Light-weight alloy wheels may one day be replaced by even lighter plastic wheels or advanced composite versions. A new testing system has been developed that will allow manufacturers to simulate tests for the wheels in the hope that they’ll one day feature on production cars. The benefits of plastic wheels are their lower costs and lighter mass.

Plastic specialists, who developed the wheels using glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) components some time ago, have never been able to test them to meet industry safety regulations. However, that may change with a new simulation developed by Europe’s Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft research facility.

According to a department manager at Fraunhofer, Andreas Büter, who spoke recently with reporters from Automobilwoche, the simulations use tomography imaging to determine the length, curvature and density of the glass fibers used in the wheel. Those parameters, he says, are crucial for the firmness and maximum stress of the material.

This will allow them to forecast how the wheel may react to impacts to a curb or from a crash, as well as long-term reliability. So far, some prototype examples have been tested successfully beyond 250,000km.