CW Blog

By: Karen Mason 1. November 2018

Composites in the SuperTruck I Initiative

Some of the newest developments in aerodynamic composite components, as well as other composites applications, are an outcome of the US Department of Energy (DOE) SuperTruck I program. The DOE’s interest in long-haul, heavy-duty trucks stems from the opportunity this sector presents to improve freight-hauling efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases. Comprising only 4% of on-road vehicles, heavy-duty trucks consume 18% of the fuel.

A $284 million joint DOE/industry program run between 2009 and 2015, SuperTruck I set out to develop and demonstrate a 50% improvement in overall freight efficiency in Class 8 tractor-trailers. Four industry teams took part: Cummins Inc. (Columbus, IN, US) with Peterbilt (Denton, TX, US), Daimler Trucks North America (Portland, OR, US), Volvo Trucks North America (Greensboro, NC, US) and Navistar Inc. (Lisle, IL, US). The initiative called for 40% of total improvement to come from engine technologies, but structural lightweighting and aerodynamics also played a large role.

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On a cool Friday morning on Oct. 26, 52 people gathered in a meeting room at the Huntington, IN, US production facility of Tier 1 Continental Structural Plastics (CSP, Auburn Hills, MI, US, a Teijin Group company [Tokyo, Japan]). They were there to celebrate the opening of a new, US$33.5 million, 12,077 m2/130,000-ft2 addition to the already 19,510 m2/210,000-ft2 facility that CSP purchased in 2010 and where the company currently produces sheet-molding compound (SMC) composite parts for Chevrolet Corvette sports cars from General Motors Co. (GM, Detroit, MI, US) and Ford F-150 Raptor pickups from Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI, US). The new expansion is where commercial production will begin next spring on the CarbonPro composite pickup box for top-of-the-line GMC Sierra Denali pickups. also from GM. CSP’s facility is located less than 30 minutes from GM’s Fort Wayne Assembly plant (Roanoke, IN, US) where the automaker produces Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra single- and extended-cab pickup models.

The CarbonPro is not the first composite pickup box. Those accolades go to Ford’s short box on 2000 Explorer SportTrac crossover-utility vehicles (CUVs) made with compression-molded, fiberglass-reinforced vinyl ester SMC. Credit also goes to GM’s 2001 Chevrolet Silverado full-size pickup box in fiberglass-reinforced polyurethane/polyurea formed via structural reaction-injection molding (SRIM). GM, Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (Tokyo, Japan) and Toyota Motor Corp. (Tokyo, Japan) all have produced composite pickups boxes since. However, GM’s latest venture is the industry’s first composite box to use carbon fiber reinforcement and the first to use a thermoplastic matrix. That change alone reportedly chopped 28 kg off the vehicle vs. a bare steel bed and 45 kg vs. a steel bed plus bedliner — all while making the box dent-, scratch- and corrosion-resistant. 

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CW has reported widely on 3D printing composites using thermoplastic resins. But over the past year, we’ve seen growth in printing with thermoset resins (and continuous fiber, see May 2018 blog and Sep 2018 blog). This trend seems poised for further growth, with Large-scale Thermoset Printing displayed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the CAMX and ACE awards areas. Developed in partnership with Magnum Venus Products (MVP), the large-scale thermoset printing system called THERMOBOT has a build volume of 16 x 8 x 3.4 ft. By using reactive polymers that fully crosslink between layers, THERMOBOT technology claims to produce higher-strength printed parts vs. those with partially fused, thermoplastic layer. The cost of feedstock is also estimated to be 50% lower. All trials to date have used vinylester systems from Polynt-Reichhold, based on its Corporate Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with ORNL.

By putting more material where a structure must handle more load, honeycomb with varying cell diameters and heights can achieve significant weight savings while increasing stiffness.
SOURCE: ELiSE (left) and CW.

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Composite materials and innovations are constantly evolving. In addition to industry news, features, blog posts and podcasts, CW also maintains a comprehensive collection of product announcements provided by companies. This monthly roundup includes links to regular posts concerning the latest products of interest to the composites industry.

This month’s innovations include:

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Whether you were so busy at last week’s CAMX (Composites and Advanced Materials Expo) that you didn’t have much time for reading or you were unable to make it to the show, here’s your chance to catch up on the Show Daily reporting from CAMX 2018. 

All three issues of the CAMX Show Daily are available to read online or for download.

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