WMG Prototypes Braided Composite Frame for Very Light Rail (VLR) Demonstration Vehicle
WMG, at the University of Warwick, has worked with partners to create a new design of incredibly lightweight vehicle frame, Very Light Rail (VLR), braided from carbon fibre composites into a series of tubes to create the first prototype demonstrator frame.
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Business and Industry Andrew Stephenson was one of the first viewers to view the new design, outside of the research partnership, on a visit to WMG on 16th May.
Working with the lightweight structural composite components company Far, and Transport Design International Ltd in Stratford upon Avon the demonstrator can be easily assembled by adhesive and simple welding.
Dr Darren Hughes Associate Professor in Materials and Manufacturing at WMG at the University of Warwick said:
“Our BRAINSTORM VLR research partnership has achieved significant weight-saving, allowing VLR services to accommodate more passengers while reducing the energy required to propel the vehicle and the weight stress it will place on its rails and road surface.”
“The technology also ensures that the vehicle is tough for a long life in service, easily repairable when accidents happen and strong enough to protect the passengers on board.”
The innovative very light weight and highly efficient approach includes an underlying tubular spaceframe chassis which provides the body shell. In the first demonstrator frame produced, the partners were able to keep the beams the same outside diameter, but their wall thickness is tailored to give the optimum performance depending on where it will be used. This keeps down the tooling cost and allows for all the joining to be standardised through a combination of welding and adhesive bonding.
In case of any damage to any individual beam due to an accidental impact, each damaged beam can be entirely replaced with a new one. Best of all, the thermoplastic material inherently recyclable.
The whole moulding cycle is capable of being reduced to less than five minutes, demonstrating the potential of this affordable process for high-volume applications. The braiding process is highly efficient with the capacity of over a mile a day of braided tubing.
There can be a wide range of materials to be used in this braiding method. Almost any fibre (carbon, glass and aramid) can be combined with a huge range of thermoplastics, from low cost Polypropylene to high end Polyether ether ketone (PEEK) to create a material that suits the given application.
Lyndon Sanders Director and General Manager of Nottingham based lightweight structural composite components company Far said:
“The BRAINSTORM Project feels like a real step forward to the team at Far Composites. Being able to tap into the industry experience of TDI to hone the principle of a new type of body structure for mass transit applications was great. Add to that the collaborative working with Composites Braiding and WMG to turn that thinking into a physical demonstrator to show what it would be like in practice was really powerful. Now it’s more than a good idea, now it’s an eye opener for industry players who can see it, touch it and even pick it up.”
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