Being able to hold a decent conversation in a car was once a luxury reserved for drivers of $70,000 sedans. The explosion of cell phone usage and voice-operated entertainment systems has democratized the perk, bringing quieter cabins to inexpensive subcompact hatchbacks.
For Tier 1 supplier UGN Inc., that push for peace and quiet inside the car, and a secondary need to boost fuel economy, recently led to the opening of its fifth U.S. plant, in Monroe, Ohio, north of Cincinnati. The facility will make acoustic insulators for cars and a fiber-based under-floor acoustic panel system that absorbs road noise and improves vehicle aerodynamics and fuel economy.
Peter Anthony, president and CEO of UGN Inc., spoke with Today’s Motor Vehicles about acoustic design, trends in car insulation, and aerodynamics.
TMV: What are automakers looking for in carpeting and acoustic designs these days?
PA: Each OEM is a little bit different. We’re in advanced planning with most of the OEMs on their platforms. They usually give you a cost, acoustic, and/or weight target, then we design a package using simulation software that meets the acoustic and cost targets.
Sometimes, we offer alternatives – a way of providing more sound protection for a slightly higher price, or a lower cost option, for example.
Weight, acoustics, and cost are the targets – but acoustics and cost tend to outweigh weight.
TMV: Are you seeing any changes in the types of carpeting that companies are ordering for cars?
PA: In the past, they’ve only used non-woven in the lower-end vehicles, but with some of the technology improvements in non-wovens, they’re replacing some of the tufted materials. Tufted used to be in all of the higher-end vehicles, but that’s going away.
The non-wovens have gotten better. The durability, cleanability, the face – it looks a little more like a tufted carpet, but the cost is lower.
TMV: Between cell phones and voice-activated systems in cars, how important is acoustics to the companies?
PA: Telematics have certainly increased the OEMs’ need for good acoustics in the vehicle. Plus, the customers are demanding it.
We’re seeing higher acoustic requirements in every price level. We’re seeing the importance of acoustics and improved technology in every line of vehicles that we supply. There’s less opportunity in smaller cars due to the more limited packaging space, and you have to be more creative because the budgets aren’t as big.
TMV: In addition to carpet, your new Ohio facility will make fiber-based acoustic underfloor panels for cars. Several compacts and subcompacts use a similar system in which plastic panels create a smoother undersurface, providing for cleaner airflow. What are the advantages of your fiber-based products?
PA: Our technology a lightweight, monomaterial, fully recyclable product that used as an underfloor panel reduces weight and provides aerodynamic performance and better fuel economy, all while offering acoustic benefits, allowing weight reductions for other insulators on the vehicle’s acoustic package.
It’s been used pretty significantly in Europe with Daimler and BMW, and it’s now migrating to our customer base, which is the Japanese OEMs. It offers a significant improvement to vehicles.
TMV: Do the underfloor panels give you the same sorts of opportunities to regulate cabin noise as carpet thicknesses do?
PA: The noise standards are tougher, and the powertrain changes are making it tougher to keep things quiet.
A lot of the time, either with carpet, with the acoustic underfloor panels, or ideally with both, we can optimize a solution that can offer a real cost and weight savings without sacrificing performance.
If the problem is sound from a specific part of the transmission, it can be a lot easier and take a lot less time to adjust the carpet and/or the underfloor panel than to rework the whole transmission.
MFG. in Ohio
UGN Inc. has U.S. plants or offices in Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana, and one plant in Guanajuato, Mexico. Its newest facility recently opened in southern Ohio. UGN CEO Peter Anthony says the location is reflection of the growth of automotive production along the I-75 corridor from Detroit through Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Along that corridor are older plants, such as the Honda and Toyota facilities that opened in the 1980s in Ohio and Kentucky; Honda’s plant in Greensburg, Indiana, that opened in 2008; Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant that opened in 2011; General Motors’ Spring Hill, Tennessee, plant; and Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee, plant.
TMV: In 2014, Honda named UGN one of its top suppliers for the sixth time. What sort of work are you doing with the automaker?
PA: Our newest felt process allows us to adjust the density of fibers in the areas where it is most needed. It’s allowing the OEM to remove other products and save on weight and cost. For example, the thickness of the carpet underlayment can be varied throughout the entire system instead of having a uniform thickness.
TMV: Cabin noise isn’t universal. It’s typically one component on a car that generates more sound, so you need to counteract that noise in specific places?
PA: Exactly. A lot of new cars are using smaller engines and transmissions that can generate a lot of noise. Being strategic about adjusting the density and thickness of the insulators gives you a lot of flexibility in the overall vehicle design.
The end consumer is going to know if the car is quiet or not, so it’s a big customer service issue.
TMV: Back to carpets, are there any trends on colors or styles that you’re seeing? Will there be a return to fluffier shag carpeting any time soon?
PA: Carpets are getting more simplistic and less colorful. One customer offers only black carpets. There used to be more options for customers, but the OEMs want fewer parts to manage, so they’ve really limited their choices. Optional mats are also becoming a commodity, which lessens the importance of the carpet look.
I think the consumer likes the simplicity. Years back, it was much more complicated to order a car because of the trim options and the features available.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of TMV and can be reached at 216.393.0271 or email@example.com.