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Combining lightweight high-tech materials with bionic design inspired by the structure of a tree results in a groundbreaking logistics concept.

Stephen Moore

February 20, 2017

4 Min Read
German startup develops lightweight CRP shelves for the Mercedes-Benz van

Loading and unloading of transport vehicles can often cost valuable minutes – and of course time is money. With traffic jams becoming commonplace and the traffic in inner cities more crowded, new concepts are needed to ensure rapid delivery times. The German startup Cikoni is contributing towards this goal with its lightweight shelves which are featured in the new Vision Van by Mercedes-Benz Vans. The shelves combine high-tech materials with bionic design.

Detachable shelves enable efficient “one shot” loading of storage shelves in delivery vehicle.

Mercedes-Benz Vans presented a revolutionary transporter concept study for urban areas in 2016 with the Vision Van. The van integrates several innovative technologies for the final end-point deliveries of products – even using on board drones for the final stretch of the delivery. The manufacturer itself states that it is setting new standards for performance requirements and solutions for future generations of delivery vans.

The centerpiece of the vehicle is the intelligent cargo space management. It aids both in loading at the logistics center as well as in making the final delivery of packages to the recipients more efficient. The so-called one-shot loading helps save the operator time and money during the loading procedure.

The lightweight shelf system developed by Cikoni is designed to be placed into the cargo area after being fully loaded. At the point of delivery, the packages are automatically removed and handed over to a courier or to a delivery drone for the final delivery. This process reduces delivery time as well as the time required for the vehicle to be parked. All in all, the throughput of the vehicle can be significantly increased.

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The shelf itself is made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) and aluminum using a sandwich design. This design concept reportedly guarantees high stability under hard braking conditions and sharp curves while at the same time keeping weight low. Further, integrated support points for the load bearing elements using functional surfaces minimize wear from friction and shock absorbers protect the shelves while reducing the need for additional components.

The shelves are expected to fulfill several challenging requirements. They must be designed to make the most out of the van’s cargo space while at the same time keeping weight to a minimum and maintaining stability under a load of up to 500 kilograms each while the vehicle is in motion. The racks must also be easy to handle to meet the robust requirements of the logistics industry. A bold new design was also requested to fit visually with the futuristic look of the Vision Van. Despite all these difficult requirements, the Cikoni shelves were designed and built in an extremely short time.

The design of the shelves was based on a bionic principle inspired by the structure of a tree. Topology optimization and computer aided optimization (CAO) were used intensively to finalize the design. The shelves were then crafted using the bionic design out of an aluminum hybrid blend and numerically optimized by utilizing the degrees of freedom of the fiber reinforced construction. The completed structure is extremely anisotropic, integrating material only where it is needed to bear specific loads.

The construction of the shelves was carried out in close collaboration local companies UBC and Hermann Blechtechnik. The manufacturing process depends on adaptable development methods and rapid concept turnaround. Dr. Farbod Nezami, managing director of CIKONI, commented on the project noting, “Everyone involved was open for innovative developments and that is not always a given.”

Thanks to the use of high-tech materials, Cikoni could make optimal use of the available cargo space. Both volume and weight have a direct influence on the efficiency of the system. The startup company from Stuttgart could use its expertise in multi-material lightweight construction throughout all stages of the process from conception, numerical optimization and function validation to detailed construction, FE calculation and the final delivery of the installation ready rack and loading system.

To cover these bases, Cikoni had to build up a wealth of know-how. According to Nezami, “We have highly specialized development engineers who supervise the entire process from conceptualization to simulation, construction and manufacturing processes for small and largescale serial production. This know-how is coupled with creativity and clear customer focus. Our primary goal is always to spark excitement – with our customers and the customers of our customers.”

Cikoni is a development partner for lightweighting solutions. The young company was formed in 2015 by former employees of Mercedes-Benz, Audi and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) with the aim of bringing together interdisciplinary development know-how in all phases of production from conceptualization to manufacturing.

About the Author(s)

Stephen Moore

Stephen has been with PlasticsToday and its preceding publications Modern Plastics and Injection Molding since 1992, throughout this time based in the Asia Pacific region, including stints in Japan, Australia, and his current location Singapore. His current beat focuses on automotive. Stephen is an avid folding bicycle rider, often taking his bike on overseas business trips, and is a proud dachshund owner.

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