Ultra-light Composite Trailer Prototype from Roadlite Project

04 June 2004

A new ultra-light semi-trailer could increase the productivity of the transport industry and reduce environmental and infrastructure damage.

Manufactured from hi-tech polymer composites, the semi-trailer is able to carry a larger payload than a comparable trailer with a steel chassis.

The lightweight trailer prototype is a result of the Roadlite research project, and part of the Government-backed Foresight Vehicle initiative. The initiative is led by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and aims to catapult the UK into a dominant force in future automotive design and development.

Widespread use of the trailer would see a reduction in the number of HGV journeys, an increase in fuel efficiency and consequently a reduction in CO2 emissions. A decrease in the number of truck journeys could also see a decline in the physical impact on roads and bridges.

Euro-Projects (LTTC) Ltd, based in Leicestershire, UK, led the project with support from industry and academic partners including Southfields Coachworks Ltd, Vosper Thornycroft (VT Group), Leyland Technical Centre (LTC Ltd) and the University of Nottingham.

The overall aim of the project was to develop the design and processing methodologies required to manufacture the lightweight semi-trailer and, via the use of advanced design techniques, construct a working prototype.

An additional aim was to design the trailer with the intention that it would be easily adaptable to suit all configurations of HGV body styles including boxed, flatbed and curtain-siders.

Initial market research revealed the most appropriate case study for the project to be a 9750mm 28-tonne urban articulated trailer, which offered the most practical demonstrator in terms of technical, environmental and commercial exploitation.

A traditional steel trailer of this specification was manufactured and tested in order to set comparable boundaries for the composite trailer. The results of this testing formed the basis for the lightweight design, which utilised advanced fibre reinforced polymer composite materials and sandwich construction technologies.

Manufactured using the vacuum infusion technique, the full size 9750mm composite trailer was completed with all ancillaries required to make it fully operational and subjected to extensive testing by LTC Ltd.

The prototype composite trailer proved to be 300kg lighter than its steel equivalent and capable of withstanding 23-tonne concentrated loads.

Results gleaned from the trailer have been utilised in the construction of a second lightweight composite semi-trailer, which is also 9750mm long. Initial testing has revealed this prototype to be 400kg lighter yet more rigid than the comparable steel unit.

These prototypes use a flatbed configuration and the weight saving over a comparable steel semi-trailer has been achieved by replacing the chassis alone. Where a boxed trailer is required there is room for even greater weight loss by creating this structure from lightweight, impact resistant, polymer composite. Composite trailers are also claimed to be less labour-intensive to produce than their steel counterparts and boast a potential longer working life.

Test trailers have been extensively tested at Leyland’s Technical Centre in Leyland, Lancashire. The prototypes are all flatbed trailers and the research engineers say they can make even more impressive weight savings if box trailers were built.

Further research is currently underway to progress the project. Gerry Boyce, Manager Director of EPL said: “We will continue to work with the technology and there are plans to produce more trailers in the future. We are now looking at using similar technologies to make the blades of wind turbines. The pressures placed on the environment are ever-growing. The trailer will work to reduce these pressures as well as offering a number of advantages to all hauliers.” More than 400 UK companies and universities have been participating in the industry-backed initiative, known as Foresight Vehicle, currently being led by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

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