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Advanced Composites Group Ltd. (ACG) – part of Umeco Composites Structural Materials – a division of Umeco plc, is engaged in an exciting automotive project, part funded by the UK Technology Strategy Board (TSB), with collaborating partners UK-based Revolve Technologies Ltd. and IE-LEV Ltd. to develop and manufacture tooling and parts for a lightweight, range-extended electric-hybrid commercial fleet demonstrator vehicle.
This is possibly the first application of a lightweight composite intensive body in the light commercial vehicle sector. Reducing the weight of the vehicle is fundamental to optimising the performance and range capability of the electric drive train whilst maintaining a competitive payload.
Advanced Composites Engineering (ACE), ACG’s engineering division, has worked closely with the project team to develop the tooling and, using the company’s BPS240 body panel system, is now manufacturing the body panels for the demonstrator vehicles.
ACG’s BPS240 is a two-ply, partially impregnated epoxy prepreg system designed for the manufacture of Body-In-White (BIW) panels with excellent surface quality from vacuum-only processing at cure temperatures between 85 to 150°C. BPS240 is designed to be ready for painting without abrading or reworking. In many instances, paint can be applied directly to a degreased panel. However, in this application, the demonstrator vehicle panels will not be painted, but will use a vinyl wrap system already widely applied to commercial vehicles.
The aim of this collaborative project is to prove that the technologies used are suitable for application and use in a vehicle in this sector of the mass market. ACG was called upon to apply its expertise in composites manufacturing to minimise the weight of the body components, thus minimising the fuel used and CO2 emissions. The concept will offer a whole new capability in the delivery van sector and present fleet operators with a cost-effective solution to the problem of achieving low CO2 without increasing running costs.
The project is currently in its ‘technology demonstrator’ phase with IE-LEV Ltd as the lead partner and Revolve Technologies as the main collaborating partner. IE-LEV has formed a subsidiary company ‘Emerald Automotive’ to take the project forward into its production phase. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Emerald Automotive will manufacture the vans, code-named t-001, for sale to large fleet operators in the USA and Europe.
Overall, and with the application of ACG’s prepregs, the t-001 will offer fleet operators an 80% reduction in emissions compared with conventional vehicles in the same class. Extensive research with fleet customers over the past three years has optimised the vehicle design and it is planned that, with a 463 mile range, the t-001 will give the first 66 miles at zero emission in EV (electric vehicle) mode. The t-001 will significantly reduce fuel costs and give fleet operators a lower lifetime cost per mile.
Bob Mustard, Technical Specialist from the IE-LEV Team, said: “ACG is a key development partner in our demonstrator vehicle programme. The engineering and commercial support has been critical to assist us in delivering proof of concept and in developing a viable route to production for a composite intensive body.”
Liam Moloney, ACE Engineering Manager, said: “We were delighted by the prospect of working with Revolve Technologies Ltd and IE-LEV Ltd., and to have the opportunity to assist in the development of their t-001 demonstrator vehicles. The project has progressed very well; ACE's manufacturing flexibility coupled with ACG's versatile BPS240 body panel prepregs have delivered everything that the customer required. BPS240 is already widely used in the automotive industry and has shown its ability in this distinctive demonstrator application, where low component weight and high panel stiffness were key requirements. ACG has the automation and materials technology that would assist Emerald Automotive in entering the high volumes manufacturing phase that they are anticipating. Additionally, our engineering facility has been fully involved in the design and the manufacture of the tooling, followed by production of the major external body panels required for this project. We wish Emerald Automotive every success as they move forward into the production phase.”
Note: The Technology Strategy Board is an executive body established by the Government to drive innovation. It promotes and invests in research, development and the exploitation of science, technology and new ideas for the benefit of business - increasing sustainable economic growth in the UK and improving quality of life.