DETROIT – For all the talk of sophisticated electronics that are and will be integral to automobiles, there always will be room for the craftsmanship demanded by manufacturers and consumers alike, engineering experts for major suppliers say.

Coincidentally, that craftsmanship is being achieved with high-tech manufacturing processes, engineers say during a panel discussion at the 2018 WardsAuto Interiors Conference here.

Seating supplier Magna may be able to supply Lincoln with 30-way power front seats for its Continental sedan, but the company’s engineering expertise is compromised if the seating material isn’t wrinkle-free, says Frank Eupizi, director of engineering-consumer interface products.

Manufacturers are responding to the influence of China, Millennial consumers, new mobility and digitalization, says Dan Wilson, director-automotive sales for Lectra North America. One of Lectra’s activities, producing leather for seating, comprises state-of-the-art equipment, software, data and the expertise resulting from a partnership with Italian manufacturer Gruppo Mastrotto, which turned to Lectra to digitalize its global leather-cutting value chain, he says.

Lectra digital design technology can be found in seven of the 2018 Wards 10 Best Interiors winners, Wilson notes.

Stitching, an increasingly common design element in car interiors, conveys a sense of luxury, craftsmanship and differentiation from competitors, says Mike Jary, engineering manager-advanced development, interior systems for supplier Inteva Products.

However, conventional cutting and sewing is labor-intensive and quality is inconsistent, Jary says. Inteva developed an automated process that reduced the time needed to apply stitching to, for example, an instrument panel from 1 ½ hours to six minutes, he says. The company developed specialized sewing heads allowing intricate stitching around curved and uneven surfaces.

Inteva technology is capable of producing stitching in square, ladder or zigzag patterns and even can be illuminated, Jary says. The company’s goal is to provide maximum design freedom at a cost low enough for the OEM to be able to offer affordable luxury, he says.

Both Jary and Raymond Kalisz, director of core engineering-North America for Faurecia Interior Systems – whose products range from wood trim to touchscreens – say their companies have brought their specialized production methods in-house to ensure quality and consistency.

“We must be masters of the technology,” Kalisz says. “If you can’t do it yourself, you’re going to struggle with where interiors are heading.”

Autonomous and shared vehicles will present makers of interior components with new challenges, the panelists say.

“Consumers will pay more attention to interiors,” Jary says. “Different activities will need to be accommodated.”

Adds Kalisz: “(From the outside the vehicle) could look like an egg. But people always will want craftsmanship.”

jirwin@wardsauto.com