Insights from industry

Process and Application of Lightweight Structures

Andrew Dugmore, President of TRB Lightweight Structures, talks to AZoM about the process and application of lightweight structures.

Can you provide me with a brief overview of TRB Lightweight Structures?

TRB was started in the ‘50s to build components for the aerospace industry. The original founder co-developed an adhesive called Redux® which allowed wing and fuselage panels to be stronger and lighter than a riveted structure. It also made possible early composite structures which fundamentally changed the aerospace industry. Amazingly enough, Redux® is still a popular high-performance adhesive today.

Over the next half-century, TRB built their knowledge in lightweight materials and began to address the needs of many industries. Today we have a strong portfolio of customers in the Rail, Aerospace, Marine and Automotive industry.

We help companies design and build high-performance products that decrease weight and increase performance. Even if you haven’t heard of TRB, you will likely have used a product built by us.

What kind of lightweight materials do you use? How do these compare to traditional materials with similar applications?

We utilize a wide variety of materials, depending on the application. We regularly employ composites, aluminium, and a wide variety of honeycomb and foam to replace steel or even wood structures. If you look at carbon fiber as one example, it can often be four times stronger and four times lighter than a similar structure made from steel. That is dependent on the application and the many variations of carbon fibre.

How will the future of mass transit be transformed by lightweight material?

Mass transit is often barely profitable, or subsidized by government. Reducing costs by even a small amount can have a big effect on the profitability or viability of a mass transit project. By reducing the mass of a moving vehicle, you reduce the energy needed to make it move. A relatively small weight reduction can have a big effect on the performance and/or efficiency of moving vehicles.

Composite materials also enable new designs. For example, you can create components with fewer parts, perhaps no bolts or welds, and shapes that were not possible with metal may be possible with composites.

The automotive industry is a good example: If you reduce the weight of the vehicle, you can make vehicles much more efficient and safe. Rocky Mountain Institute is doing a lot of great research in this field and they have shown that by decreasing the weight you can increase fuel efficiency by 50% even if you don’t change the powertrain.

“Our passion really comes from reducing the weight in transport. Reducing the weight, thus reducing fuel consumption and ultimately emissions.”

Why are lightweight materials essential for weight reduction in rail vehicles?

Over the years, trains have been steadily increasing in weight as more features and amenities have been added. Everything from communications equipment to bigger and better climate, air conditioning and heating systems. That has added a lot of weight to a train. Costs have steadily increased with those weight gains. When you consider that trains usually run for 30 years at an average 400,000 miles per year, reducing the weight of a train is critical to reducing lifecycle, maintenance and running costs not only of the trains but the track infrastructure as well.

Is lightweight material suitable for high volume production?

There is nothing inherent about lightweight material, or about composites, that make it unsuitable for high volume production. There are challenges, but they are being overcome, just like they were for other materials such as steel many years ago. We are involved in quite a few projects with tens of thousands of units being produced cost-effectively. Aircraft parts are now being made from carbon fibre in high-volume processes which only a few years ago were not thought to be practical. And there are many examples in the automotive industry where volumes are steadily increasing. At TRB, we believe that new resin formulations and robotic tools for placing materials will have a big effect on production times and cost.

What major projects are currently putting your lightweight material at the forefront of the material engineering industry?

Often it isn’t any individual material that makes one of our projects unique. It’s the understanding of which materials to use, in what combinations. That understanding leads to better designs, efficient manufacturing and quality end products.

That being said, we are working on some innovative materials. While I can’t speak publicly about any of those right now, I can tell you that one of our materials is under evaluation by one of the largest global aerospace companies.

Your website states that TRB’s goal is to enable clean technologies and decreases fuel use. What are you doing to support this goal?

The vast majority of our projects support that goal. Our main focus is producing lightweight products in the rail and aerospace industries and, as we’ve discussed in this interview, reducing vehicle weight decreases fuel use and ultimately emissions.

Hitachi Class 800 Standard Interior.

Hitachi Class 800 Standard Interior.

Hitachi Class 800 First Class Interior.

Hitachi Class 800 First Class Interior.

As an example, we are involved in the HS2 project as well as being a preferred interiors supplier for Hitachi. Our mutual goal is to take as much weight as possible out of each of the components we’re working on.

Where can we find further information on your products and services?

Further information can be found at the TRB website.

About Andrew Dugmore

Andrew Dugmore

Andrew Dugmore is President of TRB Lightweight Structures. Andrew has over twenty years of experience in the composites industry and is currently on the board of the Composites UK association.










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