DEARBORN - As American drivers face longer commutes and more back pain, comfortable seating is more important than ever. Ford is providing seat comfort that is unmatched in comparison to its competitors.
The all-new Ford Escape features the first application of a new seat architecture developed to increase comfort, reduce back pain and weighs less in the quest for higher fuel efficiency.
“People are spending more time in their vehicles and continually touch the seats, which is why it has become increasingly important to ensure their seat is both comfortable and supportive,” said Mike Kolich, engineer, Seat Comfort, better known as Dr. Derriere. “We are designing our seats so when drivers and passengers arrive at their destinations, they are relaxed and ready to go.”
Kolich and his global seating comfort team comprised of 13 talented engineers, use a unique seat carousel and a mannequin with an articulate back to help achieve industry-leading seat satisfaction. The team also studies seats from other industries, including lawn chairs and high-end office chairs, in the search to develop even smaller, lighter-weight seats.
These studies are conducted in a dedicated lab at Ford’s Product Development Center. An industry-standard mannequin dubbed OSCAR is used in conjunction with state-of-the-art coordinate measuring machines to measure the space around the seat with bodies of various sizes. The three-dimensional coordinate data is analyzed and fed back to the computer models used as part of the vehicle development process including crash simulation.
Since the current OSCAR dummy was originally developed in the 1950s with a one-piece back, Ford is using a newer mannequin that features a three-segment articulated back. The new dummy more closely replicates the human body and enables Ford engineers to collect more detailed data about pressure points on the back that ultimately lead to seats providing better support where it’s needed.
Ford is among the first automakers to use this new mannequin, however even with all of the parameters measured in the lab and the quantitive data being collected, comfort evaluation ultimately comes down to putting real people in seats. The Ford seat team uses a carousel with five different seats for blind evaluations by a variety of drivers to gauge the result of their efforts.
Once sitting in the seats, testers are asked a number of questions regarding their level of comfort and are given a subjective rating in return. The carousel then rotates and the subject is asked to sit once again.
Sometimes minor changes are made, such as an alteration to the headrest, while other times some of the seats are changed out completely. By having the subject deliver their first impression, the team is able to engineer to specific measurements and aesthetics.
“We did a lot of work on the carousel to see what customers actually wanted. After understanding that, we've created an elaborate set of measurements that quantify those key elements and from that we've engineered to those key elements,” said Kolich. “The end jury is the customer because they tell us what is comfortable and what isn't.”
All of these efforts are paying off, as the number of consumers surveyed by the Global Quality Research System giving a “high satisfaction” rating to Ford seats steadily rose from 78 to 83 percent between 2005 and 2010.
The new global seat features a V-shaped seat back that provides better torso support to a wider range of body types and sizes. It also offers improved functionality and comfort, yet weighs 10 percent less and has a slimmer profile to provide more knee and foot room for rear-seat passengers.
“When we started in 2005, Ford seating comfort was at best competitive,” said Kolich. “Today it is best-in-class.”