The New York Times
Sunday, September 30, 2012
Using Aluminum to Lighten Manufacturers’ Load
By NICOLE LaPORTE
SHIPPING pallets, those slatted platforms that fill warehouses, are intended to move heavy loads, not people.
But innovations in their design and manufacture may play an important role in creating a fleet of more environmentally sustainable cars and trucks.
Taylor Hopkins, 24, was part of a five-student research team at Ohio State University that recently created three novel designs for shipping pallets. Ordinary pallets are made of wood; the students’ prototypes are made of aluminum, which lasts longer.
The aluminum pallets are also much lighter than wood pallets, which saves fuel during shipping.
“We were presented with the problem of, try and come up with a new pallet that we thought could make an impact environmentally,” Mr. Hopkins said. “We ended up going with aluminum just because it’s very widely used and it’s lightweight.”
Aluminum is also significantly more expensive than wood, which means that the students’ designs are unlikely to become the industry norm soon. But the technology behind them could be useful to carmakers, which have started to embrace aluminum as a means of building lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles.
“This project is such an interesting microcosm of the challenges that the transportation industry in total is facing, in moving from heavy steel to lightweight aluminum,” said Randall Scheps, automotive marketing director of Alcoa, and chairman of the aluminum transportation group at the Aluminum Association. Mr. Scheps said the student team looked at various methods of joining, or bonding, metals. It also looked at forming, or bending, metals, and at recycling. “These are all issues that the auto industry is facing,” he said.
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