United Parcel Service (UPS) is redesigning its familiar brown delivery trucks with plastics to save up to 40 percent in fuel costs compared to the standard aluminum-body vehicle. The company expects to achieve this goal by replacing metal truck bodies with composites and other plastics, which will lighten their weight by 900 pounds. It plans to buy 150 new trucks with the plastic bodies, with delivery slated for the fourth quarter of this year.
UPS has been testing the concept during a year-long pilot program that let the company try out the structural strength, durability, and repair qualities of the new truck design's materials. The tests involved using the program's five CV-23 prototype package cars from specialty truck maker Utilimaster in difficult settings. The trucks' composite plastic bodies proved to be durable and easily repaired or replaced since components are modular and don't require body work. The vehicles worked well in a variety of climates, which is especially important in areas where corrosion from road salt is an issue. Tests were conducted on rough back roads in Lincoln, Neb., winter conditions in Albany, NY, desert heat in Tucson, Ariz., high mileage in Acworth, Ga., and a long urban route in Flint, Mich.
United Parcel Service is planning to shift to composites and other plastics for many of the structural components in its brown delivery trucks, as shown in this prototype. (Source: UPS)
UPS said the fuel savings of 40 percent rivals the amount of fuel that could be saved by using alternative fuel vehicles, but without the challenges that accompany a shift to those vehicles. These include fueling infrastructure issues and threats of technology obsolescence, as well as production challenges.
Composites used in the test trucks' hoods and roofs are reportedly fiberglass-reinforced plastic. Other plastic components include lower body panels, front fenders, front bumper cover, and dashboards made of injection-molded polyurethane. The instrument panel and interior cabin trim are made of thermoplastic olefin, as well as some structural components made of polyethylene sheet-molding compound.
In the past, UPS had experimented with a limited amount of composites use in vehicles. The current delivery truck design extends the materials across the entire vehicle, except for the floor. Although test trucks had a composite floor, metal floor structures will continue to be used to provide enough strength for supporting the weight of the truck's contents. The new truck is also somewhat smaller than the previous aluminum versions at 630 cubic feet, which is about 70 cubic feet less of interior cargo space than the standard P70 aluminum truck.
The company's next step is to test the same materials in larger, heavier vehicles to determine how well they work. UPS is working with several vehicle manufacturers in an attempt to cut vehicle weight, improve miles per gallon, and increase fuel efficiency by a number of different methods, including structural and operational approaches. Other design changes to existing vehicles include prototype hoods to improve aerodynamics, perforated mud flaps on tractor-trailers for reducing wind resistance, and using telematics to help reduce miles traveled to deliver packages. UPS also has more than 2,500 alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles in service.
Jerry, it's well known that glass fiber composites don't give the strength-to-weight advantages of CF composites, in either commercial aerospace or high-volume automotive manufacturing. If they did the job, there wouldn't be much reason to investigate CF for these purposes. BTW, UPS is already using EV trucks: http://pressroom.ups.com/Press+Releases/Archive/2011/Q3/UPS+Purchasing+100+All-Electric+Vehicles+for+California+Deployment
Sometimes people blame marketing departments as fudging numbers when the data don't seem to add up, but having worked in those departments for technical companies long ago, I tend to disagree with that assumption. Due to the reporting requirements of public companies like UPS, they generally don't make such claims unless they can back them up, since there are legal consequences. We don't have all the facts and for whatever reasons, UPS decided not to share them.
Thanks for doing the math Dave. It looks like only UPS (or Utilimaster) knows how they're boosting fuel efficiency by 40%. I suspect your hypothetical changes in the engine are key. The two things UPS mentions are weight reduction (of an empty vehicle) and powertrain improvements. Those are the same two factors I'm hearing while researching an upcoming feature on the use of carbon fiber-based components in cars.
That link, Ann, spells out a lot more of the story. I think the commenters were savvy to catch the incongruity of the weight savings versus energy savings. But the links shows there is more to the story.
@Ann: Can you explain why a 10% reduction in empty weight results in more than a 10% reduction in gross (loaded) weight? I'm not sure I follow you.
It seems to me that it would be the opposite; 900 pounds is a smaller fraction of the gross weight than it is of the empty weight. Assuming an 80% payload capacity, the gross weight should about be 9000 x 1.8 = 16,200 pounds. 900 pounds is about 6% of this.
On the other hand, the article mentions that there is also a 10% reduction in cargo capacity. Obviously, this would reduce the loaded weight somewhat. Again, assuming an 80% loading capacity, a 10% reduction in cargo capacity should mean a reduction of 0.1 x 0.8 x 9000 = 720 pounds, or about 4%.
900 pounds (6%) due to the reduction in the empty weight plus 720 pounds (4%) due to the reduction in cargo capacity adds up to 1620 pounds, or 10% of gross weight.
Still, if you take a 10% decrease in gross weight, along with a 30% reduction in horsepower (from 215 HP to 150 HP) and a 60% reduction in displacement (from 6.7L to 2.5L), plus some miscellaneous improvements in aerodynamics, a 40% reduction in fuel consumption is at least borderline believable.
I think you're saying the 40% fuel savings is a faulty claim, based on the data provided. I think you're right. Likely a number that was born in the Marketing department vs. the Engineering department.
The 900-lb weight savings is of the empty truck. As several commenters have rightly pointed out, a 10% savings in weight is nowhere near enough to produce a 40% fuel savings. Since fuel savings occur when the truck is out doing deliveries, i.e., loaded with packages, that's where added weight comes in to the formula, so the total loaded weight savings is obviously a lot more than 10%. There were some additional fuel savings because of powertrain improvements. The use of composites let Ultimaster re-design truck body components, and composite body panels are now easier to remove and repair/replace than components made of metal: http://pressroom.ups.com/pressroom/staticfiles/media/image/UPS_composite_vehicle.jpg
That's the hardest thing about changing soooo many "set-in-stone" ideas and paradigms. One tired phrase I ALWAYS wince at, is: "That's the way its always been done". Kudus to both UPS and Utilimaster for getting out of that box.
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