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.
It appears that UPS is in good company with their decision to explore the use of composite materials. I've read about several other pilot projects in the mass transit and delivery sector where they are out in front leveraging both new materials and alternative energy vehicles to try to cut operating costs. Given that the trucks are the fuel constitute huge operating costs, the strategy makes a whole lot of sense.
So now on to the difficult decision: Reduce operating costs or deliver 900 lbs more packages without raising the current cost. Ether way, it is a huge win. Hooray for enterprise for innovating new cost savings in transportation. All we got from government was a PSA about correct tire inflation.
I don't think UPS has to make a decision between reducing operating costs or delivering more packages. The company says this particular truck is best suited to urban use, where its narrower size makes it easier to get around--and therefore speeding deliveries. As the article states, the 900 lbs difference is in the truck's weight, not the weight of its contents, and the contents difference is measured in cubic feet: it's about 70 cubic feet smaller.
No way a 900lb weight reduction is going to come anywhere near 40% fuel reduction. If the aero is a lot better and on longer distance higher speed routes it might be better but even there it's unlikely.
Few parts on this are composites, mostly snap on pieces. If they really want fuel savings the whole body/chassis needs to be composite for a 50% weight reduction vs the 10-20% one.
NASA did a wind tunnel, etc study on trucks and with a few simple changes cut their aero drag by 50% to .25cd.
If I was a large truck usrs like UPS I'd have had composite EV drive hybrid trucks yrs ago and now they's run on NG when not on the grid.
Beth, thanks for that input about other mass transit and delivery projects using new materials. UPS is certainly not alone: the company building these trucks, Utilimaster, has made similar delivery vehicles for other companies, including Federal Express.
Agreed that these are very good for US urban markets but also good for international cities with older roads. The mass retail expansion from the west into India, for example, will require more international shipments. I wouldn't want to be on a road in Mumbai along side one of the current UPS trucks.
Now, they need to update the uniforms and logo. I'm inspired!
Very often, roads in developing countries, such as India or Nigeria, are consistently in various states of disrepair. Lighter vehicles lead to fewer potholes and damage to roads. Here in California, there have been debates to make parts of I5, in Los Angeles, semi-truck free in order to lessen the cost of constant repair due to heavy trucks.
If the cargo weight remains the same but the vehicle weight is lighter, it's a small step in the right direction.
And, if the new UPS vehicles are manufactured locally, even better. Other companies could benefit from the technology.
A 40 percent savings is significant and impressive. It's hard to believe that plastics and composites are that much lighter than aluminum. Any word on the durability and crash resistance with the new materials?
40% fuel savings after 900 pounds reduction in weight is remarkable. Really makes you rethink the whole alternative fuel programs. If that is indeed the case, then congratulations to UPS, but even more so to the Truck Maker, UtiliMaster. The list of items that underwent experimental material updates is lengthy, and they should be recognized for that engineering effort.
Now, I wonder if they are locked to an exclusive with UPS to distribute the vehicles --- or, are able to market their new success to other freight companies, DHL, FEDEX, etc-? It all depends on who paid for the light-weight materials research. Ann Thryft mentioned some bit of insight to that query ,,,,,,
Yes, this is a remarkable advance. I would think this could become a wake-up call to all freight bearing vehicles. Even if this particular truck maker is committed to UPS, the concepts could be applied to any manufacturer of freight carriers.
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.
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
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.
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.
@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.
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.
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
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.
I've always admired the UPS way of continuously and effectively improving their processes and equipment to find new and innovative ways to squeeze additional profits from a their business. 'Brown' is not the most glamourous company, but they continue to impress me with their forward thinking improvements such as this one.
Thanks for highlighting this development. It's little things like this improvement over time that make a big difference to our energy needs. Hats off to UPS for taking steps to innovate, even if it isn't "sexy" new technology.
Wow, 40% by shaving 900lb, let me see, shave a little more than a ton and I'd save 100%... Pretty impressive. And striking that this is initiated by a single customer, rather than the company trying to sell trucks... Truly amazing.
@Ocmer Gnojed: I'd expect the empty weight of a standard delivery van to be about 4½ tons, or 9000 pounds. So a 900 pound reduction represents about a 10% reduction in weight. I'm surprised that they were able to get a 40% increase in fuel efficiency from a 10% weight reduction, especially since previous studies I've read suggest that a 10% weight reduction yields an increase in fuel efficiency of less than 10%. On the other hand, the last paragraph of the article indicates that Utilimaster made some significant architectural changes as well.
I tried to drip enough sarcasm on it to make it obvious, sorry. Next time I'll be clearer. To be very clear: 40% fuel savings are huge, the entire industry would be on this like syrup on waffles, to save 900 lb by replacing "materials" with plastics is phenomenal, together with the 40% savings you have a premise that couldn't be supported by rational thought. Shucks.
@Ocmer Gnojed: Your sarcasm was obvious, but it's a serious point. UPS and Utilimaster seem to be pushing the idea that the composite body panels are responsible for the fuel savings, but, as you point out, it's unlikely that the weight reductions are responsible for more than a very small part of this.
The New York Times article indicates that the new trucks use a (2.5L?) 150 HP Isuzu I4, compared to their current trucks, which apparently use a 6.7L 215 HP Cummins I6. The lion's share of the fuel efficiency increase is almost certainly due to this.
Why does the publicity focus on the composite body panels? In my opinion, there are two likely reasons: first of all, the use of advanced materials sounds much more innovative than simply using a smaller engine. Second, I'm sure they don't want to burn any bridges with Cummins.
Interestingly enough, it looks like you can get a huge increase in fuel efficiency per ton of freight simply by using a larger truck. Of course, UPS might have trouble getting a tractor-trailer to your door. But they could potentially save quite a bit of fuel by maximizing their usage of larger trucks.
Now there's an interesting angle, since the truck weighs less, it can have a smaller engine, needs smaller brakes and frame and so on resulting in a benevolent spiral of reduced weight and lower power requirements. I think especially for local delivery the smaller trucks make sense, I typically see them lightly loaded when they stop at my place.
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