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Shorting the market. (WIP).

From bicycle shorts to cars seats. It's not your normal product development path, but nevertheless one that brought LiquiCell Technologies, Inc. (Eden Prairie, MN) to the team developing the Pontiac Rev concept car.

According to company founder and president Mike Arbeiter, a GM executive mentioned the product during a meeting about finding new ways to improve vehicle comfort. "Apparently he owned a pair of bicycle shorts with our pads in them, and suggested that his team take a look at our technology." It wasn't long before there was a knock at the door.

The technology itself is quite simple. Arbeiter calls it, "a Baggie filled with water." Though not quite accurate, it highlights the difference between Liquicell and the gel-filled pads commonly found in many bicycle seats.

Medical grade urethane membranes (either 8-mil, or--in really tough applications, like shoes--15-mil thickness) enclose a low-viscosity fluid to form a pad of a specific shape and size. The edges are heat-sealed to carry a minimum loading of 1,200 psi, and baffles and "islands" are formed in the pad to control the directional flow of the fluid. Arbeiter refrains from calling the low-viscosity fluid "water" because it contains a non-toxic additive to maintain viscosity along a defined temperature gradient.

"You wouldn't want to sit on a seat that had frozen in the winter, or was boiling hot in the summer," says Arbeiter. "We have found, however, that the combination of the stabilized liquid, surface area of the pad, and the user's skin temperature causes the LiquiCell to promote a cooling effect in hot weather and a warming effect in cool weather." Throw in its low development cost, price per unit (about $7 per seat) ability to be retrofitted without redesigning the seat cushion (the pads are about 2.5 mm at their thickest point), and you have a strong case for adopting this technology. Unfortunately, according to Arbeiter, none of these are the reasons this pad works.

"Pressure is not the lead component in discomfort," he says. "It's shear stress, the tearing of soft tissue, They are not compressed as readily between the bone structure and surface, which leads to stretching and tearing of the tissue."

Compression and friction points within the body are lined with liquid-filled membranes called "bursa sacs". Their job is to keep normal movement smooth and painless. Damage the sac, and you get--can you guess?--bursitis.

"If you compress the Liquicell between your thumb and forefinger," explains Arbeiter, "they'll touch, much like a fist plunged into a waterbed mattress will almost touch the bottom. Yet, when you lay on that mattress, you don't touch bottom because the surface area is larger. It's the same with LiquiCell."

Arbeiter claims gels and foams disperse the pressure point, but create a larger shear area. Liquicell also increases the pressure area, but allows the tissues to move without shearing. "That's our advantage."

The company is in contact with seat makers Lear and lohnson Controls, and has seen interest "skyrocket since the Rev was introduced." However, the move to production has been slow.

"We have designed our own automated equipment that can produce anywhere from 500 to 2,500 parts per hour," Arbeiter says, "and will soon be able to take production to 30,000 units/day. It's just taking a lot of time for us to get the auto industry to understand the technology, then specify it."
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Title Annotation:LiquiCell Technologies Inc.'s automobile seat padding
Comment:Shorting the market. (WIP).(LiquiCell Technologies Inc.'s automobile seat padding)
Author:Sawyer, Christopher A.
Publication:Automotive Design & Production
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
Words:564
Previous Article:Regulations, economics & plastics: The uneasy relationship. (MATERIALS On).
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