Composites Manufacturing - Fall 2022

CompositesManufacturing 8 Transportation Rollovers contribute to approximately half of all large truck fatalities, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, so any measure that a truck component manufacturer can take to mitigate this risk has huge safety potential. Yet there are many factors that can contribute to dangerous rollover events for a commercial truck. Tractor trailers have high centers of gravity that require careful distribution of goods. Road irregularities, due to varying road material types, create different responses within a tractor trailer. Uneven distribution of loads can lead a trailer to sway, pivoting on its fifth wheel. For truck and trailer manufacturer JOST International, the fifth wheel may hold a critical key for reducing the collateral damage leading to a rollover event. The fifth wheel is the horseshoeshaped component upon which a semitrailer is connected to the tractor by a vertical kingpin that holds the trailer in place. The fifth wheel must provide a balance of stability and independent rotation between the two vehicle components. It must also provide some resistance against typical trailer pitch and roll. While fifth wheels have long been made of cast iron or stamped steel, JOST approached pultruded fiberglass manufacturer Strongwell in Bristol, Va., to develop a CFRP beam that could change the overall performance of its fifth wheels. JOST’s fifth wheel design features a fusion-welded steel top plate that incorporates a CFRP beam within its core. The beam, which is approximately two inches wide and two feet long, provides structural reinforcement for the steel components. Under normal driving conditions, this new fifth wheel operates exactly as a traditional component would. That all changes in a rollover event, at which point the CFRP beam acts like a seat belt. Upon experiencing plastic deformation during rollover, the beam is designed to absorb the load and redirect energy so the component crumples where intended and helps keep the kingpin in place to prevent the trailer from disengaging. “JOST came to us with a specific material in mind, but we were able to help get the right blend that could achieve what they were asking for,” says Bhyrav Mutnuri, product development engineer for Strongwell. The engineering team developed a component that uses a proprietary epoxy resin system reinforced by carbon fiber. Pultrusion was the clear choice for beam manufacturing, as it allows for high-volume production at the price point JOST aims to achieve. It also ensures consistent quality and a high strength-toweight ratio. That stiffness is critical, as the fifth wheel must be able to absorb the dynamic forces coming from the trailer and from the road, while ensuring the tractor trailer remains safely coupled. “In a rollover event, the trailer rotates and pulls the tractor with it,” Mutnuri explains. “[JOST] tests for that. By using this particular carbon fiber bar, it has more than twice the rated vertical load in those types of situations. So, there’s a safety improvement to that.” While safety is the primary function of this new component, the switch from an all-metal fifth wheel to one with a CFRP interior provides several secondary benefits. When combined with JOST’s stationary mounting brackets, this new system is the lightest in its class, according to the truck manufacturer. The CFRP beam helps shave 70 pounds off the overall weight, while increasing the vertical load capacity by more than 20%. The component is rated to carry 55,000 pounds, just like a traditional all-metal component. Any opportunity to reduce the weight of the overall vehicle allows for the transport of additional goods within the federal 80,000-pound gross vehicle weight limits. In addition, Mutnuri points out, the superior strength-to-weight ratio carbon fiber offers when compared to steel leads to higher fuel efficiency. Improved fuel efficiency and higher load capacity can contribute to a lower carbon footprint over the vehicle’s lifetime. JOST is preparing to put this new fifth wheel into more than 500 rigs in its initial production batch. “We anticipate increasing the production exponentially in next few years,” says Mutnuri. Megan Headley is a freelance writer in Fredericksburg, Va. She can be reached at Photo Credit: Strongwell Fifth Wheel’s CFRP Beam Mitigates Rollovers JOST International’s new fifth wheel, which incorporates a CFRP bar within its core, won the “Infinite Possibility for Market Growth” Award for Composites Excellence (ACE) at CAMX 2022.