PREPO 3 cuts down on vehicle-to-vehicle variations by pre-aligning component seams.
A new leather-wrapping solution developed by French supplier Faurecia could allow automakers to make more unique designs in their vehicle interiors and localize more of the production process. Cow Leather Processing Drum
Traditionally, wrapping an interior component such as a door panel or center console in leather or another material is a costly, time-consuming process. It's something that typically has to be done manually and can often result in seams that vary slightly from vehicle to vehicle as the material is stitched in place.
"There's a trade-off between placing the seam correctly and then trying to pull the corners over," said Shefic Khoury, vice president of engineering for interiors at Faurecia North America, a Forvia group company. "It's easy to misplace things just a little bit. It's a very manual process that takes a lot of labor."
Faurecia's new PREPO 3.0 solution is designed to change that. The leather — or artificial leather — to be wrapped around an interior component comes pre-aligned, with the seam essentially being attached to a plastic insert. That insert is then placed into the component, and the material can then be wrapped around the part.
The result is more consistency from vehicle to vehicle, Khoury said.
A traditional leather wrapping operation could result in small variations from vehicle to vehicle of about 2 millimeters on parts with complex, 3D shapes —"which in terms of quality is questionable," he said.
PREPO 3 cuts that variation down to as little as 0.5 millimeters, Khoury said.
"You no longer need to sacrifice design quality," he said. "We're providing the freedom to allow for the same expectations and the same quality on any kind of geometry. There's so much more design freedom."
Faurecia validated the technology in 2021, and its first customer was electric truck startup Rivian. Khoury did not disclose other customers in the wings, but he said "many more applications" are in the works.
PREPO allows automakers to rely less on simple, straight lines when it comes to interior design, he said.
"For example, if you look at most cars on the market, you don't see many seam lines covering and following the shape of the instrument cluster because they would not like to sacrifice quality with variations from car to car," he said. "That's not a problem anymore."
The new leather-wrapping process could also help companies reduce labor costs and on the cycle involved in getting a part wrapped.
To hold down costs, companies often outsource leather wrapping to low-cost production sites, which then ship the component to a vehicle plant for final assembly, Khoury said. But those sites can also be limited in how many parts they can wrap in a given period. The slow work and bottleneck are reasons leather and artificial leather are often reserved for premium vehicles or higher trim levels.
But by cutting the costs and cycle time, automakers can do more leather wrapping close to the assembly plant. And the shorter shipping distances can lead to further cost savings and carbon footprint reductions.
"You're not restricted to premium vehicles anymore because quality variation isn't a problem now," Khoury said. "You have the scale and the volume you need."
The Faurecia brand is now a part of Forvia, which formed this year following the company's acquisition of Hella. Forvia ranks seventh on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers, with 2021 worldwide parts sales to automakers of $25.88 billion.
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