How the Deluxe Bench Took Shape
TMI’s Deluxe Bench Has Arrived
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. In the automobile interior industry, that statement also rings true. Manufacturers do their diligence to research not only what products are being requested, but also to satisfy the new wave of what trends are going to be hot in the near future. When TMI was contemplating what new product line to develop, the search began with determining which product category was underrepresented in the market. After researching what vehicles were being resurrected and restomodded, and determining what interior products were available TMI decided to explore a bench seat. With the exception of factory-replacement seat foams and covers that relied on reusing potentially worn and haggard original seat frames, the offerings for bench seats were minuscule.
While the idea of a bench seat may not be a new one, historically bench seats had been bare-bones with no real comfort and did not offer amenities like a console for storage and cupholders. Those additions were not even being thought about in the era of three-wide seating.
When TMI looked into creating an all-new bench, they considered all the benefits and drawbacks that the current bench seat examples had and knew that there was room for improvement. Being a leader in the interior industry and as the sole provider of complete interior products, TMI felt it was time to develop a bench seat that would fit into the existing lineup of quality products. This endeavor was unique as this type of bench seat would be developed from the ground up, not sharing componentry or designs with any other TMI seat.
When the idea of the 60-inch Deluxe Bench was being thrown around, the purpose was to make an entirely new bench seat that has some of the best aspects of modern bucket seats combined with all the available space advantages and nostalgia that a bench seat can provide. TMI had also done some research into customer buying patterns and discovered that there was a real need to develop a bench seat that incorporated some of the most common requests customers were asking for. Everyone that was involved in the initial planning phase from the designers, to the engineers, product developers, and even the executives were excited to see the Deluxe Bench take shape. Although this was an ambitious project to undertake since it was brand new and not based on existing TMI products, they were also very excited to see that a product as unique as the Deluxe Bench was taking shape. TMI felt that the restomod world needed the Deluxe Bench and that the time was right to push the idea forth and develop it.
The Deluxe Bench was created as an entirely new seating option, but the inspiration for its creation was firmly rooted in both the needs that customers were asking for as well as seating options that preceded it in classic vehicles. The bench seat had been used successfully for decades, with both positive attributes as well as negative. On the positive side, a bench seat offers a nice wide area to sit on, stretch out, even throw a backpack on (or have a safe place for a dog to curl up), and still have more than enough room for another passenger. The look itself is nice and clean with a long, flat, and consistent surface that is pleasing to the eye with minimal visual breakup. Another positive attribute is the nostalgia of the bench itself. Many classic vehicles came with them, and many gearheads can think back fondly to the days of their first vehicle having one, or maybe how a loved one used to pile the kiddos onto the bench and go for a ride to the local ice cream shop. The memories that bench seats bring up is one of the reasons that TMI developed the Deluxe Bench, but with many improvements to some of the inherent drawbacks when compared to bucket seats.
Previous bench seats usually did not offer a lot of side bolstering (if any) and the occupants tended to slide a little on sweeping turns. Some of the many drawbacks started with the design of the bench itself which did not allow for a center console so either the driver or passenger could rest their arm, cupholders were not even thought about in the heyday of bench seats, and another was the lack of storage. OEM manufacturers heard customer complaints about benches and slowly made the switch to bucket seats over the years to alleviate some of the drawbacks of benches which then made their way inside the cab of modern trucks, and buckets became the standard offering. TMI took all that into account when building the Deluxe Bench to offer a seating option that blended all the positive attributes of both bench and bucket seats while throwing in a heaping helping of nostalgia. The driver and passenger sit in bucket-like arrangements with generous and supportive bolstering, there is a nice wide console to rest on that includes two cupholders that can retract when not needed, and TMI went a step further by adding a storage compartment that is lined with an in-house formed ABS bucket complete with a padded cover to allow for a third passenger (or a dog) to sit comfortably.
When you call a TMI Sales Representative, you have the option to customize almost all aspects of your interior components. You can choose the seat type, pattern, color, materials, and even the stitching color to match your desired outcome. That customization process is then transferred to the Sewing Department who will custom craft your choices. The Deluxe Bench is no different. It will be available in six different patterns, a huge variety of colors, three different colors of grommets (depending on the pattern chosen), and seven different choices of stitching. With all the customization available, TMI can offer a seat with seemingly endless combinations. All of these custom touches are made possible by the skilled Sewing Department and will allow the Deluxe Bench to fit into any design scheme and make any vehicle distinctly unique with that signature TMI style.
The production process for the 60-inch Deluxe Bench is a quite involved set of individual steps that require the specialized skills of a great number of the employees at TMI working in almost every department in the factory. Some of the processes occur simultaneously but it always starts in the Frame Department. Raw materials enter the Frame Department in the form of round steel tubing, flat plates that are cut to shape, No-Sag steel springs used for support, and plenty of welding gas. For the seat bottom, two identical sets of round tubes are mandrel-bent into shape forming the outside edges and complex curves of the seat structure, where the other components will be attached to. No-Sag springs are then welded from side to side to give the seat bottom a firm yet forgiving foundation to sit on, with two thin limiting straps attached to the springs to ensure that no spring goes awry and that the rebound rate is measured and even. Two identical sets of steel tubes are bent to shape, then the sections are set into a guide with the other components of the bottom frame, and finally welded together using more tubing to bridge the gaps. The entire superstructure is what the rest of the seat will be built on, and what will give the seat its strength and rigidity to withstand many years of use.
The seatbacks themselves are constructed of the same steel tubing that is then bent into a rectangular shape, and bracing is added to support the weight of both driver and passenger as they settle in for a cruise. The seatbacks will see their fair share of weight and strain over their lifetime, so they are properly braced as well, and finished with a set of brackets that allow for both the upper and lower portion of the seat to be joined.
TMI uses a proprietary blend of ingredients to make the foam that will become the cushion in the seat bottoms and backs, which are all molded in-house. A sturdy variant of Velcro is inserted into the mold in what will become the troughs for the roll line between the inserts and bolsters to allow for the covers to be perfectly aligned. Then a backing material is added into the mold where the No-Sag springs will eventually ride. This is followed by dispensing the two-part liquid foam into a product-specific mold (that TMI also developed) that will later become the seat backs and bottoms. The heated mold is then closed to allow the foam to expand, cure, and fill the cavity creating the shape. These foam molds are then cracked open to reveal a gleaming white cushion that is ready to be installed. TMI has spent countless hours developing the seat molds for the Deluxe Bench, fine-tuning the mold shape itself so the finished product would be strong and long-lasting, yet comfortable to sit on. The mold technicians then remove the individual cushions and perform a quality inspection. There is a collection of directional arrows and orientation marks in the mold that transfer into the foam back so that the assembler’s job is that much more streamlined. With the seat bottom and back cushions firmly glued in place, the almost-finished Deluxe Bench then gets transported to the Upholstery Installation Department.
Duane Jones from TMI’s Research and Development team had this to say, “The Deluxe Bench is a truly unique product in the TMI lineup as it shares no other components with any other seat. It was developed to be an all-new product and the design shows.” The R&D department hand-form all the prototype products at TMI, and the Deluxe Bench went through several variations before a final product was achieved.
TMI constructs every aspect of every interior component that they sell, making them unique in the market. The outer cover is no different and has to go through two different departments before installation. The Cutting Department and Sewing Department have equally important jobs to perform to produce the Deluxe Bench. The Cutting Department receives huge rolls of vinyl and foam. These are first cut into huge sections then the vinyl is thermally bonded to the foam in different thicknesses for different sections of the seat. Typically the seat insert has ½-inch foam bonded to it, while the back and sidebands have ¼-inch foam. These laminated sections then move to the CNC cutting station where they are precisely sized with all the needed notches and alignment points that guide the sewing department when assembling an order. With the giant jigsaw puzzle of materials cut into exact shapes, the pieces are then transferred to the Sewing Department, where another team of skilled and specialized workers takes over. The Sewing Department uses the well-defined pattern outlines to join the pieces together and eventually, a seat cover takes shape.
Once the Sewing Department has turned out the finished seat cover, the last step of the production process takes place in the Pro-Series Department. The almost finished products then arrive at the Pro-Series Department where the assemblers fit the upholstery covers over the frame and foam with ease, using gentle coaxing to make sure the covers fit perfectly with no ripples or misalignment. When the assemblers are happy with their hard work, all that is left to do is package up the Deluxe Bench in a sturdy box and send it out to the customer. Again, an aspect of TMI that no other interior maker can match. You custom order a Deluxe Bench to your exact specifications, and a completed seat will show up at your door ready to be installed right out of the box.
Anyone that has stepped inside of an upholstery shop to check the progress of their custom interior being built knows that the final stage of assembly is crucial. The advantage that TMI has over other competitors is that every aspect of the production process is done in-house and is monitored. Every little tweak and addition along the process is to aid the other departments and to end up with a flawless finished product. The frames are built with exact tolerances, allowing the seat foams to fit perfectly. The materials are cut with laser precision to allow the seams to line up creating a finished seat cover that has had all the guesswork taken out. Final assembly takes place installing the covers over the frames with little extra coaxing to produce a product that is almost perfect.
When TMI first put pen to paper in developing the Deluxe Bench, they knew they were on to something. The idea itself had roots in vehicle interior design that was decades old, but represented a special time to auto enthusiasts. The traditional bench seat brings to mind one of the golden ages of vehicle design, it also may call to mind a memory of an older vehicle that imprinted on auto enthusiasts and is a representation of the era that vehicle belongs to, the idea even has roots in plain old nostalgia. The Deluxe Bench was created to capture all the feelings and ideas that bench seats represent to gearheads to produce a product that not only answers all the questions and requests but is also a representation of the quality and innovation that TMI is known for.