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Vehicle interior trim panel with a soft-touch foam layer, and a method and apparatus for making the same

An interior trim component such as a vehicle dashboard includes a substantially rigid and form-stable substrate of polypropylene and natural fibers, a supporting halo skeleton and other frame components heat fused onto the backside of the substrate, and a polyolefin foam layer as well as a decorative polyolefin cover film laminated onto the front side of the substrate. The foam layer has an increased thickness and a decreased foam density at sharply contoured or curved areas of the trim component, in comparison to the flat surfacial areas. As a result, the trim component has a desirable soft-touch characteristic and impact absorbing properties at all areas including protruding curves and edges. A method for forming such a trim component involves steps of pre-molding the foam layer and cover film by vacuum thermoforming, pre-molding the substrate by vacuum thermoforming, and then heat laminating the pre-heated, pre-molded substrate onto the pre-molded foam layer and cover film. The sharply curved or contoured areas of the component are provided with a greater tolerance spacing between the substrate and the cover film, which are held to the respective mold contours by vacuum. Under the effect of heat and the applied vacuum, the foam layer expands to have a greater thickness and a lower density in these sharply contoured areas.
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