US car manufacturer Ford has invested €70-million in a new weather factory, based in Germany.
The facility features three climate wind tunnels, including a high-altitude lab, and four temperature-controlled test chambers.
Officially named the Ford Environmental Test Centre, the facility allows the company to simulate a wide variety of weather and environmental conditions, including gale-force winds, driving rain and snow storms.
The centre boasts the first automotive wind tunnel that can simulate conditions at 5 200 m above sea level, the same elevation as the Mount Everest North Base Camp.
The facility can also cool two rooms to -40 ˚C and heat them up to 55 ˚C, as well as generate 95% humidity.
The temperature extremes make the facility at Ford’s John Andrews Product Development Centre in Cologne, Germany, the hottest, coldest and most humid place in Europe, as well as home to the highest point in Western Europe.
Overall, the facility requires 11 MW of electricity, enough to power a small town with 2 400 inhabitants.
“The vast range of punishing simulation tests will enable Ford drivers to be confident their vehicles can handle whatever climate zone they live in,” says Ford of Europe product development VP Joe Bakaj.
“Travelling to the four corners of this building is like taking a trip to the four corners of the world, and our engineers will do that around the clock, every day, to continue to develop future best-in-class vehicles.”
Engineers can work on up to ten different vehicles simultaneously.
Testing covers comfort, safety and durability, as well as electrical performance, braking, air conditioning, trailer towing, cabin heating and traffic jam situations.
Engineers analyse the effects of high speed winds on exterior parts, check the robustness against rain and snow, and see how fast a windscreen defrosts at different temperatures.
“The Environmental Test Centre represents a significant investment for Ford of Europe that will help enable the company here to develop vehicles for global markets,” says Bakaj.
“We can see how windshield wipers function in Arctic temperatures, how engine performance changes in extreme heat and cold, and even how much snow falls on the driver’s head when they open the door. It’s an engineer’s dream,” adds Ford of Europe Environmental Test Centre project manager Michael Steup.
The Answer is Blowing in the Wind
Wind tunnel 1 at Ford’s Environmental Test Centre is set up for hot and cold immersion testing.
The 28 spotlights with 4 000 W bulbs help to simulate the sun, which enables engineers to check how fast the vehicle cabin can be cooled.
This wind tunnel can also evaluate the interior noise from vehicle systems at different speeds, temperatures and humidity levels, to determine the heating and air conditioning noise.
Wind tunnel 2 is set up for hot and cold immersion testing. Engineers use this wind tunnel to make snow and rain, to check the effect on visibility, engine starts and how long it takes to heat the cabin.
Wind tunnel 3 is the altitude lab, where engineers can test vehicles at wind speeds of up to 120 km/h, at up to 5 200 m above sea level.
The high altitude cold start and durability tests ensure the vehicle’s liquids don’t burst their lines when working under higher pressure.
More than half of Ford vehicles worldwide are sold in territories with roads above 1 000 m.