Bernd, Werner, Oliver and Marius are full of enthusiasm for their task – repeatedly they rub over the side bolsters of the seat underneath them, before simulating getting in and out while scrubbing across the leather. They’re somewhat stubborn and relentless, but completely dedicated at the same time.
Bernd, Werner, Oliver and Marius are inspection robots in the test lab of the Opel International Technical Development Center in Rüsselsheim. To be more precise, they consist of a friction pad covered with a jeans-like material and a foam layer that simulate the human posterior and thighs.
“They are more than just robots for us, they are fully qualified members of the team. They perform an important job and therefore they all have names,” explains seat specialist Andrew Leuchtmann, Senior Manager Interiors at General Motors Europe.
The robot team simulates getting into and out of cars 50,000 times a week – equivalent to an entire life cycle of a car. Both the premium and ergonomic seats targeting the seal of approval from the back specialists of Germany’s Aktion Gesunder Rucken (AGR), as well as the integrated comfort seats that come as standard in Opel passenger cars, are subjected to this ordeal. After the tests, the engineers can recognise whether the seats will be able to withstand future strains just by looking at the fabric structure.
Nine human seating experts are also at work in parallel with the robots. They, for example, drive around in a new Astra Sports Tourer – for hours on end and for countless kilometres. They test the four-way electro-pneumatically adjustable lumbar support, the extendable thigh support or the massage function, complete a comprehensive survey and give a subjective overall grade. Serial production can only start when the last weakness has been eliminated.
The seats offered by Opel for the driver and passengers have to last an entire car life, no matter whether it is in the Mokka, Cascada, GTC, Meriva (reviewed here), Zafira Tourer, Astra or Insignia (whose seats and other features have been compared to those in the Peugeot 508).
The Rüsselsheim-based carmaker’s success story of ergonomically valuable sitting began in 2003 with the first AGR official approval for the Signum, making Opel the first manufacturer to offer back-friendly seats in the middle-class motoring segment.
Opel’s offensive for healthy sitting at affordable prices was progressively rolled out across the model range, with long-distance and high-mileage company car drivers being especially grateful for the system. For instance, the numerous settings available for the Insignia’s AGR-certified front seats can be perfectly adjusted for each driver, ensuring that he or she remains relaxed and symptom-free even after many hours at the wheel.
Since 2003, Opel has made democratising good seats one of its corporate missions and is the leading mass-market manufacturer of ergonomic car seats with the AGR seal of approval.