Mass transit has always been a field of heavy innovation. Riders want more comfort, more safety, and more transport options – while the companies and groups running them are often craving lower costs and more efficiency overall. Even the smallest tweak to a transit system’s overall design can have dramatic consequences, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.
One of the most important topics in the mass transit industry right now is thermoplastics, mostly due to their unique properties and convenient composition. A lot of companies have started to explore major shifts towards using thermoplastics over other materials, meaning that it is common to see thermoplastics in all kinds of transportation-related fields.
But how are thermoplastics used, and what benefits do they actually offer to the mass transit industry? More importantly, what compromises have been made to turn thermoplastics into an industry standard material, and what kind of long-term effects can we expect?
The Benefits of Thermoplastics in Mass Transit
There are a number of reasons why thermoplastics can be such an effective option in the mass transit industry. Not only are they durable and rigid, but most of them are industry-compliant and easy to integrate into any existing designs or products. This also makes them very versatile in general.
The term mass transit refers to public transport, and that means that mass transit vehicles need to withstand a lot of frequent use. Public transport vehicles have very specific design standards and requirements, and there are often a lot of things to consider when choosing the right features or components for each mass transit vehicle.
Either way, thermoplastics can provide a wide range of benefits to any vehicle that they are used in and will be even more beneficial if the vehicle’s base design uses them instead of heavier and weaker materials. Understanding the benefits offered by thermoplastics is not hard, but there are a lot of ways that they can factor into how well a vehicle operates.
The most notable feature of thermoplastics is the fact that they are so light. In many cases, upgrading a vehicle to use as many thermoplastic components as possible can result in over 50% weight savings in total, which is an extreme change to the overall weight of the vehicle.
Regardless of any other factors, the lower weight makes a vehicle easier to control and more practical as a mass transit option. By cutting out excess weight, a vehicle can become a lot more efficient and a lot less of a money-sink, making it a better option for both the passengers and the company that owns it.
Given that thermoplastics are so versatile and easy to work with, it is no surprise that many vehicles have a lot of opportunities to reduce weight. Doors, walls, seats, ceiling panels, bulkheads, window frames, and countless other parts of a vehicle can all be swapped out for something lower-weight and more convenient, leading to easier ways of cutting down total weight levels.
The low weight offered by most thermoplastics serves as the basis for most other beneficial features. This low weight is part of what makes thermoplastics special and is one of the main reasons that many companies will turn to it instead of looking at heavier, less convenient materials that might serve the same roles or niches.
Thermoplastics can be surprisingly durable, with some specific thermoplastic types being designed to stay durable under higher-than-average stress. This added toughness means that they can replace some major parts of certain vehicles while still staying within the same safety limits, providing proper protection and stability as a result.
Most thermoplastics can offer a good combination of strength and rigidity while also boasting low density, making them lightweight but tough. This is a valuable combination in the mass transit industry since it can be hard to balance both of those elements in even the most basic of vehicle designs.
This can make thermoplastics a perfect all-round option for improving vehicles in your mass transit fleet. The improvements from the lower weight are bolstered by, the higher durability, meaning that any vehicle can be optimized for safety and efficiency without one overtaking the other.
Durability is the other most important part of thermoplastics, alongside the light weight. Together, they create a durable but easy-to-use material that is incredibly lightweight, providing the best of both worlds.
Weight has a direct correlation to fuel consumption. Most mass transit vehicles are designed for optimal fuel consumption, which often means reducing unnecessary weight or removing features that are too heavy to be beneficial. With thermoplastics, components can be replaced instead of completely removed, keeping the vehicles lighter – and therefore reducing fuel usage.
Naturally, lower fuel consumption means less money spent on fuel in any given period of time. This higher fuel efficiency can make a larger mass transit network a lot more affordable for the company funding it since even the smallest savings can quickly begin to add up when you look at monthly or yearly running costs.
Whether or not these savings are passed along to the passengers, the lower fuel consumption alone can be a good enough reason to switch to using thermoplastics. The less you spend on fuel, the more money you have to optimize other parts of the system or expand your mass transit options into new areas and niches.
Lower Wear and Tear
The reduced weight also leads to lower wear and tear. Even a small change in weight can be enough to massively reduce how much fuel a vehicle uses during its lifetime, but it also reduces the total amount of strain and excess pressure being placed on the vehicle’s component parts.
This, combined with the higher durability of the thermoplastics in general, means that they can be a long-lasting and highly-convenient option in any situation. Not only are they slower to wear out and require less maintenance overall, but they can handle a lot of strain without breaking or cracking.
As a side effect, this can make thermoplastics a safer choice for vehicles that see a lot of regular, repeated use. If it takes longer for the materials to wear out, then there will be fewer chances of safety issues or health risks occurring during that vehicle’s regular transit schedule, keeping passengers out of danger.
The reduced weight of thermoplastics contributes to less fuel usage, which also means lower emissions. Even with a full load of passengers, this makes it both a profitable and environmentally-conscious alternative for any mass transit vehicle, especially one that burns a lot of fuel on a daily basis.
Even a small change in the number of emissions produced can be significant. A 1% drop can add up to quite a dramatic amount of emissions, especially if you look at the results over a long period of time. If a vehicle needs to run for several years, slashing its emissions can have a notable impact on the amount of pollution that a mass transit system creates.
There is also PR value in reducing emissions. While this is not going to have a direct impact on a mass transit system itself, it can definitely make the groups or companies behind it look slightly better. It also has the benefit of reducing any related pollution taxes or charges that might be associated with the mass transit industry.
How are Thermoplastics Used in Mass Transit?
Thermoplastics serve two different core roles in most mass transit systems: the first is for aesthetics, and the other is for practical purposes. These two can often intertwine, but it is important to remember that they are two different things and that thermoplastics can solve both in different ways.
Thermoplastics allow for the production of interior components – both practical and aesthetic – at a reduced cost. The benefits mentioned earlier are only part of the reason to use thermoplastics since they are also very easy to modify and can be tailored to suit a range of different roles.
This means things like custom finishes and textures, complex part construction, different color options, and in-mold design suitability. Not only does this allow for a lot of complex visual details, but it also ensures that parts can be precision-engineered to suit a particular role or system perfectly.
The high flexibility and customizability of thermoplastics make them ideal for creating various components and pieces of larger projects. This includes mass transit vehicles, ranging from buses and trains to more obscure transport options.
Being able to design a durable and high-quality component so easily makes a big difference. Not only can these components be precision-engineered to replace an existing part, but these parts are often longer-lasting and can withstand more punishment before showing any signs of damage.
Thermoplastics are perfect if you need to match a specific aesthetic, allowing for seamless molding and easy recoloring to suit almost any situation. This makes them a highly versatile and reliable option, especially since manufacturers can try to match the precise color and finish of another material to enforce consistency between different materials.
Because of this, it is common to see thermoplastics used for aesthetic additions as well as practical ones. Their light weight means that the added visual details do not contribute much to the vehicle’s overall fuel consumption and weight, thus improving efficiency.
As an added benefit, most thermoplastics can’t easily chip and will not suffer from faded colors under intense sunlight. This means that there is less need to maintain the materials constantly, saving on time and money while still keeping the vehicle at the same standard of quality throughout most of its functional lifespan.
Thermoplastics are also very commonly used for vehicle exteriors, providing a strong and durable ‘shell’ that can be placed over the rest of the vehicle’s frame. These materials can handle abrasion and corrosion well, withstanding all kinds of weather almost perfectly and ensuring that the vehicle does not suffer too much visual wear and tear through day-to-day use.
Not only can thermoplastics hold up against a lot of punishment, but they are also easy to clean using a range of cleaning chemicals. They will not dissolve or melt when exposed to conventional vehicle cleaning solutions, making it easy to clean off dirt or other kinds of grime that might have built up during their regular operations.
A range of color options and finishes means that the design benefits are not just internal. If vehicles need to match a specific aesthetic or have a certain color palette, then using thermoplastics makes it much easier to meet the specific color codes and finishes required.
Thanks to the relative durability of thermoplastics, they can serve as a great exterior structure for any kind of mass transit vehicle. These materials are strong enough to endure a lot of physical damage without showing any obvious signs of wearing out or breaking, meaning that there will not be nearly as many health and safety concerns as long as nothing serious goes wrong.
A lot of vehicles use thermoplastics for supporting pieces or structural elements, such as window shrouds or housing for lights. This could also include things like components used in bulkheads, support elements for holding up seating, or even partitions between sections of a vehicle.
Whatever the exact parts are, thermoplastics are usually perfect for creating them. Having access to a durable and highly-customizable material ensures that all kinds of complex components can be created with ease, including some very specific and precise creations that are only meant for a single kind of vehicle.
These kinds of extra components are common even in conventional mass transit vehicles that do not rely heavily on thermoplastics. It is not hard for most vehicle designers to get specific parts ordered or made to suit certain roles, which could be anything from unique light housing to a very specific rounded piece meant for smoothing out a sharp metal corner.
Thanks to the sheer amount of variety that thermoplastics can provide, there are no real limits to the number of ways that they can be used. Even in the world of mass transit, there are countless ways to take advantage of thermoplastics, especially given the number of benefits that they can offer to even the most basic of vehicles.