Visteon Corp. has developed a new manufacturing process that eliminates unsightly airbag door seams on instrument panels. It's called negative thermoforming, and Visteon is launching the process this summer at its plant in Saline, MI, where 2,500 employees produce 20,000 consoles and IPs daily, all for Ford Motor Co.

When most IPs are produced, the skin first must be given its Class A surface grain before the backside of the skin is formed around the tool. With negative thermoforming, the grain is applied and the skin is formed in the same process. The thermoplastic olefin skin is turned inside out, then heated and wrapped around the tool, applying the Class A surface in the mold. In addition, two different grains can be applied to the same skin.

In the process, the backside of the skin is laser-scored so that the airbag breaks cleanly through during deployment. From the passenger seat, the door is invisible.

Beyond styling benefits, the federally mandated “SRS” (Safety Restraint System) lettering also can be applied much more precisely. Look closely at the recessed SRS lettering on most IPs today, and you should see some “slop.” Negative thermoforming eliminates that by having the letters raised from the skin — instead of recessed.

Visteon says the process is a cost-effective alternative to Powder Slush Molding, a popular method of producing many IPs today. Negative thermoforming produces IP skin that is durable, soft, lighter and 100% recyclable. If the airbag deploys, unfortunately the IP is ruined. In most airbag deployments, Visteon says the IP has to be replaced anyway.