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Composite materials are now being introduced to replace certain metal components in the ubiquitous brown trucks as a way to lighten the load by 900 pounds and improve fuel efficiency by 40%.
UPS announced this week that it intends to purchase 150 composite-body vehicles, as a result of a year-long pilot program to test the composite materials’ durability, repair qualities and structural strength. The composite-clad package cars (nicknamed the “plastic truck”) weighs in nearly 900 lbs. lighter than a traditional package car, helping improve fuel efficiency by 40%, according to test results. Delivery is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2012.
A year’s worth of testing five package cars in high-mileage settings showed that composites are durable, work well in all kinds of climates (especially where corrosion from road salt is an issue) and are easily repaired since they are modular.
With fuel savings of 40%, composites rival the fuel savings of alternative fuel vehicles — without the technology obsolescence threats, fueling infrastructure issues and production challenges that come along with new alternative fuel vehicle types like natural gas, hybrids and electrics. Next, UPS will test the materials in larger, heavier vehicles to see if composites are as well-suited there.
The use of composite materials signals a strategic shift for UPS. In the past, UPS package cars were “built like tanks” because they were kept in service for decades. Now, with different materials available, we are changing our mindset,” said Dale Spencer, UPS Director-Automotive Engineering.
UPS isn’t alone in pushing the commercialization of light-weight composites as a way to reduce fuel consumption in vehicles. Passenger car manufacturers also are introducing composites and the U.S. Department of Energy will provide $14.2 million funding toward fuel-saving projects, including those that use new materials to cut vehicle weight.
UPS has had some limited composite materials included in previous vehicles but this version extends the material across the entire vehicle with the exception of the floor. This area still requires metal structures to protect and support the weight of the shipments inside.
But that isn’t the whole story for UPS’s pursuit of greater fuel efficiency. “Our ‘rolling laboratory’ strategy leverages our on-the-road development programs to check out all avenues for reducing fuel consumption and emissions,” said Spencer. Since the year 2000, UPS has improved its U.S. fuel efficiency in miles per gallon (MPG) by more than 20%.
The application of composites isn’t the only way UPS is working to minimize its environmental impact and improve efficiency. The company is working with dozens of vehicle manufacturers to find structural and operational ways to cut the weight of the vehicles, improve MPG and increase fuel efficiency through technology. Recent design changes include prototype hoods that improve aerodynamics, perforated mud flaps on tractor-trailers to fight wind resistance, and telematics to help reduces the miles the vehicles travel to deliver packages. Alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles also are part of the plan, with more than 2,500 now on the road.
More information: www.ups.com