CAR BODY design is set for radical change. Since the earliest days of railways, rolling stock has been fabricated using ’hot and dirty’ manufacturing processes. Now the days of welding large metal structures are numbered, and they are set to give way to ’cold and clean’ processes like bonding, bolting and rivetting. The technology has already found application in the structure of light rail cars and similar vehicles such as the RegioSprinter. Now the processes have been refined so that they can be used for main line passenger coaches as well.

This is the view of Dr Walter Grüebler, President of Alusuisse Composites, who unveiled on September 10 the newly-completed manufacturing plant for transport composites at the former Schindler Waggon site in Altenrhein, Switzerland. The SFr12m factory can supply all kinds of complex composite structures for rail and other applications. Apart from high-performance locomotive noses and LRV bodies made by filament winding, Alusuisse can also develop and supply integrated components that incorporate equipment and interior trim.

Jürg Zehnder, Managing Director of Alusuisse Road & Rail, added that Alusuisse is now in a position to supply all elements needed for car bodies: aluminium profiles, flat sandwich panels and sophisticated three-dimensional structural elements as well as complete pre-assemblies. The once prohibitive but now drastically reduced price of carbon fibres means that truly hybrid structures for full-length commuter and main line railway vehicles are feasible, making it possible to take advantage of the specific properties of each technology in the place where it is needed most. Weight and investment savings as well as subsequent reductions in life-cycle cost are the result. In the last 30 years the proportion of aluminium used in coaches has risen from 0·1% to 80%. Zehnder anticipates a similar development for hybrid structures.

Alusuisse recently announced a merger with Canada’s Alcan and the French Péchiney group, turning it into one of the world’s biggest aluminium manufacturers. Alusuisse expects that its Road & Rail operation will remain unchanged.