“Industrial origami” manufacturing technology could make heavy transportation greener


HGVs (Heavy Goods Vehicles) are responsible for almost a fifth (19%) of domestic transport emissions in the UK and over a quarter across Europe. But new research suggests that constructing HGV semi trailers using origami-inspired manufacturing technology could significantly reduce the environmental impact of heavy transportation around the globe.

Swedish technology and design startup STILRIDE has created proprietary sustainable manufacturing technology, called STILFOLD, which involves the use of robotic arms to fold steel over curves to form light and strong new structures, using minimal component parts.

The technology is currently being used to build a fleet of sustainable steel electric motorbikes, reducing the environmental impact of EV production by as much as 50%.

But the firm also estimates that if used to build semi-trailers, STILFOLD could remove the need for approximately 360,000 HGV journeys to be made a year and prevent up to 12,000 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, by increasing HGVs’ load capacity by 5% and making semi-trailers more efficient.


1. Design

To reach this estimate, STILRIDE’s design team first worked out how they could build a semi trailer by folding sheets of steel over curves using STILFOLD, with the aim of decreasing the trailer’s total weight and simplifying its construction. In their design, they reimagined the traditional ladder frame used in semi trailers, instead creating an “origami” exoskeleton using origami-inspired steel folding. The outer shell is composed of two steel sheets with one main weld and eight, strategically-placed folds. This gives the necessary structure and keeps the weight down.

2. Performance

The STILRIDE designers focused on making their semi trailer more aerodynamic and improving its material efficiency to make it strong yet light. The STILFOLD trailer requires 90% fewer component parts (compared to traditional models) and can be constructed using 30% fewer materials. The STILFOLD trailer would weigh an estimated 2000kg less than traditional semi trailers, weighing in at 6000kg (compared to ~8000kg for existing models). The STILRIDE designers aimed to simplify elements of the design and use fewer materials whilst retaining the trailer’s structural integrity; and to improve the trailer’s performance to reduce HGVs’ fuel consumption whilst enabling HGVs to carry heavier loads.

3. Impact

To work out the impact their design could have, researchers analysed Swedish transportation data with a focus on the construction and mining sector.

The data shows that in Sweden, 44 million journeys are made by HGVs annually, with over 492 million tonnes of goods being transported over 3.4 billion kilometres. A large proportion of these journeys are short and involve supplying the construction and mining sector with materials and resources. These journeys account for 33% (161.5 million tonnes) of the freight transported within Sweden each year.

The mining and construction sector has an average 22 tonne maximum load limit for each journey. Assuming that at least 50% of all journeys are made using a HGV or LGV (Large Goods Vehicle) with a trailer attached, and 60 - 70% of the load capacity is enabled by the trailer, STILRIDE calculates that around 48 million tonnes of material are being transported by trailer in the mining and construction sector annually.

The STILFOLD trailer is two tonnes lighter than the semi trailers currently in use. If just 50% of the 7,346,000 yearly journeys within the mining and construction sector gained 2 tonnes of load capacity each year, this would create a load increase of 7,346,000 tonnes which represents 5% of the total yearly tonnage transported within the mining and construction sector in Sweden.

STILRIDE researchers estimate this load increase could mean 360,000 heavy load journeys could be prevented each year, preventing 12,000 tonnes of CO2-eq from entering the atmosphere annually.


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