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The art of delivering the right tactile sensation in a dashboard

Whether or not a product provides the right tactile sensation makes a big difference to our decision to buy. When designing and developing products, it is therefore valuable to know which properties can be altered and how to do so in order to control the tactile experience. To this end, RISE has developed and works with the concept of perception delivery.

Controlling how sensations are experienced is important in the automotive industry, where both the tactile sensation and the visual impression play a part in the perceived quality of the product. RISE has conducted a research project to study how various patterns and types of plastic are perceived sensorially and which characteristics it is most important to control in order to steer the perception of vehicle components such as dashboards or doors.

"We have worked with comparators, which are used in the design process for the selection of patterns and colours for vehicle models,” explains RISE project manager Lisa Skedung.

Tested on Volvo embossments

Volvo Cars participated in the project and a number of Volvo’s existing embossments were used in the study.

"In developing interior materials, a great many different plastics and manufacturing processes are combined. This makes it important to give due consideration to both the visual and tactile impression. This study demonstrates that the eye affects the assessment of what we call touch,” says Mats Olofsson, TS Surface Materials, Volvo Cars.

Patterning most important

The project group also applied psychophysical methods to identify those underlying characteristics in surfaces and materials that influence perception delivery. In this case, research subjects were asked to assess perceived differences between comparators, with statistical methods demonstrating that the most important characteristic in this type of material is patterning. It was also shown that the type of plastic becomes more important as the roughness of the pattern decreases. This might mean that the most important thing is to select better quality plastics for those interior surfaces that have less patterning.

“Research subjects also assessed perceived quality, firstly through touch alone and then by simultaneous visual inspection and touch. Half of the subjects thought that patterned surfaces were high quality, while the other half perceived smooth surfaces as high quality. This is something we see often when we ask about more subjective characteristics,” says Lisa Skedung.

Methodology required

The study has provided Volvo Cars with useful tips for future manufacturing.

"Perceived quality is a prerequisite for a vehicle manufacturer being considered premium. Tactile sensation is an important element that we will be focusing on to considerably greater degree in future. In the development of new embossments, there is a need for a systematic methodology that can grade sensation with a good level of corelation to the customer’s expectations,” says Mats Olofsson.

The project is now completed and the results have been presented at a number of conferences and the like.

“Studies like this one have relevance for all companies designing and developing products that in some way come into contact with the skin.” concludes Lisa Skedung.