ThinKing February - Combining lightweight high-tech materials with bionic design results in a groundbreaking logistics concept



Loading and unloading of transport vehicles can often cost valuable minutes – and of course time is money. With traffic jams becoming commonplace and the traffic in inner cities more crowded new concepts are needed to ensure rapid delivery times. The German startup CIKONI is making an impressive contribution towards this goal with its lightweight shelves which are featured in the new Vision Van by Mercedes-Benz Vans. The shelves combine high-tech materials with bionic design.

The Development Agency for Lightweighting Baden-Württemberg is presenting this innovation as its ThinKing for February 2017. Leichtbau BW GmbH presents this title each month to provide a free promotion platform to innovative products and services in lightweighting sector of the German Federal State of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Mercedes-Benz Vans presented a revolutionary transporter concept study for urban areas in 2016 with the Vision Van. The van integrates a number of innovative technologies for the final end-point deliveries of products – even using on board drones for the final stretch of the delivery. The manufacturer itself states that it is setting new standards for performance requirements and solutions for future generations of delivery vans.

One-shot loading saves time and costs

The centerpiece of the vehicle is the intelligent cargo space management. It provides assistance both in loading at the logistics center as well as in making the final delivery of packages to the recipients more efficient. The so called one-shot loading helps save the operator time and money during the loading procedure.

The lightweight shelf system developed by CIKONI is designed to be placed into the cargo area after being fully loaded. At the point of delivery, the packages are automatically removed by machines and handed over to a courier or to a delivery drone for the final delivery. This process reduces delivery time as well as the time required for the vehicle to be parked. All in all, the throughput of the vehicle can be significantly increased.

The shelf itself is made of an intelligent material mix of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CRP), aluminum and sandwich design concepts. This design guarantees high stability under hard braking conditions and sharp curves while at the same time keeping weight low. The designers cleverly took advantage of the attributes of the different materials. Weaknesses of the individual materials can be targeted and eliminated by combining different materials. Integrated support points for the load bearing elements using integrated functional surfaces minimize wear from friction and shock absorbers protect the shelves while reducing the need for additional components.

Racks must be practical and visually appealing

The shelves are expected to fulfill several difficult requirements. They must be designed to make the most out of the van’s cargo space while at the same time keeping weight to a minimum and maintaining stability under a load of up to 500 kilograms each while the vehicle is in motion. The racks must also be easy to handle to meet the robust requirements of the logistics industry. A bold new design was also requested in order to fit visually with the futuristic look of the Vision Van. Despite all these difficult requirements, the CIKONI shelves were designed and built in an extremely short time.

The design of the shelves was based on a bionic principle inspired by the structure of a tree. Topology optimization and computer aided optimization (CAO) were used intensively to finalize the design. The shelves were then crafted using the bionic design out of an aluminum hybrid blend and numerically optimized by utilizing the degrees of freedom of the fiber reinforced construction. The completed structure is extremely anisotropic, integrating material only where it is needed to bear specific loads.

The construction of the shelves was carried out in close collaboration with established companies such as UBC and Hermann Blechtechnik, both from the same region. The manufacturing process depends on adaptable development methods and rapid concept turnaround. Dr. Farbod Nezami, managing director of CIKONI, commented on the project noting, "Everyone involved was open for innovative developments and that is not always a given." Press Release