Reinventing the wheel

A collaborative UK research project is gathering data about vehicle loads and using this information to design modern off-highway wheels for light construction and agricultural machinery.

GKN Wheels is leading the project with research partners JCB, Corus, Michelin and Imperial College London, backed by an investment from the Technology Strategy Board.

Since getting underway earlier this year, the first phase of research has involved using a hi-tech wheel force transducer, which is fitted inside a modified wheel rim on a test vehicle. As the test vehicle circuits the JCB test track, the transducer takes measurements of the three forces and three moments acting on the wheel. Having gathered this data, it is then possible to define a service load history that will be used to develop improved wheel analysis and novel test methods.

Steve Cragg, design and development director at GKN Wheels, explained: “Manufacturers of off-highway vehicles are seeking components that add value by providing improved durability or performance. This research data will enable us to produce wheels that perform better for longer, more cost-efficiently.”

While gathering data about wheel loads, the researchers are paying particular attention to investigating how these loads affect the performance of the wheel at its interfaces with both the wheel axle and the tyre. These findings are due to be published by Imperial College London.

Cragg commented: “The interface that exists between the wheel and the vehicle’s axle is the most vulnerable area and is prone to micro-slippage and cracking around the bolt holes. By using new interface materials and surface treatments, we aim to improve the reliability and performance of off-highway wheel design.”

According to Cragg, the collaborative nature of the research project is noteworthy, he concludes:

“This is the first time that the entire supply chain has collaborated in research activity, which will lead to the development of the world’s first optimised off-highway wheel. In doing so, we hope to bring benefits for all involved by creating better, more reliable wheels, using reduced quantities of hi-tech materials.”

Once the entire research data and findings, together with the models developed have been gathered, the research partners will incorporate these into an overall detailed model of an off-highway vehicle. An optimised set of components will also be designed, manufactured and subsequently tested by JCB to validate the developed predictive modelling tools.

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