Speaking of leather hides, Plastics Today recently published an insightful article about synthetic leather, and the level of research and development that goes into manufacturing fabrics that look and feel like the real thing. Give the article a quick read – you’ll be surprised to learn about the level of detail researchers put into getting imitation leather just right, as well as the odd ingredients that help them do it. For instance, did you know that the Nissan 370Z’s faux leather interior gets its authentic features from ground egg shells?
Plastics Today explains:
Recreating the feel of high-grade semi-aniline leather using synthetic leather is somewhat of a holy grail for auto interior designers. Nissan Motor (Tokyo) believes it has gone some way towards achieving this objective with its Sofilez skin material used in the Nissan Fairlady 370Z which debuted in 2009. […]
Firstly, parent company Renault surveyed 360 respondents in six countries regarding their preferred touch feelings and found that there was a significant gap between the positive perception regarding genuine leathers used in apparel and furniture and the relatively mediocre perception of synthetic leathers used in automobile interiors. […]
Nissan identified the factors involved in tactile sensation as being warm-cold (heat conductivity), soft-hard (deformation volume), smooth-coarse (surface roughness) and wet-dry (friction) and developed a predictive formula based on these parameters to define touch sensation called the Customer Preference Index. The index for a particular material is calculated from softness, wetness, roughness and warmness based on physical properties and the same material is then rated based on sensory evaluation. This allowed Nissan to correlate physical properties with perceptions in the real world. “We found that people are most comfortable with a softness close to the finger’s softness and surface asperity close to the finger print,” noted Tachibana [deputy general manager of the powertrain materials group at Nissan].
Nissan teamed up with material supplier Idemitsu Technofine (Tokyo) and processor Komatsu Seiren (Nomi, Japan) to develop a skin material delivering these attributes. The end result is Sofilez, a synthetic leather made from a specialty resin believed to be polyurethane-based blended with a protein powder based on egg shells. It incorporates a thin protective coating with high strength and good elongation, balancing soft touch with durability. [more]
I once watched a customer peek inside Naseem’s Nissan 240SX, take a deep breath and ask his buddy, “Man, don’t you just love the smell of fresh leather?” Given the amount of R&D manufacturers put into making the fake stuff seem real, it’s no wonder he couldn’t tell the difference. Funny as hell though…