APR 2016


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Truck trailer builder proactively adopts composites, compression press builders pre-arm prospective buyers, and aeroengine builder prepares to expand production. AUTOMOTIVE APRIL 2016 16 CompositesWorld TRENDS It's rare to hear that a manufacturer has adopted a technology that turns its business inside out. Rarer still is a metals-centric company that commits to compos- ites. "We basically made the choice to disrupt ourselves," asserts Brent Yeagy, senior VP and group president for Commercial Trailer Products at Wabash National Corp. (Lafayette, IN, US). "We challenged the status quo and created a composite technology solution that provides better performance and is cost-competi- tive with our traditional metal designs." A highly successful, diversifed industrial manu- facturer, Wabash National reported revenue of more than US$2 billion in 2015. Yet, over the past three years, the company has used its 100+ years of design engineering experience and the help of outside composite experts, to develop a fex- ible and tailorable technology that uses low-cost composite materials for its trailer and truck body products. Why? "Looking at the trucking landscape 10 to 20 years from now, we knew we had to push through performance barriers and improve our designs in order to have viable products for our future growth," says Yeagy. It was a decision not taken lightly, he explains. "Our customers' business models depend on being able to buy reliable, maintainable, understandable and repairable truck body and trailer products that can handle their needs and meet all regulatory requirements. That is a big barrier to adoption." Moreover, nearly every trailer or truck body built by Wabash is a custom product. "The composite solution had to be tailorable for our customers' needs, without incur- ring signifcant incremental costs." Robert Lane, director of product and business development for Commercial Trailer Products, says that if a customer requests a heavier-than- typical trailer foor, for example, it will mean adding compos- ite material and building up the foor to meet that specifc requirement, yet staying within the common composite design parameters. Having numerous composite trailer designs wouldn't work, because it would introduce too much complexity into the design process, the supply chain and manufacturing process. Wabash sought to make design- for-manufacture as straightforward as possible. Although design specifcs are proprietary, Lane says that the composites, including fabrics, preforms and resin, were developed based on modeling of multiple, complex load cases, using ANSYS Inc. (Canonsburg, PA, US) fnite element analysis (FEA) software in conjunction with extensive physical testing at the company's in-house laboratory. FEA considered fork truck loads, freight loads and the forces induced by highway speeds and maneuvering: "We knew what to test, based on our many years of experience and understanding of trailer design," says Lane. "We knew if the composites could hold up under the most extreme load cases, the design would work." The technology also incorpo- rates the CoCure Strain Tunable resin concept, developed with Structural Composites Inc. (Melbourne, FL, US), where small amounts of tough urethane resin are mixed into a low-cost commodity resin in certain areas of the composite structure to impart greater strength and toughness, while keeping overall resin costs low. "For example, one of the design requirements is to be fork truck-damage resistant, so the composite design is equal to or even better than our metal design in terms of damage tolerance," says Lane, "and we have a repair methodology." "These new trailers and truck bodies will require our entire value chain to change and adapt to this new product," Yeagy sums up. "These are difcult changes to make, but to remain the largest and most innovative manufacturer in our industry, we have to be willing to go down this path." The company's design was a recent candidate for a 2015 CAMX award | Revolution, not evolution: Truck manufacturer driven to disruptive composites technology Source | Wabash National Corp.

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