Mar 23, 2016
Rüsselsheim. Bernd, Werner, Oliver and Marius are full of enthusiasm for their task – repeatedly they rub over the side bolsters of the seat underneath them before simulating getting in and out while scrubbing across the leather. Somewhat stubborn and relentless but at the same time completely dedicated. Bernd, Werner, Oliver and Marius are inspection robots in the test lab of the Opel International Technical Development Center in Rüsselsheim. To be more precise, they consist of a friction pad covered with a jeans-like material and a foam layer that simulate the human posterior and thighs. “They are more than just robots for us – they are fully qualified members of the team. They perform an important job and therefore they all have names,” explains seat specialist Andrew Leuchtmann, Senior Manager Interiors at General Motors Europe.
The robot team simulates gets into and out of cars 50,000 times a week – equivalent to an entire lifecycle of a car. Both the premium and ergonomic seats targeting the seal of approval from the back specialists of Aktion Gesunder Rücken e.V. (AGR) as well the integrated comfort seats that come as standard are subjected to this ordeal. After the tests, the engineers can recognize whether the seats will be able to withstand future strains just by looking at the fabric structure. “The color has normally faded and the surface is scratched but the most important thing is that the foam underneath is ok and that the surface structure remains stable,” says seating expert Leuchtmann. If this is not the case, the premium and ergonomic seats Opel offers for the driver and front passenger need to be upgraded – after all, there have to last an entire car life, no matter whether it is in the Mokka, Cascada, GTC, Meriva, Zafira Tourer, Astra or Insignia.
“This is where we obviously benefit from our great experience,” says Leuchtmann. After all, the Rüsselsheim-based carmaker can look back on 117 years of seating heritage. The success story of ergonomically valuable sitting began in 2003 with the first AGR seal of approval for the Opel Signum, making Opel the first manufacturer to offer back-friendly seats in the middle class. The offensive for healthy sitting at affordable prices was rolled out across the model range. Especially long distance and company car drivers are grateful for the system. The numerous settings available allow the AGR certified premium seats in the Insignia to be perfectly adjusted for each driver, ensuring that they are relaxed and symptom-free even after many hours at the wheel. Since 2003, Opel has made democratizing good seats one of its missions and is the leading volume manufacturer in regards to ergonomic seats with the AGR seal of approval.
The structure is the most important component of the seat. It ensures the safety of the occupants and keeps them in the right position in case of an impact. However, at the same time is also normally responsible for the considerable weight - not so in the new Astra Sports Tourer. The seats have shed 10 kilograms in weight thanks to ultra-high-strength steels. The engineers know exactly how much weight they can take out safely before even starting on the first prototype thanks to a computer simulation. Darker colors show stress peaks in the material that could lead to a breakage. “We really pushed our limits on the Astra Sports Tourer and experimented a lot,” says Leuchtmann. Amongst others, numerous welding tests were necessary. “You can no longer weld if the material is too thin,” says the engineer.
Once the first prototypes have been built and the fabrics or leather for the covers selected, Werner and colleagues can start their work. But before that, the team calculates to the load level the robots need to apply to the test subject. Furthermore, a team of experts consisting of men and women of different size and build are asked to take a seat with a pressure mat measuring the peak loads, for example where the sit bones make contact. “We test it with prototypes in the real car,” explains Leuchtmann. “The Meriva seat for example is higher and you enter differently than you do the new Astra Sports Tourer where the seats are lower.” Testers also sit differently on a premium or ergonomic seat. Because of the especially good lateral guidance, the side bolsters are higher and therefore under more stress. The data obtained results in an average calculation for stress and Werner and co can be programmed accordingly.
Nine human seating experts are also at work in parallel. They, for example, drive around in a new Astra Sports Tourer – for hours on end and for countless kilometers. They test the four-way electropneumatically adjustable lumbar support, the extendable thigh support or the massage function, complete a comprehensive survey and give a subjective overall grade. Serial production can only start when the last weakness has been eliminated.
The development of a new seat takes around five years – of those, the team invests two years in the implementation of new concepts. This was also the case for Opel’s flexibility champion, the Meriva. It is the first and to date only vehicle with the AGR seal of approval for its integrated ergonomic system. This includes the ergonomic seats along with the 84-degree opening FlexDoors, the versatile FlexSpace seat concept for the rear seats and the optional FlexFix bicycle carrier. Or take the Astra Sports Tourer for example. Thanks to advance development, which also considers customer feedback along with comments posted in forums and blogs, the optional FlexFold rear seatback that can be split in a 40:20:40 ratio at the touch of a button could be realized. Furthermore, heated outer rear seats are available as an option for the first time. The added level of comfort will ensure that the next major trip with family or friends is more relaxing.
To ensure that Opel maintains its frontrunner position in seating development, the engineers are already working on the next generation of the premium and ergonomic seats behind closed doors. “Maintaining our ‘knowledge head start’ over our competitors and consistently extending our production know-how is vital,” insists Leuchtmann. “That is why we develop as much as possible internally and even have some components delivered by our own plant in Kaiserslautern.” The front seat structures are made entirely at the Kaiserslautern plant. The near vicinity to Rüsselsheim also has logistical advantages. The goal is clearly defined: Seats of the future will be even more ergonomic, even lighter, even more stylish and even safer. “We still have a lot of new ideas on how the contouring can adapt even more individually,” reveals the expert. “And there is still more to come on the massage front.” The fact that further Opel models with premium and ergonomic seats will follow seems to be a matter of course especially as the company looks to democratize good sitting further.
1899 – The box seat: The whole Opel Patent Motor Car System Lutzmann including the seats is reminiscent of a carriage. The seats cannot be adjusted.
1929 – Lower position: 30 years later, the Opel 4/20 “Moonlight Roadster” still comes with a firmly fixed bench. However, the position is considerably lower and the passengers can stretch their legs.
1950 – More comfortable: The seats of the Opel Olympia are fixed to a metal frame and the longitudinal position can be adjusted. The backrests of the front seats can be folded forwards to facilitate rear seat passenger ingress/egress.
1956 – Continuous longitudinal adjustment: The continuously adjustable front bench and the adjustable backrests of the Opel Kapitän are a further milestone. The backrests can be set to the optimum position by pulling a lever and simultaneously applying pressure.
1968 – Sporty: The legendary Opel GT gets sporty contoured seats with integrated headrests. Extended cushions and a significantly improved shoulder section show which way development is heading.
1970s – Headrests: Opel optionally fits certain model ranges with headrests – such as the Monza, the Kapitän/Admiral/Diplomat models or the Rekord C and D. The Opel Diplomat B comes with height-adjustable comfort headrests, which can even be tilted forwards.
1978 – First height adjustable seat: Opel Monza drivers can adjust the height of the seat with ease thanks to a telescopic rod.
1994 – Safety with a capital ‘S‘: The seats in the Opel Omega B are comfortable and as an option electrically adjustable. The reinforced rear backrests and the side airbags make an important contribution to passive safety, crash tests with a load are conducted for the first time. In the rear, all three seats come with three-point seat belts and headrests.
2003 – The first AGR seal: The Aktion Gesunder Rücken e.V. (Campaign for healthy back) gives the 18-way electrically adjustable multi-contour driver seat in Opel Vectra/Opel Signum its sought-after seal of approval. Opel is the first carmaker to offer back-friendly seats in the midsize class.
2008 – Comfort seats: The standard comfort seats in the Opel Insignia offer numerous setting possibilities – the height can be adjusted by 65 mm (electric) whereas adjustments of 270 mm are possible in longitudinal direction – outstanding figures. The premium driver seat is AGR certified.
2012 – Ergonomic total concept: FlexDoors with an opening angle of 84 degrees, AGR-certified ergonomic seats and the FlexFix bicycle carrier convince the AGR experts and they award the Meriva with their seal of approval. The first and still only serial production car to receive the certificate for its overall concept.
2015 – Compact class wellness: For the first time the AGR-certified premium ergonomic seats of the new generation Astra are not just 18-way adjustable including side bolster adjustment but are also optionally available with further comfort features such as massage and memory function along with ventilation
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