The EUREKA E! 3722 4 SAVE project has resulted in a design for high tech polyvalent rescue vehicles able to take paramedics to a disaster area and immediately carry up to four patients away for treatment. The key element was the development of a completely new type of four-stretcher support that can be installed in different vehicles. The box kit uses high performance materials and can be adapted to a range of vehicles while offering weight reductions of up to 50% compared with previous products. Principal specifications include the ability to withstand a loading of 10 G, equivalent to an unbraked impact at 30 km/h. The rescue vehicles are easy and safe to operate, and simple to clean and disinfect.
Environment disasters and terrorist attacks are putting ever increasing pressure on the rescue services as they often have to take care of a high number of victims in a very short period. In particular, there is a need to get medical teams to a disaster area rapidly with all the equipment they require and to transfer as many patients as possible to hospital or other place for treatment as quickly as possible.
The 4 SAVE project therefore set out to increase the carrying capacity of rescue vehicles by developing a self-supporting double-deck four-stretcher system that could be fitted to a range of different on- and off-road vehicles. It had not only to surpass current safety standards significantly but also to have higher strength with lower total weight.
Extensive experience in rescue vehicles
German project co-ordinator System Strobel has been building ergonomic rescue, ambulance and emergency response vehicles for more than 20 years. It started as a vehicle body repair shop some 60 years ago but became involved in adapting standard vans to emergency use and improving the interior design of ambulances at the request of its local St John Ambulance Brigade.
Success in this area led to a rapid expansion in the design and production of cost-effective customised products to DIN and other widely recognised standards. These vehicles are widely used by the emergency response organisations – ambulance services, fire brigades and NATO forces – in Germany, around Europe and as far afield as India, Thailand, Kazakstan and Egypt. System Strobel now markets a range of aluminium-sandwich box-body adaptations based on standard on- and off-road vehicles such as Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz and Fiat vans and Unimog multi-purpose four-wheel-drive lorries.
Austrian partner EMPL is a leading European manufacturer of customised heavy goods vehicle (HGV) bodies, tailored to the specific requirements of clients and market trends. Its products include computer numerical control (CNC) manufactured superstructures for fire engines, mobile workshops, food delivery vehicles and military transport. It has a particular expertise in the adaptation of box bodies to Unimog off-road vehicle subframes.
The high capacity model developed in the EUREKA project demanded a different approach from existing equipment. "Our design required totally new ideas and construction, including use of high performance aeronautics and aerospace materials, such as titanium and carbon fibre," explains Thomas Strobel of System Strobel. The project involved the development of aluminium extruded sections as guidance rails for the stretchers, specially protected links and pivots from high-grade steel with clamping guards, new fittings for different DIN and NATO stretcher standards and space-saving collapsible seats with retractor belts for the paramedics.
The design provides a comfortable self-contained loading and unloading system for a high charging level, particularly suitable for the type of off-road vehicle needed for rapid access to disaster zones. "Our four-stretcher carrier is adjustable at the front and rear end to cope with the state of shock of the patient," adds Strobel. "For easy maintenance all our loaded components are made of stainless steel. And all profiles are rounded for safety and comfort."
Key innovations included an aluminium stamping process for the rails, a global first, and an intelligent balancing system involving mechanical and gas piston springs for
easy and maintenance-free operation. "The final and successful crash test proved the effectiveness of our latest construction. The four-stretcher carrier completely satisfies the requirements of a modern rescue service in a compact form," says Strobel.
The resulting box kit can be adapted to a range of vehicles while offering a weight reduction of up to 50% compared with previous products. The maximum safety of the rescue team and patients is ensured through safe construction with rounded profiles. The kit surpasses current safety standards significantly, and is easy to operate and clean.
Benefiting from each others' knowhow
System Strobel worked very closely with EMPL on the vehicle development, particularly on the adaption of the Unimog subframe. "We chose to work together because we benefited from each others' know how," explains Strobel. "EUREKA helped us find funding and was an excellent partner." Moreover, the co-operation was particularly smooth. "Specific intermediate results were well communicated, so that everybody always knew about each others' advances."
The two small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) would certainly like to work together again in such a project, according to Strobel. "Our collaboration is a good example for the global market and normal at this time. The big advantage is the combination of know how."
As a result of the success in the two-year EUREKA project, which finished in early 2008, the new technology should be starting in serial production in late 2009.