ROADLITE - Manufacture of a lightweight, cost effective, polymer composite road trailer

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Matthew Turner

Gerry Boyce

This paper describes the design, development, manufacture and testing of a lightweight polymer composite Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) trailer with the ability to produce flatbed, curtain-sided and boxed trailers. New modelling concepts have been developed to aid the vacuum infusion (VI) of a novel composite monocoque trailer using commercial grades of composite materials to keep cost at a minimum. A mixture of conceptual design, Finite Element Analysis (FEA), prototyping and testing has resulted in the manufacture of a 10 metre composite trailer weighing almost 400 kg less than a conventional steel unit. This equates to a 20% reduction in weight of the steel chassis. Testing has, so far, successfully proven the concept and integrity of the design and has shown benefits of 18% increase in stiffness, 20% reduction in mass and a reduction of 398kg of CO2 per year compared with conventional steel trailers .

Key Words: Roadlite, composite trailer, lightweight trailer, polymer composite, transport, HGV 1 Introduction Road haulage is by far the most important form of transport for goods in Europe and is expected to grow by 25% over the next 15 years. This growth is in conflict with the environment as 87% of all goods and freight are transported by heavy goods vehicles (HGV), in particular semi-trailers. This accounts for approximately 10% of the total European energy consumption and contributes over 30% of total CO2 emissions as well as producing many other pollutants and causing damage to roads and bridges. As vehicle weight accounts the use of lightweight materials and construction techniques are becoming increasingly important. The overall aim of the Roadlite project was to research, develop and demonstrate the manufacture of a new lightweight, aerodynamic, composite, multi-functional semi-trailer to replace the current heavy (and labour intensive) fabricated trailer design. for a significant proportion of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, 2 Design •

To examine and specify the most appropriate type of processing and materials to be used in the construction of the trailer. To manufacture and assemble a prototype composite HGV for extensive evaluation trials on a test track to quantify its operating performance and functionality.

Market research showed that a 10 m urban articulated trailer was the most appropriate case study due to its need for weight savings. The study also showed that a high proportion of HGV trailer sales are curtain sided (rather than box), and the decision was made to design a stand-alone chassis onto which different bodies could be attached. In order to design a suitable composite trailer it was first

Major objectives of the project included: • To compute an HGV design, which is lightweight, aerodynamic and multi-functional (i.e. capable of being used as a boxed, flatbed or curtain sided trailer). 1) 2 Europrojects LTTC Ltd, 1-3 Fowke Street, Rothley, LEICS, LE77PJ, UK E-mail; Web:
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necessary to establish the properties and performance of the steel chassis that would be replaced. The design of steel trailers to date has been a largely empirical process and it was therefore necessary to generate the data through analysis and testing. Firstly, a global stiffness for the standard steel structure was calculated. Accelerated dynamic testing was then performed at Leyland Technical Centre (LTC) on their test track. Data from strain gauges and accelerometers was used to gain insight into the

*Presented at 2005 JSAE Annual Congress


reaction of the trailer to load in different dynamic situations. The final part of the assessment, FEA, was used to validate the test data and highlight potential problem areas. Figure 1 shows a screen shot from the simulation, and it can be seen that one area of high stress occurs at the Goose Neck.

The design was also modelled by FEA to predict any areas of concern. A CAD model of the final design is shown in Figure 2 below.

Fig.1 FEA of steel trailer Fig.2 CAD model of underside of composite trailer The outputs of this test data were used to design the composite structure which evolved from design inputs relating to a range of Very early on in the project it was known that, in order to achieve One of the advantages of composites compared with steel is that the product is produced in a mould and so the depth and thickness of material can be tailored so that the rigidity and strength of the system matches the operational requirements at any particular position. To compete in terms with cheap steel fabrications, commercial grades of E-glass and polyester resins were chosen as the composite materials. A monocoque-style concept was designed because it used the material properties to their maximum benefit. Using the material to its best advantage, the shape of the monocoque was therefore altered to provide stiffness where it was required. This was achieved by changing the section of the trailer in three key positions: the front section governed by the ISO Gooseneck profile and the need for a specified deck height; the mid section which carries the majority of the bending load and so is made more rigid; and the rear section which is governed by the suspension space envelope and transverse loads rather than bending. A mixture of CAD and CAE were used to design the composite structure. The final design incorporated longitudinal beams to transfer load; sandwich components; transverse webs to take suspension loads; steelwork for attaching the suspension and legs; attachment points for the kingpin and fifth wheel; load bearers in the shallow front; composite under-run devices and steelwork front and rear to enable attachment of different body styles. Traditional steel legs, suspension and ancillary running gear were designed into the system so that maintenance would not be a problem. Fig.3 CAD model of underside of composite trailer The main problem with VI was that because it is a one-shot process, the manufacturer must know, without doubt, that once the process is started, the resin will fully infuse and wet-out the fibre reinforcement. The University of Nottingham (UoN) investigated the parameters that affect the infusion process and worked on a model to predict the overall infused geometry, time to infuse, and to help in the location of inlet and outlet ports to produce a faster or more consistent moulding. good results and fulfil the required objectives, the composite manufacturing process must be fast, simple and cost effective and yet create composites with consistently reproducible high levels of mechanical properties. In order to achieve this for large structures, the vacuum infusion (VI) process was chosen as the manufacturing route.

loads (static, dynamic and deck load).

3 Process Development and Flow Modelling

The permeability of the different reinforcements and infusion media were tested and input into a computer model that was specially developed by the University of Nottingham to determine the flow front of the resin during injection. Figure 3 shows a simulation of a part of the trailer during infusion. The modelling or “forecasting tool” was developed with the intent of allowing integration in an automated control system that would actively ensure that the ideal flow patterns were followed. Conceptually an active control system can use the flow models to compare the actual flow patterns to the ideal, forecast the effect of different control actions on the flow pattern and, opting for the one which better reproduces the ideal situation, act on the mould to steer flow. Work to develop this automated mould filling tool continues. The UoN also developed a drape analysis tool to determine how the fibre reinforcement fills (or drapes into) the tool. Best surface lay-up was determined as well as dimensions of the net shapes to be cut. Four main patterns were necessary to cover the mould surface while minimising overlaps and reinforcement cutting. A sequential infusion strategy was adopted which allowed controllable permeation through the thickness of the laminate. The process (shown in Figure 5) was very successful and took an accurately predicted eighty minutes to complete. A gel coat layer was applied into the mould to protect the underlying laminate and provide a good aesthetic surface finish. The dry glass fibre reinforcement was then laid into the mould according to the structural design and the drape analysis. A nylon peel ply fabric was laid over the reinforcement to provide a release surface and finally a polypropylene infusion mesh and vacuum bag were applied.

4 Manufacture To construct the mould tools, a number of cross section computer aided design (CAD) drawings were produced to create profiles that were laser cut from MDF and mounted onto a base, as shown in Figure 4. Wooden battens were secured into the sections and MDF sheet was attached to the battens to provide a mould surface. To complete the mould tool, four coats of epoxy primer and six coats of epoxy high-build paint were sprayed onto the surface. This had the effect of sealing the porous MDF, stabilising the surface and providing a smooth gloss finish to aid release of the part from the mould tool. All of the individual mouldings were joined together to form the trailer and then the ancillary components such as suspension (tandem axle), landing legs and pick-up plate were attached. The final trailer can be seen in Figure 6. Fig.5 Main body is infused with polyester resin

Fig.6 Composite trailer Fig.4 MDF mould during construction

5 Testing The trailer was tested at LTC, Leyland, UK. The weight of the trailer was 3740 kg, representing a 9.4% (390kg) reduction compared to the benchmark steel trailer. Maximum static deflection under full UDL of 23280kg was just 6mm and represented an in crease in stiffness of 18% compared with the steel trailer. Strain gauges were applied to the trailer and strain was measured whilst the laden trailer completed various manoeuvres and crossed various typical road features. Analysis of the strain data revealed that the amount of dynamic deflection during these tests was very low at a maximum of +4.1mm/-3.5mm compared to the static deflected shape. The strain data, which was measured at the point where maximum strains were expected, showed very low levels of both static (733µE) and dynamic (+1410µE /+338µE) strain for the material and it was obvious from the tests that the trailer was lightly stressed. As a consequence, fatigue failure of the main structure would be extremely unlikely in service.

and exhibited no unusual behaviours. Strain measurements showed the bending stiffness of the composite trailer to be 18% higher than the steel trailer. Analysis of strain data confirmed the visual and video assessment of the stability of the load bed, with maximum dynamic deflections of less than +/-5 mm. This strain data also confirmed that the main structure was operating well within its strain limits and should therefore suffer no major fatigue problems in service. Given the high stiffness of the composite trailer there would clearly be the opportunity to reduce weight further, with a clear potential to reduce fuel consumption, and hence carbon emissions by up to 2%.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This project has been jointly funded by industry (Euro-Projects LTTC Ltd {EPL}, VT Group, LTC Ltd and Southfields Ltd), the

6 Conclusions A 10m urban articulated trailer has been designed as a stand-alone polymer composite chassis onto which different bodies (box or curtain sided) can be attached. This design provides a great degree of flexibility in the number of end uses and also utilises the weight advantages effectively. The trailer design is based around a monocoque structure, thus maximising the flexibility of the composite materials in reducing weight. New modelling concepts have been developed to aid the vacuum infusion (VI) process and the trailer has been manufactured using commercial grades of composite materials to keep cost at a minimum. A mixture of conceptual design, Finite Element Analysis (FEA), prototyping and testing has resulted in the manufacture of a 10 metre composite trailer weighing almost 400 kg less than a conventional steel unit. This equates to a 20% reduction in weight of the steel chassis. Considering an average train weight of the tractor and trailer with load of 12,740 kg (i.e. a 5T tractor with a 4T load on the trailer), the overall weight saving would be 3%. Typically, this would equate to a fuel saving of around 1.5% on an urban/local delivery duty cycle. A reduction of 400kg in a vehicle travelling 100,000 miles a year equates to approximately 398kgs of CO2 each year per vehicle Testing on the proving ground over a variety of surfaces and with various vehicle manoeuvres showed that the trailer was very stable

UK Department for Transport and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council under the LINK Foresight Vehicle programme. This programme aims to foster relationships between industry and academia to create components and systems for the vehicles of the future.

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