How light will future commercial vehicles be?

by Markus Isgro

Lightweight design in the commercial vehicle industry? For years, this question was unimportant to truck developers. They were more focused on the stability of the vehicle as it was expected to provide reliable service for decades. However, with a new focus on CO2 emissions, this view is changing and the industry is looking for a way to keep the vehicles stability, but while also incorporating a lightweight design.

Movement in the commercial vehicle market

The commercial vehicle industry is currently in a stage of transition, for both projected unit volumes and technological challenges – which influence one another. The OECD’s current “ITF Transport Outlook,”  is predicting that by 2050 freight traffic will triple worldwide, leading to a 160 percent increase in CO2 emissions. For the technological challenges, the authors of the study think it is essential that we avoid any “unnecessary transport demand” and at the same time strive to improve vehicle efficiency. Based on these predictions, many experts assume that stricter political guidelines in terms of CO2 emissions will be implemented for the trucking industry. As a result, more efficient engines as well as alternative fuels and drive systems are attracting attention.

Aerodynamics and Lightweight Design

There are two major technical factors that impact a truck’s fuel consumption – aerodynamics and weight. The manufacturers of commercial vehicles have been focusing on the aerodynamics of trucks for years. They are developing sleek, new futuristic model that considerably reduce overall air resistance. However, decreasing the weight of the design is also essential. Research has found that even a small weight decrease for a single part can have a significant impact because many of these vehicles will travel more than 150,000 kilometers a year, so every unnecessary pound will lead to a noticeable increase in energy consumption. Interestingly, relatively small savings on a single component can have a significant effect, because many vehicles travel more than 150,000 kilometers (93,200 miles) per year, and consequently every unnecessary kilogram leads to a noticeable increase in consumption. To rectify this, the engineers at the HAWK University Faculty of Natural Sciences and Technology have recently demonstrated that the weight of a commercial vehicle chassis can be reduced by a remarkable 40 kilograms (88 lbs)!

Potential Savings of 99 kilos (218 lbs) for Light Commercial Vehicles

Scientific analysis have proven the potential cost savings in moving toward lighter weight commercial vehicles. The “Lightweight Forging Initiative,” backed by the German Forging Association (Industrieverband Massivumformung e. V.) and the German Steel Institute VDEh among others, found that more than 99 kilograms (218 lbs) can be shaved off the weight of commercial vehicles by implementing a targeted lightweight design. To achieve this, alternative materials, lightweight forging design and lightweight design concepts all come together. “Using the best lightweight design ideas we can reduce the weight of the drive train and chassis by 11.7 percent on this type of vehicle,” according to the final report.

Focus on the Drive Train

Next, we will focus on the drive train, which is also interesting in terms of cost-efficiency in production. A lightweight design is also synonymous with material savings on components. In the past manufacturers focused on creating lighter superstructures and cabins. With trucks often being in service for more than 20 years, the drive train components were exposed to extreme permanent loads, and were traditionally made with sturdy steel, aluminum and cast iron materials. This made the lightweight cabin a much easier concept to implement then a lightweight drive train. However, EMAG recently worked on a project that shows the growing interest in drive trains. The specialists at EMAG LaserTec have developed a production system that welds together three individual parts for a large truck differential. This eliminates 40 different screwed connections and their weight. Lightweight design in the commercial vehicle industry? It’s gaining major traction!

Read also the following article:
Lightweight Design for Commercial Vehicles: EMAG LaserTec is developing a holistic production solution for large truck differentials

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