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ELSOHA - Efficient Lightweight Structures in Off-Highway Applications

TWI Composites and Adhesives experts have contributed to an InnovateUK funded collaborative project with the ambitious goal of reducing the weight of the dig end components by as much as 25%. Reducing the weight of those components which are close to the bucket may contribute to increased efficiency or more productive machines.

Many project tenders are now won or lost based upon the predicted amount of CO2 emitted during the construction phases  and a lighter, more efficient off-highway vehicle will deliver reduce CO2 emissions and also attract lower fuel costs.

The consortium partners TWI, JCB and TATA Steel have come together to develop innovative joining, material and simulation technologies that will contribute to an operating fuel saving anticipated to be greater than 5% over the life of the vehicle. Some of these technologies have already been deployed in other industries (aerospace, automotive) and ELSOHA will adapt these technologies to the very challenging and aggressive off-highway environment. 

Figure 1. A JCB JS210 tracked excavator, weighing in at approximately 21 tonnes
Figure 1. A JCB JS210 tracked excavator, weighing in at approximately 21 tonnes

Composite materials

Traditionally, composite materials have found widespread use in applications where significant weight savings are desired. Aerospace and, more recently, automotive sectors have managed to exploit the highly specific properties of composites to offer lightweight solutions that deliver more efficient aircraft and motor vehicles and help achieve reduced CO2 emissions. 

The construction industry is now facing the same needs, but with the added challenge of also delivering the high performance and durability demanded by these heavy engineering tools. Composite materials are generally considered to be more delicate compared to steel and damage can often be difficult to detect. It is, therefore, hard to justify wholesale replacement of the large steel exterior parts of the excavator with lightweight aerospace composites, even though impressive weight savings could be achieved; the vehicles would just not stand up to the same rough handling that JCB customers expect.

There are areas where composites can make an important contribution to shedding weight. The hydraulic actuators can be made using composite cylinders that can reduce the weight of the excavator arm without compromising its durability. In ELSOHA, TWI will help JCB investigate the feasibility of incorporating these new parts and determine what adaptations would be needed to make them a cost-effective solution.

Adhesive bonding

JCB products are generally manufactured as welded steel fabrications due to the harsh operating conditions experienced. Welds can suffer from fatigue and residual stresses, but adhesives offer advantages in these areas and are now in common use in the automotive industry. Adhesive bonding is being investigated in the ELSOHA project as a solution to joining different and potentially new grades of steel to achieve lighter hybrid structures. 

TWI has compared two common structural adhesives and also looked at the effect of several surface preparation techniques, such as Cold Atmospheric Plasma, to determine the feasibility of bonding different steel grades in this demanding application. Single Lap Shear (SLS) testing has shown that adhesives could potentially be an effective contributing technology to lightening the excavator without compromising its performance and durability.

For more information, please email

Avatar Dr Chris Worrall Consultant – Polymer Composite Technologies

Chris is an expert in composite materials and a Consultant at TWI. His 35 year career covers: joining, mechanical behaviour, fire testing, finite element analysis, electromagnetic surface waves and metamaterials. Chris started his career in the oil and gas industry participating in the Marinetech North West project, and also spent 10 years working in Japan in the automotive, aerospace and energy sectors. He has presented guest lectures at Cambridge, Liverpool and Surrey University, and holds the position of ‘Engineer in Residence’ at Liverpool university. Recently, Chris has been supporting the Non-metallic Innovation Centre (NIC) in providing non-metallic solutions for the oil and gas industry.