Graphene Reinforced Concrete, Denso and Honeywell Team Up for Electric Air Taxis and Peloton Opens a US Factory

This Week in Engineering explores the latest in Engineering from academia, government and industry.

Episode Summary:

The UK-based University of Manchester and Nationwide Engineering have test poured a commercial concrete slab using a mix reinforced with graphene instead of the usual rebar, and the results show 30% better strength per unit volume, and an unexpected benefit: lower CO2 emissions.

Automotive Tier 1 heavyweight Denso Corporation has formed an alliance with aerospace systems supplier Honeywell to develop electric propulsion systems for a new generation of urban air mobility vehicles. The partnership is expected to combine Denso’s high-volume automotive mass production expertise with Honeywell’s extensive experience in aircraft power systems to produce certified hardware at unit costs low enough to make autonomous air vehicles a practical proposition.

Exercise equipment maker Peloton has announced that the firm will open its own US manufacturing facility in Troy, Ohio. Built on a 200-acre campus, combined facilities will cover over 1,000,000 ft.² and will give the company supply certainty at an unusual time for the company: unprecedented demand, combined with disrupted supply from the firm’s traditional Asian manufacturing base. The new plant will join two other smaller factories acquired by Peloton in December of 2020.

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Transcript of this week’s show:

Segment 1: Are composites the future of concrete? A joint-venture between the UK-based University of Manchester and alumni led construction firm Nationwide Engineering is exploring that question with the world’s first test of a graphene enhanced concrete called Concretene. The test slab, the floor of a new gym, has been poured, and the team reports high-strength with no steel reinforcement. Depending on project size, Nationwide Engineering predicts a 10 to 20% cost savings for customers. Using small amounts of graphene functional filler, Concretene is 30% stronger pound for pound than the typical high-performance reinforced C 30 grade concrete used for flooring applications for foot traffic. According to the University, there are climate impacts as well. Concrete production accounts for 8 percent of global CO2 emissions…if concrete was a country, it would be the third largest CO2 emitter in the world, behind only China and the US. The graphene reinforcement acts not only mechanically, but also as a catalytic surface for the hydration reaction that’s key to the setting of concrete mixes also enhancing the bond with the matrix, essential for any good filled matrix composite. The University of Manchester’s 

Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre is working with  structural engineers HBPW Consulting to commercialize the technology and Nationwide Engineering has multiple UK rail and government contracts where the CO2 reduction alone is a significant advantage. If applied to global concrete production, graphene-reinforced concrete could reduce global CO2 emissions from all sources,  by 2 percent, Carbon based composite reinforcement isn’t just for aerospace anymore. 

Segment 2: Multiple startups are working on electrically powered air taxis, so much so that the nascent industry has its own acronym: UAM, for urban air mobility. In it’s final development, the urban air mobility industry hopes to deploy point-to-point short range air transport in urban areas using carbon free battery electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, flown autonomously. Most work to date has been done by startups, and small prototype operations, but in a major development, two leading manufacturing companies are entering the market: automotive Tier 1 heavyweight Denso, and aerospace system supplier Honeywell. The two companies have established an alliance to develop electric propulsion systems for both air taxis and airborne drone delivery vehicles. The alliance follows a 2019 collaboration to develop all electric and hybrid prototypes. Honeywell had independently developed a hybrid motor generator prototype, using a standard HTS 900 APU type turbine connected to two 200 kW generators. That system was designed to feed motors directly or charge batteries. The alliance is significant because it combines the high-volume mass production capability of Denso’s automotive business units, including hybrid, electric and fuel cell experience, with Honeywell’s expertise in aircraft systems, and as importantly, with development of systems subject to FAA certification. The move suggests that the projected market for flying taxis is well beyond conventional aircraft production volumes, which means thousands or tens of thousands, rather than hundreds. Will we see flying taxis in urban areas before the end of the decade? When industry heavyweights like Honeywell and Denso invest, the likelihood improves significantly.

Segment 3: With the Covid 19 pandemic causing widespread lockdowns, one industry that has seen meteoric growth has been the exercise equipment segment. Popular stationary bike and treadmill manufacturer Peloton has been a noteworthy success, combining home machines with cloud connected and trainer lead live workouts. In a significant shift for the company, which traditionally used Asian manufacturers, the firm has announced its first American factory, a $400 million operation in Troy Township in northern Ohio. The new factory will be built on a 200-acre site and is expected to employ over 2000. Over 1,000,000 ft.² of production and office space will be constructed. Operations are expected to begin in 2023. The US manufacturing base will address one of the fundamental problems experienced by Peloton and other companies reliant on Covid affected supply chains: delays. For Peloton in particular, the same virus that has turbocharged demand for their product, made it more difficult to deliver to US markets, and domestic production should alleviate that problem. The new factory announcement follows the December acquisition of fitness equipment manufacturer Precor in a $420 million deal that included Precor’s 625,000 ft.² of manufacturing capacity in North Carolina and Washington State.  The company will continue to market products under both brands. Covid 19 has affected billions worldwide, but for American manufacturing, there may be a silver lining in a new emphasis on re-shoring, and on supply chain costs as a fundamental part of total cost of goods sold. The days of assembly-line wages forming the determining factor in manufacturing site location may truly be over. 

Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.