Woven Light Rail Design wins Gold at international Innovation Awards

Dr Darren Hughes Associate Professor, Materials and Manufacturing, WMG, the University of Warwick & Andrew Stephenson MP, design of the VLR vehicle
Uni of Warwick Woven Light Rail

A project which has seen its partners create a woven braided carbon fibre composite frame for the Very Light Rail (VLR) disruptive technology solution for the rail industry, has won gold at the JEC World 2020 Innovation Awards, the international composites show.

Very Light Rail (VLR) is a disruptive technology solution for the rail industry. The VLR vision is to develop lightweight, energy efficient rail vehicles that offer low manufacturing and operational costs.There is great potential for VLR to increase mobility in cities, reopen disused branch lines across the UK, and more.

The BRAINSTORM project, which saw partners from Nottingham-based Far-UK, Buckingham-based Composite Braiding, Stratford-upon-Avon based TDI and WMG at the University of Warwick create a woven braided carbon fibre composite frame for a Very-Light Rail (VLR), has won gold in the Category “Railway Vehicles and Infrastructure.”

The JEC World 2020 Innovation awards is the world’s leading international composites show, the awards ceremony took place virtually.

The Innovate UK funded project started in 2018, and engineers from Far-UK, TDI, Composite Braiding and WMG, at the University of Warwick set out to make a lightweight VLR vehicle frame, which is braided from carbon fibre composites into a series of tubes. They created their first prototype demonstrator frame in May 2019, which drew attention from the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Business and Industry, Andrew Stephenson.

The frame is unique as it can be easily assembled by adhesive and simple welding, and can be repaired if damaged, and recycled or reused in other structures at its end of life.

Uni of Warwick – Woven Light Rail 2Dr Darren Hughes Associate Professor in Materials and Manufacturing at WMG at the University of Warwick explained: “It is an honour to have won at the JEC World 2020 Innovation awards, we have worked incredibly hard to create an innovative frame offering significant weight-saving that can allow VLR light rail services to operate in a more sustainable way. Reduced mass leads to a lower requirement for power for propulsion and also lowers the stress placed on the track system. This can also open up significant cost savings.

(Dr Darren Hughes (right) showing Lyndon Sanders Director and General Manager of Far (left of picture) the braiding pattern on the frames.)

“The technology also ensures that the vehicle is tough for a long life in service, easily repairable and strong enough to protect the passengers on board.”

Dr Kevin Lindsey of lightweight structural composite components company, Far-UK Ltd, said: “To have our achievements acknowledged and awarded is validation of our ongoing research into lightweight structures. The design process that we used allowed the development of the ultralight yet safe structure. We are now ready to take structures such as these into higher volume in our new manufacturing facility.”

Uni of Warwick – Woven Ligfht Rail diagramSteve Barbour of Derby-based specialists in thermoplastic braiding company Composite Braiding Ltd said: “It is great that the technology we have been developing has helped lead to such a fantastic outcome. Braiding at rates of over a mile a day, we have a highly automated process that is capable of producing high volume, lower cost structural components that are inherently recyclable. It’s fantastic that the potential has been recognised.”

Paul Salkeld of TDI (Transport Design International) based at Stratford-Upon-Avon added: “The braiding method can be used with a wide range of materials including carbon, glass, basalt and aramid. We hope this can revolutionise the design of future transport, and are actively involved particularly in the rail sector to produce more economical and environmentally beneficial vehicles.”