Modern cockpit interiors are designed to attract the taste buds and comfort of the driver.
Aesthetics, ergonomics, dashboard display, consoles, trims, innovative environment friendly materials, types of attractive textures and colour combinations are the essence of cockpit interiors which provide distinct brand signatures in auto sector. These are aspects that attract the buyer, as a first impression. Introduction of state-of-the-art infotainment panels and auto instrument clusters, ergonomic operator controls and numerous mobile devices are steadily challenging the component manufacturers for integrating their solutions innovatively to meet the OEMs’ demands. Every automaker has its own concept design of presenting the functional features of the instrument in an innovative manner with focus on clarity, aesthetics, ergonomics et al. Manufacturers offer designers more freedom and opportunity to differentiate and establish a competitive advantage.
Vehicle interiors are undergoing sea changes to accommodate the use of new and environment-friendly material for better aesthetics to be experienced by the occupants. This component segment is on fast track to introduce innovative designs to artistically and ergonomically display all trims, dashboards, instruments consoles, infotainment, connectivity features and other interiors being incorporated in modern automobile.
The days of a one-colour interior are history, more so in the premium vehicle segments. Automakers are blending richer wood appliqués and cooler metallic trim accents with two-tone fabric and leather wrapped components, giving the cockpit interior more dimension and a sophisticated appearance that complements the cleaner display clusters and gauges.
In the earlier days, interior played second fiddle to the glamour resideding in sleek, beautiful sheets metal of the exterior, but thes days they have radically changed. Technology is drving what carmakers can do with the interiors. The revolution is under way in current vehicles filled with features, technology and materials undreamed of a few years ago.
Gajanan Gandhe, Executive Director India and VP South Asia/Africa, IAC says, "We are seeing a continued trend toward premium interiors across all vehicle segments. In the smaller economical segments, we continue to see more soft touch instrument panels, doors and consoles, and more cut and sew stitching for a hand-crafted look and feel."
He also adds, "In the higher-end premium vehicle segments, we continue to see the incorporation of richer wood and metallic appointments, combined with a wider variety of material surfaces for creating a wider range of unique haptic (touch) response and visual response for consumers."
Interiors must be designed to enable the switch from human-driven to driverless mode. "For all vehicle segments, with the exception of full size truck and SUVs, there is a greater attempt to wrap the interior around driver, creating a true “cockpit” experience, similar to what a fighter pilot might experience in a plane," Gandhe says.
This is visible in the seamless, sweeping corners where the IP and the door meet, which creates the effect of a wrap-around cockpit that improves driver ergonomics by placing controls closer in reach of the driver, and positions displays/gages in better view to the driver’s line of sight. The move to autonomous driving means people will interact with their vehicles in different ways. Changes are already apace. Tablet-style touchscreens, optical displays and voice recognition are being increasingly integrated into interior design.
As it is for most suppliers, we face the industry’s constant pressure to reduce costs while maintaining the highest standards of quality and delivery. One of the biggest challenges in the manufacture and supply of interior cockpits is of supply chain management and quality control. As you must be aware, the interior cockpits comprise of very complex components, some of which are manufactured in-house by IAC and many of which are either directed or consigned parts by other suppliers," Gandhe says.
He further adds, "These parts are of various sizes, complexity and shapes and are supplied to IAC from all over India and other parts of the world which require us to maintain sufficient inventory to ensure that we meet all the just-in-time requirements of the customer. Given the poor Infrastructure conditions as well as the complex taxation issues, it is critical that we have an excellent supply chain management team round the clock to prevent any missed deliveries." All this has to be done with the highest quality standards for fit, finish and aesthetics in mind.
Gandhe says, "It is only due to our in-house material, process and supply chain management expertise that we are able to meet these challenges and deliver the premium interior solutions (described above) that our customers have come to expect, and doing it while meeting on-going pressure to reduce costs."
The market for conventional injection-molded interior components, such as door panels, instrument panels, floor and overhead consoles, etc. will grow commensurate with the vehicle production forecast for the Indian market. Gandhe explains, "We expect to see a substantially higher growth rate for the introduction of new and natural materials used in the injection moulding process that create lighter products that help OEMs might more stringent fuel efficiency standards and meet growing consumer demand for “greener cars” with a
smaller carbon footprint. One such solution at IAC is our hybrid injection moulding solution."
IAC HybridFleece Molding™ is a unique process for combining the pressing of a thermoplastic mixed fiber fleece from a natural fiber, glass or recycled carbon fiber with the moulding of stiffening ribs and clips into a one step process in the same moulding tool with no need for additional welding or gluing. The technology can be used to produce a variety of lightweight structural and visible (A-surface) interior components and is designed to reduce process complexity..
In order to compare IAC HybridFleece Molding™ with conventional processes, IAC produced a door carrier concept and tested it against the serial SUV product it delivers to an OEM customer. In the present case, the concept door carrier delivers a mass reduction of 35 per cent and with regard to its greenhouse potential – 40 per cent less emissions over the course of its lifetime.
Technology, especially electronics technology, moves as a very fast rate. Gandhe excerpts, "How we transfer technology from other fields into various automotive applications is an effort that usually involves both the OEM and the tier-one supplier, like IAC."
One example that is becoming more relevant in the interior is how technology is changing the way the driver interacts with the vehicle through commands. There are two types of commands where this is most notable:
Touch commands are beginning to replace conventional push buttons and switches in the instrument panel, which allow for a smoother, seamless instrument panel. We see this trend continuing, but we have to balance the consumer’s desire for touch activation with the consumer’s comfort and preference for conventional push buttons for control of more important functions. So, it is our job to keep up with technology, but also to slow the pace a bit to make sure it is being applied at a rate that meets consumer expectations while enhancing the driving experience.
The same can be said for voice-activated commands. The software technology for voice recognition is far better today than just a few years ago, but in a vehicle interior, the software must compete with road and engine compartment noise. This is where companies, like IAC, offer extensive experience in acoustical engineering. This requires looking the interior from a complete systems approach and understanding exactly where noise enters the vehicle, what the noise does once it is in the interior (echo chamber) and then using our advanced acoustical products and engineering to tune the interior, thereby reducing road and engine noise. This allows for the expansion of voice recognition software, which to date are limited to entertainment controls.
Automakers have begun offering vehicles with digital instrument panel, replacing the traditional analog gauges. Such digital instrument panels use LCD as their display devices. At the same time, integrated infotainment systems (also known as in-vehicle infotainment systems) in automobiles that deliver entertainment and information content have also gain popularity.
The technology is similar to that used on gaming consoles that mimic movements in a virtual environment. It will work by having a stereo camera within the cabin (in the rear-view mirror for example) that can recognise certain movements for pre-programmed adjustments and functions.
To add more to the technology segment below mentioned are some types of technologies which are and will be adding to the interior parts in near future:
Both biodegradable and other co-friendly materials are only going to continue growing in the industry. As much as light-weight solutions, eco-friendly, natural materials are counted among IAC’s key product capabilities that sets IAC apart from the competition. "IAC’s Fiberframe headliner product serves as an excellent example of a new product we introduced earlier this year," says Gandhe.
IAC’s FiberFrame replaces the sun roof’s metal reinforcement frame with a lighter frame employing strong, natural fibers using a new raw material comprised of 70 per cent renewable content. This unique lightweight solution is reinforced using IAC’s EcoMat™ natural fiber-based semi-finished material, which was especially developed for this application. The fiber mat is molded with a thermoset binder and is manufactured in-house by IAC in a hot moulding process.
Innovative cockpit interiors are going to continue to be introduced with every new launch of an automotive vehicle: SUV, Passenger Car, LMV, LCV HCV as the case may be. Practically all reputed automobile manufacturers have a strong presence in India. To gain a competitive edge each maker is introducing new generation vehicles with innovative interiors to attract a large share of buyers. Therefore, one can visulaise that the market size of auto cockpit interiors
will grow exponentially, in line with OEM demands.
"It is only due to our in-house material, process and supply chain management expertise that we meet these challenges and deliver the premium interior solutions."
Gajanan Gandhe, Executive Director India and VP South Asia/Africa, IAC
At IAC, people believe that the Indian automotive market has a long term growth potential and is expected to create opportunities for world class companies to invest and grow. While the rate of growth of the Indian automotive market has been much slower than that of China in the past decade, IAC is poised for a significant change if the economic policies of the current government such as investment in infrastructure, introduction of GST, higher labor rates and focus on productivity and efficiency continue to change the landscape for the Indian automotive industry.