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.
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.
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.
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.
@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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
New versions of BASF's Ecovio line are both compostable and designed for either injection molding or thermoforming. These combinations are becoming more common for the single-use bioplastics used in food service and food packaging applications, but are still not widely available.
The 100-percent solar-powered Solar Impulse plane flies on a piloted, cross-country flight this summer over the US as a prelude to the longer, round-the-world flight by its successor aircraft planned for 2015.
GE Aviation expects to chop off about 25 percent of the total 3D printing time of metallic production components for its LEAP Turbofan engine, using in-process inspection. That's pretty amazing, considering how slow additive manufacturing (AM) build times usually are.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This radio show will show what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.