The lightweight universal genius

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Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: BPW, Getty Images, Fotolia

With Airlight II, BPW has further developed its universal air suspension for use in the range of nine to twelve tonnes. The round axle beam, innovative materials and laser-assisted production make it the lightest running gear on the market. Denis Wierwille, BPW Product Manager Trailer Solutions & Mobility Services, explains the technology and know-how behind it.

You refer to the Airlight II air suspension as “BPW’s universal talent” – what exactly does this product do?
Airlight II is our modular solution for all applications in the nine to twelve tonne range. With this suspension, we can provide a very large number of variants in addition to the near-standard versions with an axle load of nine tonnes, which can be used for a wide range of vehicles and therefore also transport tasks, depending on the configuration. In principle, we can therefore serve any special application. The advantage for our customers is that they can select exactly the configuration they need for their specific application from this modular system – from lightweight construction to heavy-duty off-road use with a twelve-ton axle load.
What kind of applications might these be?
With this new generation of running gears, we can save up to 60 kilograms of weight in the tri-axle suspension – 20 kilograms per module in the nine-ton offroad range. Among other things, we can thus offer the lightest configuration available on the market in the nine tonne range without compromising on quality: it is particularly suitable for transporting liquid goods such as heating oil or petrol. Another application, the opposite extreme so to speak, is the transport of logs on unpaved roads in the forest: Here you need very robust running gears. We can also offer this with Airlight II by using a different axle beam cross-section, greater wall thicknesses and additional brake sizes. Here we would also prescribe the welded coupling piece. But Airlight II can do even more: For example, it can be configured for very low ride heights to enable the transport of construction vehicles on low-loaders.

»We can basically serve any specialty application with Airlight II.«

Denis Wierwille, BPW Product Manager Trailer Solutions & Mobility Services

BPW has been producing this air suspension for several decades. How do you optimise them?
We continuously observe what our customers’ needs are, and we are always developing all products and solutions further, taking BPW’s quality standards into account. For example, we have developed the lightweight solution because the trend in the market is towards vehicles that allow maximum payload. Our development department then checks, among other things, which components can be replaced by lightweight components: We were able to reduce the weight of the module with the LightTube trailing arm and aluminum hub, among other things. We test all developments in-house, on our own test rigs and test tracks. Millions of kilometres are covered so that we can guarantee an absolutely safe product.
The advantages for hauliers are obvious: greater efficiency, lower fuel consumption and more payload.
Exactly. When transporting liquids, for example, every litre that you can fill more into the tank counts because it means more revenue.
In off-road use, weight probably doesn’t play a major role?
Not necessarily. The more the legislator prescribes climate protection measures, the more the entire industry is moving in the direction of using vehicles that are as light as possible. And more and more vehicle operators are noticeably open-minded and interested in innovations. Nevertheless, in the end it always depends on the application for which a vehicle is intended.
For a long time, BPW was known for the square-axle beam, but now you have successfully switched to round axle beams . What makes for stability here?

We process the contact surfaces of the components that are clamped onto the axle beam using special laser technology. We were able to use the experience gained with our ECO Air modular chassis for the Airlight II air suspension kit. In Airlight II, there is a component that clamps the steering spring around the axle with the help of the spring U-bolts: the so-called spring pads. The material on the contact surface is processed by laser in such a way that the components virtually bite into each other and create a very robust connection. Laser processing has the advantage that the material is both roughened and hardened: Previous forming technologies could not achieve this. Here at BPW we can build on very strong process know-how that is unique in the market – just like these particularly robust, clamped coupling pieces.

»LightTube and aluminium hub reduce the weight of Airlight II from around 400 to under 370 kilograms per module. That is by far the benchmark in the market, no one can do that but us.«

Denis Wierwille, BPW Product Manager Trailer Solutions & Mobility Services

The spring seat arrangement has been redesigned – what are the advantages in use compared to previous designs?

Up to now, we have used the clamped spring seat arrangementfor axle beams with a 120 millimeter square profile, with axle beam wall thicknesses of ten and 15 millimeters. The new, round axle beam profile measures 146 millimeters in outer diameter with a wall thickness of ten millimeters. In combination with the new spring seat arrangement, both types of predecessor axle beams can now be replaced. Depending on the application, this reduces weight to varying degrees. In the area of typical tipper applications, this saves around 20 kilograms per module.

Why does BPW in particular succeed in offering innovations time and again, even in the field of sophisticated running gear technology?
We have decades of experience, among other things in the individual development of components and in particular with their interaction. We consistently build on this knowledge and know-how. Coupled with innovative spirit and a good portion of courage, such innovations become possible. In addition, our own in-house testing department gives us a great deal of expertise in testing new concepts. And it is obvious that it is a great advantage that we can implement such projects within the framework of a family business that is geared towards long-term market success.
What is the feedback from customers so far?
We get very good feedback, both in terms of the usable load and the quality of the air suspension. For example, we have already been able to convince several large vehicle manufacturers to use LightTube as a standard solution. For us, the next step is now to convert the entire Airlight II range to the round axle beam by probably 2023. Due to the diversity of variants and the associated different product requirements, the introduction will take place in stages. We are currently tackling this task at full speed.
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