EconCore specialises in thermoplastic honeycomb core materials and technology, connecting the manufacture of honeycomb core with in-line bonding of skins to make lightweight and stiff sandwich panels. EconCore licenses its ThermHex process to companies around the world operating in various market sectors.
With the versatility to combine different core and skin materials using EconCore’s continuous, cost-efficient process technology, honeycomb core materials are finding their way into an increasing range of transportation applications, the company reports. For truck trailers and truck bodies, for example, honeycomb core materials are up to 90% lighter than incumbent solid cores. For fleet operators looking to reduce fuel consumption to increase cargo capacity and minimise environmental impact, the benefits are clear. For a full-size trailer fuel consumption savings of 6-8% is achieved per 10% reduction in trailer weight.
The ability to combine thermoplastic honeycomb core materials with metal skins using the ThermHex process has attracted the investment of companies in both Europe and North America. In the UK, Tata Steel is producing Coretinium using EconCore technology, which combines in-situ produced polypropylene honeycomb cores with its Colorcoat Prisma pre-finished steel skins. Cartwright’s new Streetwise Urban Delivery Trailer, deployed in UK cities, is a half-ton lighter than before thanks to Coretinium.
Coretinium, with its fire-resistant steel skins, is also suitable for flooring in passenger vehicles. In buses, particularly for the engine bay, Coretinium is essentially a steel sandwich for the floor panel and fire wall, and provides a lightweight, stiff and fully compliant option for manufacturers. Further application areas for Coretinium include bus floors and trailer side walls, as well as commercial trailer doors, floors, and recreational trailers.
In North America, earlier this year Wabash National showcased its DuraPlate honeycomb core panels produced using EconCore technology. The honeycomb core panels are 22% lighter than solid-core composite panels, and for truck bodies the lighter panels are more durable than current products.
Thermoplastic composite skins
Together with its subsidiary ThermHex Waben and Fraunhofer IMWS, EconCore is working towards application and process developments for the EU-funded project Organosandwich, a material made of thermoplastic honeycomb cores with composite skins reinforced with continuous glass fibres. Organosandwich materials provide another means to reduce weight and improve the bottom line. Comparing, for example, a trailer made with traditional GRP laminated plywood to an organosandwich made of a polypropylene (PP) honeycomb core with PP/GF composite skins, the organosandwiches are more than 60% lighter, and for a trailer made of traditional GRP and plywood initially weighing 6.5 tonnes, the weight saving is approximately 18% (1.15 tonnes) when made with organosandwich materials. This translates to significant fuel savings or increased cargo capacity per unit.
For a fleet manager with 100 units, with a total weight of a typical pulling tractor-trailer assembly of 13 tonnes and where a truck makes 100,000 km/year on average and consumes 40 litres of diesel per 100 km, a 1.15 tonne weight reduction may mean a fuel saving of roughly 250,000 litres. Over a few years, such fuel reductions would result in cost savings of millions of euros.
A further application of organosandwich materials may involve taking advantage of the ability to make light-transmitting panels that can be installed as daylighting panels in trailer and truck body roofs.