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Lightweight Composite Panel
But the technology is not new. For many years composite or sandwich panels have been used to make civil and military aircraft and more recently they are used in racing vehicles, shipbuilding and special architecture. A typical Boeing civil aircraft may consist of up to 5-15% composite panels, although recently Boeing announced that the new 7E7 will be made of up to 50% composites, making it very light weight while maintaining optimum durability.
The success of composite technology in the aviation field has drawn attention to other industries that want to apply these benefits. One of the most important for the trucking profession is that the core composite material is lighter than steel and aluminum with an average weight of up to 40% of steel and 20% more than aluminum.
Today, composite technology can be applied to body panels and accessories, front panels, floors, engine blocks, cargo liners, vehicle chassis, bumper beams, fuel tank supports, heat-resistant parts such as inlet manifolds, cooling modules, and oil pans… Wooden decking or heavy metal on the trailer can be replaced with sandwich panels to further shed pounds and leverage added payload and longer trailer deck life. The diversity in the materials used and in the manufacturing process enables the composite panel to be flat or curved that has one of the highest strength to weight ratios of any structural material available on the market.
Replacing only the Class 8 sleeper box with custom-made composite panel technology can reduce overall vehicle weight by up to 850 pounds, effectively reducing gross weight and fluid resistance while increasing payload.
In addition to the lightweight composition, the sound dampening and insulation properties create a quiet environment in which to sleep; corrosion resistance, and overall durability is also high on the rating scale.
These panels are formed when two materials are combined to create a substance that is stronger than the two base materials alone. The panel itself is heated and thermo fused to the matrix or core; The matrix binds together the fibers of a strong material, called reinforcement. The reinforcement can be engineered from glass, aramid and carbon fibers, while the matrix can include polyester resin, vinyl ester resin, or epoxy resin, as well as many light fiber materials. This separation of the skin with a low-density core increases the moment of inertia of the beam or panel with very little weight, resulting in a highly efficient structure. Throughout the extensive use of high strength adhesives, the joint panels that are precisely joined together provide superior improvements in relation to conventional riveting or welding processes. Staying ahead of conventional practices allows the industry to realize real savings related to direct labor costs, tooling, equipment, but especially eliminating costly rust and corrosion issues or claims.
Basically the strength of the composite panel depends on the overall size, the surface material used, and the density of the cells inside, the thicker the core, the higher the stiffness and strength of the panel. By carefully selecting reinforcements, matrices and production processes, manufacturers can produce industry-specific composite panels. Composites designed for heavy commercial applications such as aircraft manufacturing, the aerospace industry, oil exploration and the military market use high strength, continuous fibers such as polyurethane foam or other dynamic materials to ensure rigid panels that can withstand wear and tear due to mechanical stress or strain. For low strength and stiffness or low stress applications such as automotive, marine, and industrial parts, a matrix composed of discontinuous fibers such as paper or card can be used to ensure the optimum strength-to-weight ratio for a specific application .
According to various compositions and thicknesses, compressive and tensile strength and resistance to deflection keep damage from rocks and debris as well as stress on loading and unloading to a minimum. If damage occurs, panel replacement is relatively easy and affordable and can be repaired at most auto body repair facilities.
Common composite panels are generally described as:
Some of the overall benefits are:
- Lighter (but stronger) materials provide lower fuel consumption
- Can be customized for many specific applications
- Relatively fast implementation time
- Noise dampening properties block noise from outside the interior
- Resistant to harmful chemicals and heat
- They hold back
- Minimal structural disturbance
From a manufacturing or engineering point of view:
- When shock and impact loads are an issue, the size of the honeycomb cells can be adjusted to achieve different compression strengths.
- Working prototypes using laminated panels and sandwich panels can be developed within 4-6 weeks from the start. The manufacturing process is geared for maximum efficiency and optimal implementation time
- The insulation value (R value) can be from 2.5 to 6 depending on the thickness of the panel. Specific customer requirements can be achieved by using special honeycomb cores and facings
- The range of materials used to manufacture panels to specification makes them an attractive option for truck manufacturers
- Versatility design in body panels and doors, hood, roof panels, bonnets, and spoilers allow for a drastic reduction in fluid drag and rolling resistance. Continuous research and development provides continuous progress in the performance of composites and develops a wide range of applications. The transportation industry is embracing composite technology that can replace wood and metal as the material of choice.
Edison Reis, B.Sc. Eng.
Engineering & Quality Assurance Manager
Canadian Commercial Vehicles Corp.
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