Composites Today

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A prototype of thermoplastic composites lightweight swap-body for intermodal transport

The MODALIS Group, a French expert in intermodal logistics solutions, announced an innovatiawaon in the field of rail-road freight at JEC World 2024: a lightweight swap-body with greater interior volume. Designed in collaboration with the Belgian engineering firm AGESIA, this intermodal transport unit made from special steels and an innovative composite material offers a whole host of advantages for professionals in the sector.

The MODALIS Group, an intermodal logistics solution provider (manufacture-lease-maintenance of containers, swap-bodies and intermodal wagons, management of intermodal and combined transport terminals, engineering in intermodal solutions and energy savings) and the engineering firm AGESIA, an expert in thermoplastic composites, unveiled their brand-new prototype swapbody with a lightened floor. A ground-breaking innovation, the result of four years’ research and development, this new 45 ft intermodal transport unit codified C45 (L=13.71 m x W= 2.55mx H= 2.9m), the most common model in Europe, dedicated to all European road-rail freight professionals, can easily circulate on all rail and road networks, a considerable asset for European hauliers.

A resistant composites that has economic and ecological benefits

Designed using a composites material, with a thermoplastic ‘structural sandwich’ panel, this new swap-body aims to save almost a tonne, in particular due to the composite panel replacing both the steel crossmembers and the wooden plywood initially used in the floors of this type of transport unit. Its assembly is joined to the special steel stringers by means of a chemical bond, a technology developed and patented by AGESIA called CIB (Covalent Intermediate Bonding).

Also, not that thick, the steel/composite floor offers the largest interior volume on the market, while being extremely strong.

These are decisive advantages, particularly from an economic perspective, for intermodal transport professionals, who will be able to transport more goods with the same body. “There are already lightweight bodies, but they provide less interior volume because the floor is too thick. It’s possible to have units with greater interior volume, but they are heavier. With this new flat rack, we’ll provide a unique product that combines both aspects,” explain Pierre-Nicolas Chilles, MODALIS Technical and Innovation Manager, and Jan Verhaeghe, Managing Director of the engineering firm AGESIA.

There are also ecological advantages in the context of decarbonising transport, because this composite material is 100% recyclable and the quantity of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted per tonne of goods transported intermodally is reduced.

A prototype subjected to many technical tests before going into production

prototypes will eventually be manufactured by CCFC, the Italian manufacturer of road-rail semi-trailers, swap-bodies and containers, which was acquired by MODALIS in January 2023. Following official technical and laboratory tests (more than 250,000 body movements simulated to observe changes in the flat rack over a 20-year period), the lightweight swapbodies will be put into circulation on the road and rail networks for further analysis under real operating conditions. At the same time, the engineering firm has developed a ‘digital twin’ prototype based on fibre optics: cutting-edge technology for intermodal transport! This digital twin makes it possible to reproduce the movements undergone by the swap-bodies over time and thus to anticipate any technical problems so as to enhance the lightweight swap-body prototype.

With this innovation, the Modalis group is pursuing its ambition to offer a sturdy range of innovative equipment to European hauliers, shippers and logistics operators to encourage them to move towards low-carbon intermodal logistics.