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Combinations of different core and skin materials, including metal skins, in truck bodies and trailers reduce fuel consumption and increase payload.

Stephen Moore

July 2, 2018

5 Min Read
Plastic honeycomb materials are lightening the load in transportation

The ability to combine thermoplastic honeycomb core materials with metal skins using the in-line, continuous ThermHex process has attracted the interest and investment of companies in both Europe and North America. Leading the way in the UK is Tata Steel, producing Coretinium using EconCore technology which combines in-situ produced polypropylene (PP) honeycomb cores with their Colorcoat Prisma pre-finished steel skins. This breakthrough in rigidity-to-weight performance is delivering substantial value to Tata’s commercial transportation customers. One notable example is Cartwright’s new Streetwise Urban Delivery Trailer, deployed in UK cities, a half-ton lighter than before thanks to Tata Steels Coretinium composite made using EconCore technology.

Polypropylene honeycomb core solutions reduce fuel consumption and increase payload capacity.

Passenger transport is a demanding area that requires performance and compliance. Coretinium, with its fire-resistant steel skins, passes the industry standard R118-Annex 6. Coretinium is reportedly ideal for flooring in passenger transport vehicles. It is well suited for buses, particularly for the engine bay, where Coretinium is essentially a steel sandwich for the floor panel and fire wall, and provides a lightweight, stiff and fully compliant option for manufacturers.

Overall, with its unique combination of high-performance aesthetics, Coretinium is an ideal solution for reducing vehicle weight and emissions and increasing payload. We expect to see more Coretinium in transport – in applications such as bus floors and trailer side walls, as well as commercial trailer doors, floors, and recreational trailers.

In North America, Wabash National is number one in commercial transportation with a recent informal tally on U.S. highways finding four of every 10 truck trailers emblazoned with the Wabash National logo. It is exciting for EconCore to be in the mix of Wabash’s innovation in commercial transportation. Long the leader in composite innovation with DuraPlate introduced over 20 years, Wabash is now taking it to the next level. Earlier this year Wabash showcased their DuraPlate honeycomb core panels produced using EconCore technology. For truck bodies, the panels are engineered to provide optimal weight to performance for their final-mile applications. The honeycomb core panels are 22 percent lighter than solid-core composite panels, and for truck bodies the lighter panels are said to be more durable than current products. The adoption of honeycomb technology for truck bodies is building momentum this year and significant manufacturing capacity is in the works at EconCore for 2019.

Together with its subsidiary ThermHex Waben and Fraunhofer IMWS, EconCore is putting much effort into application and process developments for the EU-funded organosandwich project, at the center of which is a material made of thermoplastic honeycomb cores with composite skins reinforced with continuous glass fibers. Complementing and adding to the range of material combinations for commercial trailers, Organosandwich materials provide another means to reduce weight and improve the bottom line. Comparing, for example, a trailer made with traditional GRP laminated plywood to an organosandwich made of a PP honeycomb core with glass fiber-reinforced PP composite skins, the organosandwiches are more than 60 percent lighter, and for a trailer made of traditional GRP and plywood initially weighing 6.5 metric tons, the weight savings is approximately 18 percent (1.15 tons) when made with organosandwich materials. This translates to significant fuel savings or increased cargo capacity per unit and, when scaled to even a medium-sized fleet, this is enormous.

Consider that for a fleet manager having 100 units, with a total weight of a typical pulling tractor-trailer assembly of 13 tons and where a truck makes 100,000 km/year on average and consumes 40 liters of diesel per 100 km, such a 1.15-ton reduction may mean equal a fuel savings of roughly 250,000 liters. Over a few years, such fuel reductions would result in cost savings ranging in the millions of euros. It is up to the fleet manager to decide how to apply the value from the lightweighting – be it in fuel savings or increased payload, or a balance of both.

A further innovative application of Organosandwich materials may include taking advantage of the ability to make light-transmitting panels that can be installed as daylighting panels in trailer and truck body roofs.

EconCore has established a reputation as a leader in thermoplastic honeycomb core materials and technology. Connecting the steps of first making the honeycomb core with in-line bonding of skins to make lightweight and stiff sandwich panels has enabled EconCore to license its ThermHex process to companies around the world operating in various market sectors. The key is the technology’s versatility of materials, combined with a high-speed, continuous, cost-efficient production process. EconCore’s ThermHex process allows users to provide performance-to-weight-optimized materials with a honeycomb structure to higher-volume applications than previously possible. Instead of being limited to low-volume and less cost-sensitive domains, EconCore brings honeycomb structure to mass markets.

With the versatility to combine different core and skin materials using EconCore’s continuous, cost-efficient process technology, honeycomb core materials are finding their way into an increasing range of transportation applications. Lightweighting can lead to economic rewards and reduced environmental impact. For truck trailers and truck bodies, for example, the potential for weight reduction is compelling with honeycomb core materials being up to 90 percent lighter than incumbent solid cores.

Organosandwich is an intrinsically stiff material and lightweight due to the low-density honeycomb core. With the drive to replace heavy parts with lighter ones and the goal to ultimately reduce CO2 emissions, organosandwich materials are being considered for a wide range of transportation applications. These materials provide the rigidity and impact-resistant properties required for the automotive industry, and at a lower weight than traditional parts.

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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