ADR: Original Equipment Manufacturers, key sustainability partners in the automotive sector

Encouraged by the emergence of new technologies, the advent of the car of the future has transformed the automobile industry. Often described by the acronym CASE – Connected, Independent, Shared and Electric – this vehicle must also be very respectful of the environment. For manufacturers, this is already reflected in the impossibility of selling new cars equipped with internal combustion engines from 2035 in Europe. However, the sustainability imperative affects all players in this sector. In the passenger compartment area alone, we can already see an evolution in the materials used. However – and this is good news – the equipment manufacturers concerned can still go to great lengths to reconcile environmental protection with competitiveness.

Sustaining the car means rethinking the materials used in the interiors

According to a study Frost & SullivanThe market for alternative leathers and high-tech durable fabrics is expected to reach $120 billion by 2025.

In the passenger compartment model trends Issue Increased demand for lighter materials to improve battery performance and range in electric vehicles. It also works in favor of interactive and tactile surfaces, which are able to fulfill the requirements of communication and human-machine interfaces.

Consumer expectations have just as much influence on the materials used. Items that can be easily disinfected respond to, for example, the new sensitivities of post-COVID-19 clients. Those that allow for more extensive model customization and a significant improvement in the driving experience will appeal to upscale and luxury customers.

To these developments are now added the environmental concerns of motorists. They expect recyclable materials, which leads to a circular economy. Faced with customers increasingly concerned about the origins of products and their manufacturing process — including the ethical treatment of animals — car manufacturers are looking for materials that require fewer chemicals to produce, use less water and produce lower carbon dioxide emissions.

At the level of car seats and the passenger compartment, for example, we see that some manufacturers are developing leather alternatives, such as artificial leather (also known as imitation leather), or high-quality substitutes, adapted to mass production. Luxury brands make it a selling point, especially those that market electric cars. since 2017, Are you here Thus, he chose to display only the decoration without the skin. Another example, Mercedes uses instead of textiles made from eucalyptus fibers or from recycling old clothes and plastic bottles.

OEMs can also optimize the amounts of materials used

In addition to the selection of materials composing the passenger compartment, sustainability also requires equipment manufacturers to pay special attention to material consumption and scrap. By equipping themselves with the right technology solutions, seat manufacturers can improve the environmental footprint and productivity of the cutting rooms where the textiles and leathers they use are cut.

The first possible advance is to reduce as much as possible – or even eliminate – the buffer areas between the pieces to be cut to reduce textile or leather waste. For the latter, there are, for example, digital cutting equipment that integrate scanners and optical systems to analyze the quality of the leather and reduce the number of pieces lost due to a defect in appearance. In addition, automation and optimization of positioning of parts to be cut saves up to 7% in material compared to the manual process.

Likewise, the use of more efficient equipment and new technologies – such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, cloud and big data – makes it possible to digitize all processes in the cutting room. By using the resulting production data, processes can be better prepared, better planned and better analyzed.

In addition to the obvious gains in productivity (they can be up to 10%), this also allows a significant reduction in material consumables. This applies not only to the fabric or leather trim for the seats and other components of the passenger compartments, but also to the consumables required for this trim.

Under the combined influence of the CASE model and current economic and environmental challenges, the automotive ecosystem will increasingly need sustainable solutions for the entire value chain. Besides reducing CO2 emissions, proper management of the materials used will play a key role in ensuring their long-term durability. On the passenger cabin scale, the industry cannot rely solely on developing preferred materials. With new technologies and better use of production data, equipment manufacturers can also improve the efficiency of their manufacturing processes and reduce material consumption. By responding to requests from customers and manufacturers alike, they have the opportunity to assert their strategic place within the value chain.

Tribune by Nicholas Favreau, Director of Automotive Marketing Strategy, Lectra

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