The use of composite materials in the structure of a vehicle’s chassis can reduce weight by up to 40 percent, according to new research from Scania and Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
New lightweight materials such as composites will play an increasingly large role in the heavy vehicles of tomorrow, particularly in city buses and distribution trucks. Working in association with researcher Magnus Burman from Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Scania is investigating the potential for using lighter materials in both chassis structures and other load-bearing parts of vehicles.
“Our studies show that weight savings of up to 40 percent can be achieved if key load-bearing parts are replaced with lighter materials,” says Burman.
Major opportunity for the environment
Reduced vehicle weight, or so called structural weight, means more cargo per transport shipment and, as a result, the potential for fewer runs. This represents a major opportunity both for the environment and for future electrified solutions of various kinds.
“Distribution trucks often carry bulky goods, so the weight savings are not that great,” says Burman. “But an electrified truck’s range is highly dependent on the vehicle’s weight. Halving the weight here means doubling the range per load.”
Composite materials provide strength
Composite materials currently have a high purchase price, but when viewed from a lifecycle perspective they make good economic sense.
“On top of the low weight, composite materials provide strength and rigidity, while fatigue and ageing aren’t generally seen as problems,” says Burman. “Composites also don’t rust, and they don’t degrade in the same way as metal structures.”
Bigger mix of materials in tomorrow’s vehicles
Another advantage with composite use in chassis structures is that it’s possible to create larger integrated structures than with steel. This means fewer joints, which in turn further reduces weight.
“Tomorrow’s vehicles will be made from a bigger mix of materials, with a focus on both function and weight,” says Burman. “We simply want to have ‘the right material in the right place’. So, I see a greater degree of integration of different functions in tomorrow’s truck and bus structures. This creates completely new opportunities and possibilities in the design process and in construction and production.”
Burman continues, “I dare say that tomorrow’s transport vehicles will also be different from today’s when it comes to appearance. Exactly how remains to be seen.”
Tomorrow’s distribution truck?
Scania has produced a vision for an integrated lightweight chassis made from carbon fibre composite-material and adapted for use in a long-range, completely electric vehicle. The light, self-supporting structure borrows materials and design concepts from the aviation industry. The battery is located in the space in the middle.