Title:
Seating with vertically-lapped padding
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A seating component includes a seating component frame having an air inlet, an air-permeable upholstery covering, and, an improved air-permeable fibrous cushion disposed between the seating component and the upholstery covering. The improved air-permeable fibrous cushion exhibits excellent air permeability, compression recovery, contour conformability, and thermoformability. The fibrous pad has fibers that are predominantly orientated with a length direction of the fibers aligned with a thickness of the cushion.



Inventors:
Priebe, Joseph A. (Zeeland, MI, US)
Application Number:
10/865341
Publication Date:
12/15/2005
Filing Date:
06/10/2004
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A47C7/72; A47C7/74; A47C31/00; (IPC1-7): A47C7/72; A47C31/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
BROWN, PETER R
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
PRICE HENEVELD LLP (GRAND RAPIDS, MI, US)
Claims:
1. A seating component comprising: a seating component frame having an air inlet; an air-permeable upholstery covering; and an air-permeable fibrous cushion disposed between the seating component frame and the air-permeable upholstery covering, wherein the fibrous cushion has fibers that are predominantly oriented with a length direction of the fibers aligned with a thickness direction of the fibrous cushion.

2. The seating component of claim 1, wherein the air inlet includes or is in fluid communication with a fan or blower that blows or draws air into the seating component through the air inlet, through the cushion, and out of the seating component through the air-permeable upholstery covering.

3. The seating component of claim 1, wherein the frame defines air channels that extend laterally from the air inlet to distribute airflow more uniformly through the cushion than would occur without the laterally extending air channels.

4. The seating component of claim 1, wherein the fiber of the air-permeable fibrous cushion is vertically-lapped.

5. The seating component of claim 1, wherein the fibers of the air-permeable fibrous cushion is comprised of polyethylene terephthalate.

6. The seating component of claim 1, wherein the cushion has an airflow resistance less than 2,500 Rayls.

7. The seating component of claim 2, wherein the air inlet includes a heater or is in fluid communication with a heater that heats air being blown through or drawn into the air inlet.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention pertains to seating and particularly to air-permeable ventilated seating.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The convective HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) systems used for conditioning the air temperature in motor vehicle cabins tends to warm vehicle occupants relatively slowly on very cold days, and tends to cool vehicle occupants relatively slowly on very hot days. A period of several minutes (often 5 to 10 minutes) may be required to achieve a comfortable cabin temperature (e.g., 65-75° F.). Moreover, many interior surfaces, including seating surfaces, may remain uncomfortably hot or cold for an even longer period of time because they are not directly impinged by the conditioned air from the HVAC system.

Various ventilated seating arrangements have been disclosed. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 5,524,439 discloses a vehicle seat having means for distributing temperature conditioned air through the seat to increase the seat occupant's thermal comfort. The seat includes air channels positioned within seat cushions and extending from an air-permeable padding layer between the seat upholstery and the cushions, and through the seat cushions to a seat bottom air inlet. It is disclosed that the upholstery or surface covering may be made from a suitable material that allows flow of air such as perforated vinyl, cloth, leather or the like, that the padding layer may be made from reticulated foam, and that the cushions may be made from foam and like.

Various other patent documents disclose similar arrangements in which an underlying foam pad or cushion is provided with air passages or channels that extend through the foam pad or cushion from a bottom air inlet port to a relatively thin air-permeable pad disposed between the underlying foam pad or cushion and an air-permeable upholstery material. These arrangements typically include a fan or blower disposed in the air passages, at the air inlet port, or remotely located with a conduit connecting the fan or blower to the air inlet port. A problem with these known arrangements is that the air channels or passageways defined through the underlying pad or cushion compromise the structural integrity and properties of the cushion. Specifically, compression recovery and contour conformability (i.e., the ability to achieve comfortable, even distribution of an occupant's weight) are compromised. Further, formation of the air passageways or channels in the underlying cushion or pad requires additional molding and/or shaping operations that add significantly to the cost of the seating.

Accordingly, it is desirable, and an objective with respect to certain aspects of the invention, to provide a ventilated seating component exhibiting excellent compression recovery and contour conformability. It is also desirable, and an object in accordance with another aspect of the invention, to provide a ventilated seating component that utilizes thermoformable, air-permeable cushion materials that do not require air channels or passageways, and which do not require costly molding or shaping operations.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In accordance with an aspect of the invention, there is provided a seating component including a fibrous cushion underlying an air-permeable upholstery fabric, wherein the fibrous pad has fibers that are predominantly orientated with a length direction of the fibers aligned with a thickness direction of the cushion. The fibrous cushion has the advantages of exhibiting excellent air permeability for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning without requiring additional steps for forming air passageways or channels through the cushion material. The fibrous cushion used in the seating components of this invention also has the advantage of achieving excellent compression recovery and contour conformability. Other advantages include lightweight, thermoformability, self-extinguishing fire retardancy, mold and/or mildew resistance, and low odor.

These and other features, advantages and objects of the present invention will be further understood and appreciated by those skilled in the art by reference to the following specification, claims and appended drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a longitudinal sectional view of a vehicle seat according to the invention.

FIG. 2 is a cross-sectional view of a thermoformable sheet material suitable for preparing the air-permeable fibrous cushion used in a vehicle seat according to the invention.

FIG. 3 is a top plan view of a seating component frame having air channels that extend laterally from an air inlet to distribute airflow more uniformly through an air-permeable fibrous cushion in accordance with the invention.

FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional view of a seating component in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

A vehicle seating component 10 (FIG. 1) in accordance with an aspect of this invention includes a vehicle seating component frame 12, an air-permeable upholstery covering 14, and an air-permeable fibrous cushion 16 that is disposed between the vehicle seating component frame and the air-permeable upholstery covering. Additional layers of material may be provided between the cushion 16 and upholstery covering material 14, such as a relatively thin air-permeable foam layer 22. Similarly, additional layers of material or elements may be incorporated between cushion 16 and frame 12.

An additional layer between 16 and 12 could be a layer of foam (open or closed cell), such that the top layer of the cushion is fiber and the bottom layer is foam.

The term “vehicle seating component” as used herein refers primarily to the seat part and back rest of a vehicle seat, but may include other components such as headrests/restraints, armrests, etc. This seat structure for the cushion can also be applied to other seating applications such as office, home, auditorium/stadium seating where a ventilated seating surface can provide more comfort.

The vehicle seating component frame may include at least one air inlet 18. A fan 20 or blower may be located at the air inlet, or at a remote location that is in fluid communication with the air inlet, whereby the blower or fan blows or draws air into the vehicle seating component through the air inlet, through the cushion, and out of the vehicle seating component through the air-permeable upholstery covering. A heater 22 may also be located at the air inlet or remote from the air inlet but in fluid communication with the air inlet, to provide auxiliary heating to accelerate heating of seating surfaces. However, the invention is not limited to forced air convection systems, but instead may be advantageously employed to achieve greater seating comfort due to natural convection. The invention may be employed in a system where airflow occurs through the seat cushion by natural convection, and/or wicking away of heat/cold/moist air to make the seating experience more comfortable.

The air-permeable upholstery covering may be generally any woven, knitted or other air-permeable fabrics, or perforated upholstery materials, such as vinyl or leather.

The air-permeable fibrous cushion 16 is comprised of fibers that are predominately orientated with a length direction of the fibers aligned with a thickness direction of the fibrous cushion. It has been discovered that this arrangement, in which the fibers are preferentially oriented along the thickness direction of cushion 16 provides a highly air-permeable cushion material that is capable of achieving excellent compression recovery (i.e., quickly returns to its original shape after the weight of an occupant is removed), and excellent contour conformability (i.e., the ability to evenly distribution an occupant's weight to achieve optimum comfort). Because the cushion material achieves excellent air-permeability while meeting requirements for compression recovery and contour conformability, it is not necessary to provide air channels through cushion 16. As a result, fabrication of cushion 16 is considerably simpler than fabrication of foam cushions for conventional ventilated vehicle seating. Another important advantage afforded by the invention is that cushion 16 can be prepared without expensive molding operations. By selecting suitable fibers, it is possible to provide a thermoformable material that can be easily shaped into a desired cushion configuration.

A technique for preparing a thermoformable sheet material suitable for preparing the air-permeable fibrous cushion 16 involves vertically lapping the fibers. Vertically-lapped materials may be produced by utilizing standard textile fiber blending equipment and standard textile carding equipment to form a non-woven web. The carded non-woven web can be fed into a vertical lap machine which folds the web back onto and forth onto itself to form a vertically-lapped or pleated structure. The vertical laps are preferably thermally bonded together, such as by using a flat bed conveyer convection oven. A vertically-lapped non-woven fibrous mat that may be employed in the thermoformable sheet materials useful for preparing the cushion 16 is shown in FIG. 2. The illustrated vertically-lapped non-woven fibrous mat comprises a carded fiber web that is repeatedly folded upon itself to form a multiplicity of adjacent vertical laps or pleats. Vertically-lapped materials as described herein are substantially different from fibrous mats comprised of randomly orientated fibers, and are also substantially different from randomly orientated fibrous mats that are subsequently pleated. Such materials do not have fibers that are preferentially oriented in any particular direction.

The fiber sheet material may be further processed, i.e., needle-punched, thermobonded, hydroentangled, chemically bonded, etc.

In order to achieve thermoformability, the fibers used in the sheet material for preparing cushion 16 include at least some synthetic fibers that can be thermally fused together during a thermoforming operation. Suitable synthetic fibers for imparting thermoformability include various thermoplastic fibers that can be softened and/or partially melted upon application of heat during a thermoforming process to form a multiplicity of bonds at fiber-fiber intersections to impart flexibility and resilient shape retention properties. Examples of suitable thermoplastic fibers include fibers comprised of homopolymers and copolymers of polyester, nylon, polyethylene, polypropylene and blends of fibers from these polymers and copolymers. Particularly suitable are composite or bi-component fibers having a relatively low melting binder component and a higher melting strength component. Bi-component fibers of this type are advantageous since the strength component imparts and maintains adequate strength to the fiber while the bonding characteristics are imparted by the lower melting temperature component. A variety of bi-component fibers of this type are commercially available from various sources. One suitable fiber for the preparation of suitable thermoformable sheet material for use in preparing cushion 16 is a sheath-core bi-component construction wherein the core is formed of a relatively high melting polyethylene terephthalate (PET) polymer and the sheath comprises a PET copolymer having a lower melting temperature which exhibits thermoplastic adhesive and thermoformability properties when heated to a temperature of about 110° C. to 200° C.

In addition to, or in place of, the synthetic fibers, the thermoformable acoustic sheet material may comprise various natural fibers of plant or animal origin, and/or mineral fibers.

Examples of natural fibers include kenaf, grasses, rice hulls, bagasse, cotton, jute, hemp, flax, bamboo, sisal, abaca and wool fibers. Examples of mineral fibers include glass, ceramic and metal fibers.

Although the thermoformable sheet material used for preparing cushion 16 may include sufficient melt-fusible or adhesive synthetic fibers to impart suitable thermoformability and shape retention properties, it is possible to achieve satisfactory thermoformability and shape retention properties by incorporating only a very small percentage of synthetic fibers, or none at all, by partially impregnating or coating the fibers with either a heat-fusible thermoplastic resin or a thermosettable resin (such as a thermosettable resin in which curing is initiated by application of heat).

After the thermoforming operation, the resulting cushion 16 preferably has an airflow resistance less than 2,500 Rayls.

In order to promote more uniform distribution of conditioned air through cushion 16, frame 12 may be provided with a plurality of channels 30 (FIG. 3) that extend laterally from air inlet 18 to distribute the air more uniformly along the area at the bottom of cushion 16.

Alternatively, a seating component 10 (FIG. 4) may have a frame 12 with a top panel 32 that defines a plenum 34. Top panel 32 has a plurality of apertures (openings) 36 that allow air to flow upwardly from plenum 34 and through cushion 16. A blower 20 may be located in the plenum or adjacent the plenum to provide a positive air pressure that causes air to flow through cushion 16.

The above description is considered that of the preferred embodiments only. Modifications of the invention will occur to those skilled in the art and to those who make or use the invention. Therefore, it is understood that the embodiments shown in the drawings and described above are merely for illustrative purposes and not intended to limit the scope of the invention, which is defined by the following claims as interpreted according to the principles of patent law, including the doctrine of equivalents.





 
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