Tech Talk

Wheel tech forging the future of road transport

Alcoa Wheels didn’t stop at the invention of the forged aluminium wheel in 1948. It has continued to stay at the leading edge of innovation and its wheel technologies are helping forge the future of the transportation industry.

New technologies such as electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles, along with fuel emissions regulations, are impacting how fleets operate.

The future is electric

We have seen a range of prototypes, demonstration trucks and commercially available hydrogen fuel-cell and plug-in electric vehicles come onto the market and in October 2019, Daimler Trucks committed to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2039.

Both Volvo Trucks and Renault Trucks started producing electric trucks in 2019, and Scania joined them in early 2020.

What does Alcoa Wheels have to do with the electrification of vehicles?

It’s all about light weighting. According to Scania’s life cycle assessment (LCA) of distribution vehicles published in 2021, the environmental impact of battery electric vehicles is significantly lower than vehicles with an internal combustion engine, so lighter wheels are becoming a necessity.

“The push toward electrification in the industry now is driving the light weighting crusade with batteries being very heavy currently,” said Michael Nichols, national sales manager of Howmet Wheel Systems, the distributor of Alcoa Wheels in Australia.

Fitting lighter wheels not only offsets the added weight of the battery, but it helps extend battery life and improve range.

To get maximum battery capacity, weight needs to be reduced, so for every ~68kg of weight reduced, one extra passenger can be added (in accordance with various regulations), notes one OEM.

Alternatively, with a battery energy density of 160 kwh, ~4.8km of range could be added with the same ~68kg weight reduction.

The new Alcoa Ultra ONE  18kg wheel can reduce an individual truck weight from 272 to 590kg versus steel options and up to over 100kg for a standard truck and trailer combination with 22 wheels, compared with current aluminium wheel options.

The future is aerodynamic

Aerodynamics reduces air drag which means a lowered fuel consumption and therefore CO2 emissions and is becoming popular for fleets.

For long-haul operators, there’s a definite advantage to streamlining with aerodynamic products, and fleets are doing it through trial and error at the moment, according to Dave Walters, manager of warranty and field service for Alcoa Wheel Products, who acted as chairman for the Technology and Maintenance Council’s (TMC) Recommended Practice (RP) 261, Considerations for Aerodynamic Wheel Covers over in the US.

Doug Mason, Alcoa Wheels global technology manager shares the following example: “A fleet that adds a trailer skirt might see 5 per cent savings. They might then decide to add another component that should provide an additional 2 per cent savings, but only realise 4 per cent instead of seeing a total 7 percent in savings.”

Why? “The interaction between the two components did change the airflow, but because of the complexity of the truck and trailer designs themselves, the addition of the second aerodynamic device may have actually created more drag,” Mason explained.

What does Alcoa Wheels have to do with aerodynamics?

In a nutshell, aerodynamic devices add weight and Alcoa wheels, as the lightest and strongest in the market, help offset the additional weight from the aerodynamic equipment without compromising on the load capacity.

Larger fleets may spec Alcoa wheels as standard across their equipment, providing a stable and consistent measurable while trialling new technologies.

Alcoa Wheels’ innovative wheel technologies will continue to forge the future of the transport industry as it adjusts to demands to become more sustainable.

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