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Trucks at Work

Testing one, two, three ...

As we all know, trucks and cars alike – and all the components that comprise those two classes of vehicles – get rigorously tested in a variety of ways before going into final production. And, as we also all know so well, such testing never quite eliminates all the “bugs” that can plague those ever-more complex machines, unfortunately.

Still, all sorts of laboratory-based efforts and punishing test track courses help vehicle engineers at least get rid of the obvious weak points.

For starters, let’s look at cars – in this case Volvo Group’s testing facility in Hällered, Sweden, opened a few years back primarily for the testing of new traffic-safety solutions.

“Our engineers are developing the next generation of intelligent systems to assist the driver,” noted Torbjörn Holmström, Volvo’s chief technology officer (and these guys are a wholly separate entity from the truck folks, mind you) who pointed out the company is expanding its facility with a whole new wing due to be completed in 2014.

“Hällered is where we will be able to test the intelligent safety systems that we are currently developing, which will bring us closer to our goal of [developing] products resulting in zero accidents,” he added.

[You can watch some of the testing that takes place out on the Hällered test track in the video clip below, along with some seriously overwrought narration, too.]

Holmström said that the new testing facility to be opened at Hällered in two years time will focus on simulating such conditions as: monotonous driving on national roads with the sudden appearance of obstacles; city environments with both vehicle and human dummies and multilane roads with many vehicles; and subjecting “long vehicle combinations” (read as: tractor-trailers) to highly demanding maneuvers, all for the purpose of developing even more effective protection against roll-over accidents.

“As with all new technologies, extensive testing is required in sheltered environments before tests can be conducted in real traffic situations,” Holmström added.

Of course, test track work is expensive, so OEMs typically conduct their first round of vehicle and component experimentation in laboratories large and small. Now, however, truck component maker Meritor is adding a new twist to this process – converting a tractor-trailer into a unique mobile testing unit, dubbed the “Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory,” so the company can support equipment field tests anywhere across North America.

“Remote testing capabilities are critical to product development,” noted Tim Burns, VP & GM-defense & specialty products for Meritor. “This lab allows us to provide on-site support at U.S. government and independent test sites, with the lab's vehicle test data acquisition capability reducing development time by allowing immediate optimization of ride and handling characteristics so we can tune the products to best fit real-world environments.”

He added that Meritor’s Vehicle Dynamics lab is outfitted with advanced chassis development equipment including: two shock dynamometers; a 50-ton press; a coil spring compressor for oversized military high-rate springs; and a large wet bench and alignment equipment.

It also has video equipment for documentation and is connected directly to the company’s development center in Troy, MI, through a wireless network, Meritor noted.

"This direct link allows data transmission back and forth for additional analysis by the vehicle dynamics and controls teams,” pointed out Simon Dean, senior director of advanced engineering & electronics for Meritor. “The information is correlated on the full vehicle simulator in the Troy test lab, which further proves product performance and capabilities.”

Pretty cool stuff if you ask me. 

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