Adient, the global automotive seating supplier, recently broke ground for India’s largest-ever automotive seating prototyping and testing facility in Pune, making it the only player in the country to have capabilities to fully test and certify seats. Dr Detlef Juerss, Vice President Engineering & Chief Technical Officer, Adient was in Pune for the ceremony, and we met him to learn about the future of seating systems in a world that is going to be connected, autonomous, shared and electric in the not so distant future.
Born in 1966 in Hamburg, Germany, Dr Detlef Juerss has been with Adient and former Johnson Controls since 1995. A PhD (Dr. Ing.) in Mechanical Engineering from the Technical University of Aachen (RWTH) in Germany, Detlef Juerss had earlier – in 1990 – completed his Engineering Degree as Dipl. Ing. from the same university. Prior to joining Adient he worked as Research Engineer at the Institute of Plastics Processing, Aachen. At Adient/ Johnson Controls, Dr Juerss has held many positions across different places in Europe and North America, including Aachen, Stuttgart, London, Brussels, Michigan and Alabama. He is currently based in Burscheid, Germany. In different stages of his career, he has been Engineering VP, VP – Product Development SLS Innov. Metals, VP & GM, VW Customer Business Group, Group VP and GM, Customer Group European OEMs and Group VP and GM, Product Group Seating Components & Technology, before taking up his current position as Vice President Engineering & Chief Technical Officer for Adient Ltd & Co KG.
ATR _ Considering the mobility megatrends of the future, what kind of transition do you see the seating industry going through?
DETLEF JUERSS _ It is clear to the industry that the future is about CASE – connected, autonomous, shared and electric. There will be revolutionary changes in the auto industry. We already see this with new customers coming up – the way they work, the way they react – Tesla, Nio, Faraday Future, Waymo, etc. And even customers like Uber will drive different technologies within the automotive industry.
There are a few things that will of course never change. The drive towards lightweighting, for instance, is common across vehicle makers, regardless of whether they are an IC-based or EV manufacturer. In seats too, we see a trend towards allowing higher cost, for even lower weight. This will now drive new materials and higher technologies. Whether that will be composites, I personally don’t know, but we’ll definitely see materials such as magnesium and titanium walk into the seats gradually. We already have such examples from the aviation industry, and that’s why our new relationship with Boeing is so hopeful.
Something that is very specific to India is the drive towards individualisation. We see more demand for fancy touch, look and feel of the interiors in a car. Doing different textures, for example, is high-end technology. I actually see India becoming a technology leader in fabrics.
We’ll also be there in shared mobility, ensuring the seats are more robust, more wearable, more luxurious and comfortable versus the seats we see in taxis today, specifically in the Indian market. We see companies like Uber dictating specifications in the cabs they’ll provide. An Uber of the future will not look like a Mercedes, a Toyota Camry or a Suzuki. It will look totally different. You would be able to book an Uber with your preferred seating position, thanks to connectivity and through your mobile phone.
So, the seat of the future will be powered, smart and connected. It will also have sensors to monitor blood pressure and heart rate, for instance, and the Ubers of the world could even offer services like health monitoring through such sensors in seats, perhaps at an extra cost. Having said this, we see continued demand for new technologies in seats emerge even in existing vehicles. There is increased demand for safety and emissions – which means advanced technology development in the foam and chemicals we use, and the processes we adopt.
So, you see the co-existence of various technologies in the foreseeable future?
Even though everyone says the industry will move towards electric vehicles by 2025 or so, the industry hasn’t even thought this through well. There are talks about the future being about artificial fuels over electricity, considering the burden of the energy bill on everyone. As a seating manufacturer, we would continue to look for opportunities in different areas. If everything is electric, for instance, the heating and cooling requirement for seats will be different, and we’ll need to be ready with technology to deliver.
You’ve talked about integrated airbags and integrated seatbelts and 180 ° rotatable seats. Give us an understanding of the AI18 interior concept.
If there is a higher trend towards autonomous vehicles, we’ll have more flexibility in utilising the interior space. You’ll be able to utilise the space for more conversations, work or relaxation. This will lead to different seating arrangements within the vehicle and different seating positions – including a zero-G (or sleeping) position. This means that the current safety systems of the seatbelt on the B-pillar or the airbag on the steering wheel will be at the wrong place and will not be able to keep the occupants safe. Then, there will be vehicles without the B-pillar or even the C-pillar.
We believe the safety devices will have to move into the seats to be closer to where the occupant is. That then drives the fact that we’ll need to have totally different seat structures that would take all these crash roles much more than in the past. In doing so, to ensure that we do not increase the weight of the seats significantly, we would need to engage in advanced weight engineering, using even higher strength steel or other composite materials.
So, all safety content in the vehicle would essentially walk into the seats. Heating, cooling, safety devices and even the HMI systems would come closer to the future seating structure. We envision that a lot of them will physically walk into the seats – like in a business class seat in an aircraft – with all possible controls available to the occupant of the seat. Connected seats will become an integral part of the entire vehicle network.
As a seat supplier now, we also need to understand vehicle controls, electronics and body control architectures. For this, we are partnering with safety specialists like Autoliv, and you’ll soon hear more collaboration announcements in the areas of heating & cooling, networks and HMI.
Apart from the Autoliv JV, you’ve also announced the acquisition of the Futuris Group. Overall, the industry has also witnessed multiple collaborations among OEMs, suppliers and tech companies. Do you see this trend in the seating sector as well?
It will be much more. The whole automotive industry is changing. New suppliers, new customers, new supplier-customer relationships are emerging. In the future, OEMs may not remain OEMs; they may become Tier 1 suppliers assembling products. Like in the aircraft industry, Boeing doesn’t source the seats. They are sourced by individual operators such as Delta or Air India. In the future, a complete interior supplier like us could become like some of our OEMs today. And this change in the industry won’t happen without collaborations.
The strategic partnership with Autoliv, would allow us to work together on the development of solutions that ensure and improve passenger safety in spite of completely new seat positions. The intellectual property thus created will be jointly shared between the two parties.
Adient has also stated a target of reducing the weight of seats to less than 10 kg by 2020. Is that correct?
There are generations over generations of weight reduction targets that are very well known in the industry for seat structures. Today, a normal manual six-way single front seat structure is 12 kg. We will soon see the next generation of that seat structure in the market to be well under 10 kg. Now imagine a seatbelt integrated seat, and we’re talking totally different weight targets, because it would require a totally different load management. We are now talking about an eight-way, 10- or even 20-way powered seat structure, which will also have a different weight target. In general, the industry is willing to invest more in making seat structures further lightweight.
When we talk about connected seats, what are the different possibilities we’re talking about? We see sensor fusion becoming common. How would that change in a seat?
There are multiple technical possibilities available. When I was talking about having sensors to monitor blood pressure and heart rate in seats, there is of course the option of having these sensors in some other part of the vehicle too. You can have similar solutions with a camera system. Let’s look at the seats today. You have two powered seats with two different body controllers that don’t talk to each other. Of course, they don’t have to. But in the future, all the seat body controllers will have to talk to each other because we’ll have seats that turn and move around, and will need synchronisation.
I’m not suggesting everything will move into the seats, although that’s wishful thinking from us from a business perspective. We can offer seats with bio-sensors, with lights, with active noise cancellation in the area of the headrest. We might even need active noise in order to prevent motion sickness, which is one of the top problems when driving autonomously and doing something in the car.
The good thing is that we already have seats with massage functions, with heating & cooling functions, seats that swivel, seat headrests that provide speakers, etc. We are working on developments based on ideas for the future. At Adient, we have the Lego blocks that we can put together to build solutions to serve the customers.
What benefits have the Futuris acquisition brought to Adient?
Futuris helped us get a customer in China that we weren’t too prominent with, specifically Geely. Futuris helped us close that gap. It also helped us with a presence on the west coast, through its manufacturing facility and design centre in Newark, US. It also helped us with their contacts at Tesla, Faraday, etc. It’s basically the Tesla business that was very important for us to acquire.
How significant is the upcoming prototyping and testing centre in Pune for Adient’s technical might?
The Pune centre brings us to a dominant position in India for the Indian market. We are now the only player that can physically provide fully tested and certified seats. There is no other test facility in India that is owned by a Tier 1. That will drive significant value for the customers. We believe this centre will help us acquire significant market share here in India. Secondly, because of the additional business that Adient is acquiring in the global market, there is substantial new demand for development work. Enhancing this tech centre will not only give us the capacity to address such demands, but also help develop capabilities of the Indian team.
How does the CV industry look for Adient in India?
We believe the Indian market will continue to grow at a very good pace, considering the content is growing in terms of comfort and safety. We already supply seats to Tata Motors and Daimler (Bharat Benz), and we continue to talk to all major CV manufacturers in the Indian market. We are in a pretty good space in the Indian CV business. We hold about 20 % market share in the CV sector in India, almost the same as in the passenger vehicles sector.
TEXT: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah