The goal of the project is the circular design and prototyping of a velomobile. Velomobiles are human-powered vehicles, which can implement pedal assistance, that are typically used for tourism, sports, “green” deliveries, and, in general, short traveling distances. In recent years, after the boom in demand for electric bikes (+ 44% in 2019-2020), many European countries have experimented a massive introduction of velomobiles as well, given their increased comfort and convenience with respect to bicycles. Velomobiles can accommodate multiple passengers and luggage and can be used when weather conditions are not optimal thanks to the fairing. As a proposing partner, Politecnico di Torino has a long experience in terms of velomobiles, particularly due to the “Policumbent” student team. Since 2009, the team has been designing and prototyping high speed and touring velomobiles.
The velomobile is a system of sufficient complexity to serve as a valuable case study to contextualize the Circular Design (CD) methods, tools and processes by resorting to metrics for sustainability, during the trade-off of design synthesis (Spokes 1 and 2). Moreover, the “Systems Engineering” (SE) approach to design, currently applied by the industry, as a enabling tool for the product life cycle development could be effectively applied. That methodology after accomplishing the requirement, functional, logical and physical analyses, is now expanded in its tools to integrate the main issues of the circular design, to include the dysfunctional analysis of system operation and the decommissioning analysis, corresponding to the product end-life to reuse and regeneration, and materials recycling.
The velomobile is also a multi-component system that is well suited to provide an application to sustainable and augmented materials of different nature (Spokes 3, 4 and 6). Examples include (bio)polymer based materials, also in the form of composites containing fillers coming from waste biomasses for the fairing, coatings to reduce fouling and capture air pollution, sound and heat-absorbing panels made from agri-food industry waste, metal components produced with additive manufacturing to limit weight without compromising performances.
It is worth noting that the existence, from the earliest stages of the project, of a specific application makes it possible to define material requirements and consequently to optimize processing variables. This makes the process of creating new sustainable materials more efficient and in line with the minimization of resources, both at the material and process level, typical of circular design.
The main outcome of the project is obviously the production of the velomobile prototype and its validation. This particular result is in line with a Technology Readiness Level in the [5-6] range and, as such, may be used effectively for dissemination purposes. In fact, the velomobile will fully embody the founding principles of “MICS”. It will be produced entirely in Italy and it will be designed according to “circular economy” keeping “Italy” in mind. It may in fact be used in limited traffic zones (historical downtown areas) and along bike lanes and seafront promenades typical of many Italian touristy locations.
Nevertheless, the velomobile prototype is not the only result, as its design and construction requires a series of milestones that, alone, provide valuable information and transferable skills.
In terms of tools, the integration of the Systems Engineering methodology, as it is currently applied in companies, with the Circular Design is one of the goals of the present project, since the direct application to this test case will enable the deployment of functional and physical modeling activities as well as orchestrating and interoperating the software tools currently candidates for that activity. This task of tool chain design, set-up and testing is a relevant goal for industry, within many domains as the aerospace, automotive, manufacturing engineering to decompose the product complexity, reduce cost and enhancing the implementation of circular economy.
From the standpoint of newly developed sustainable materials, they will have to be “designed” (TRL 1), fabricated and then tested in the laboratory, first at the specimen level (TRL 2-3) and then at an individual component level (TRL 4). Analysis on specimens will allow the physical and mechanical characteristics of the material to be analyzed and then compared to design requirements. The test at the component level will provide the ultimate validation in terms of functionality.