
“The reason why we use the robot is because when you cut out a piece of foam [for housing] you waste a lot of the middle, so we developed a technology that disperses two-part urethane foam, where you would normally throw 90% of the material away,” explains Grant Tracy, an application specialist at SMI. “So we use about 90-95% yield of the urethane and get into tricky u-channels around injection-molded plastic for a seal, for example; we take the housing and a robot gets into the u-channel and disperses a self-curing foam in there. We now have customers who give us their plastic housings and we inject the foam in there for them and ship the housings back.”
The next generation of HMIs and how drivers and passengers operate and interact with vehicles was another strong theme at this year’s show.
Kurz Transfer Products, a specialist in printing and hot stamping, showcased a number of vehicle trim panels and displays featuring a backlit design and integrated interactivity.
“A big trend right now is a day/night effect that can guide light through material and hide effects,” said Luitpold Haarlander, director of business development at Burg Design which is a member of the Kurz Group.
“At the moment design is changing from ambient lighting to lighting in the parts that are not just plastic or wood anymore, they are interactive. It’s an advantage for the OEM as they can create seamless designs.”
Kurz has seen its colorful lighting concepts, which include plastic door inserts and panels, introduced in models for major OEMs and revealed it is working on its next generation of products, including those that could feature in self-driving vehicles.
“In the future there will be a living room atmosphere and car sharing where people want to enter a vehicle that’s comfortable, and to do that you have to play with different types of light and material,” continued Haarlander. “Besides just lights or effects we see a trend in touch or especially gesture, which we are working on. It’s not just about touching a part, but interacting with it too; we are producing the sensor for gesture control for functions.”
Elsewhere, attendees were able to explore a number of new methods for automotive interior manufacturing. IHI Hauzer Techno Coating presented its revolutionary electroplating process for plastic metallization that only contains two coating processes and removes the need for a lacquer top coat for protection.
Not only does this reduce the chemicals involved, it contains no chromium-6, a crucial step in meeting new REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulations and standards currently being considered by the European Union.
“On an EU level, there will be a decision by the end of this year on how the EU will handle hexavalent chromium. There is a strong lobby within the galvanic industry and electroplaters, but by the end of this year it will be clear what will be the way to go,” explained Emilio Rodriguez Cabeo, business manager Cromatipic, IHI Hauzer Techno Coating.
However, Cabeo believes that chromium production will increase as consumer trends play a part in the demand for chrome finishes. “Within the automotive industry by 2025 chromium volume will increase. If you look at last year’s results, the trend is for more chromium.”
Visitor and exhibitor feedback
Both visitors and exhibitors were united in their praise of this year’s show, commenting on the quality of both exhibitors and products, as well as how beneficial it was to discover so many suppliers that were not previously on their radar, all under one roof.“I work for a supplier company of components and I came to look at what the local companies are. The show has grown this year and what I like is that I’m discovering brand new suppliers that I didn’t know about before,” said Aaron Matlen, an account manager at SMC.
Roger Michna, who works as an NVH engineer, added: “Already walking down the first few aisles I ran into lots of non-woven products, which has resulted in many new connections, including one I’m meeting next week.”
Exhibitors were quick to observe how the show’s growth has attracted an even more dynamic and diverse visitor profile:
“The traffic has been very steady and we love the focus on interiors as visitors to the booth know exactly what they are here for. The growth is encouraging and we hope it continues in the following years,” said Mark Kakkuri, marketing manager for Gemini Group, which had a large stand at this year’s show.
Emilio Pedral, director of marketing at MacDermid Enthorne Solutions, also revealed how the show’s continued growth is leading to new opportunities: “For it to be this busy is a validation that this show is the perfect place to establish new partnerships. We’re finding a lot of interest from people here.”
Next year’s Automotive Interiors Expo will return to the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, MI, USA on October 22, 23, 24, 2019.