Integrating Vacuum Technology Into Convertible Roofs to Improve Stiffness, Deformation Resistance, and Shaping

EDITOR: MARC GEHRING

There are two types of convertible roofs: so called hard- and softtops. Hardtops provide similar characteristics as closed roofs, but occupy a large space within a car. They usually consist of metal or plastic. In contrast, soft roofs are usually made of textile materials. They can be retracted without occupying so much space but lack the robustness of a hardtop. Designing and developing new solutions that can bring together the best of both worlds remains an important challenge in modern automotive engineering.

T he project between Webasto, a leading automotive supplier, and Textia, a Spanish startup specialized in smart materials, was dedicated to solving this exact trade-off. The two companies met during the STARTUP AUTOBAHN Selection Day in February 2020, where Textia demonstrated the capability of their technology and how it could be embedded into different applications. While Textia is mostly focused on applications in the medical sector, the teams wanted to explore use cases for convertible roofs, especially in the area of flexible elements that become stiff under pressure. Webasto’s engineers thought about potential use cases to support the shape of textiles in the convertible roof, improving the appearance, stiffness, and better control the folding of the convertible roof. The objective of the project was set to develop a proof-of-concept of the product, designing a prototype that had Textia technology incorporated.

The Project

The project was aimed at evaluating the feasibility of an application in the convertible roof. A functional sample was created to investigate the behavior of Textia’s technology integrated between the canvas and effect on stiffness and a possible deformation and shaping of the canvas were investigated with the sample. In the collaboration, Webasto contributed with their market knowledge and experience in the space (client needs, design, manufacturing, etc.). Based on this, they designed the final application and
developed the downscaled end-user prototype by providing the textile, mechanics, and frame. In turn, Textia also had a significant contribution to this joint project. On the one hand, Textia helped Webasto in the solution design by incorporating the requirements of Textia’s technology. There were certain areas that had to be considered when incorporating Textia’s technology: i.e. The desired levels of stiffness and flexibility, the way of folding, and the external materials used. On the other hand, considering all the parameters defined in the design phase, Textia manufactured a functioning basic structure that would be integrated into Webasto’s final design.

The teams followed an interactive and iterative approach, holding virtual meetings and sharing previous prototypes that both partners have developed vacuum in other projects to get inspiration from.

Outcome

The joint team effort resulted in the creation of a prototype that proved the basic concept. Specifically, it showed that incorporating Textia’s technology into a convertible roof is feasible. Webasto has already tested that prototype for functionality and demonstrated that adjusting the shape of the roof is possible. Still, the teams discovered several more points which can be improved in the future, such as the stiffness or a faster air evacuation.

Future Outlook

Both companies will work on the transition from the prototype phase to a real-sized roof, adapting the design and the manufacturing requirements in the process. For this purpose, they already designed the next prototype and took measurements regarding the shaping and deformation of Textia’s technology in the roof fabric. The next step will be to iterate the design, including some changes in geometry, as well as cuts and holes to get the desired foldability and shape.

Acknowledgements

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Dieter Meyerhofer (Webasto), Thomas Hemauer (Webasto), Aitor Belloso (Textia), and Gorka Hermoso (Textia).

About STARTUP AUTOBAHN

STARTUP AUTOBAHN powered by Plug and Play is an innovation platform moderating an in-depth and curated collaboration between core partners from industry and young tech companies.The program is stage agnostic and designed to accelerate start-ups by connecting them to the right business units of our Corporate Partners in order to lay the groundwork of a successful cooperation and eventually outstanding pilot projects, implementations or investments.

Plug and Play Tech Center, Mercedes-Benz AG, ARENA2036, University of Stuttgart, ZF, DXC Technology, Porsche, BASF, Webasto, Motherson, DPDHL, Bosch, Schaeffler, STMicroelectronics, Murata, AGC, Hyundai, Linde, BP, Wieland, Faurecia, Eberspächer, ADAC, Sekisui, Plastic Omnium, Zenzic, Maxion, Novelis, ITT, Grupo Antolin, Huf Group, CEAT

www.startup-autobahn.com

www.plugandplaytechcenter.com

Contact for this project

Theodora Alexe
Ventures Associate,
STARTUP AUTOBAHN powered by Plug and Play
theodora@pnptc.com

Thomas Hemauer
Corporate Strategy Manager,
Webasto
Thomas.Hemauer@webasto.com

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