Engineers for years have searched for ways to reduce weight in vehicles of all types. The most success has been had in the airline and space industry, where lightweight materials are common. For example, Volvo Aero has taken advantage of these technologies in its aircraft engine components.
Now, those same technologies may be opening doors for super-light trucks of the future. Volvo Technology, the research arm of Sweden’s AB Volvo, parent firm of both Volvo Trucks North America and Mack Trucks, sees the truck of the future as being as much as 20% lighter in as few as 10 years.
“We are creating the super-light vehicles in a computer program that simulates how hundreds of thousands of small construction alterations can reduce the vehicle’s total weight without affecting other key characteristics in the vehicle, such as crashworthiness or the ability to bear loads,” said Carl Fredrik Hartung, project manager at Volvo Technology.
The advantages of lighter trucks are obvious – smaller engines, reduced fuel costs and higher payload capacities resulting in more productive commercial vehicles.
“I feel very enthusiastic in using lightweight technology because it will make us build lighter trucks that will use less fuel and emit less carbon dioxide,” Hartung said in a video posted on the Volvo Group web site.
A challenge facing engineers, Volvo said, is that super-light materials that are as durable as current materials are more expensive, meaning large volumes must be produced to attain economies of scale.
“It is important to conduct thorough computer simulations and standardize the manufacturing process so that it will be profitable to manufacture lighter vehicles for commercial use,” Hartung said. “We have come a long way, but a great deal of work remains before the first super-light vehicles hit the road.”
Hartung said the company is looking at ways to reduce sheet-metal thickness first, but when that attempt is exhausted, other materials, such as aluminum and carbon fiber, will be investigated. “It’s a continuous process, for every year we build lighter trucks, so in the future, we will have super-light trucks that consume less fuel,” he said.