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Testing in the Extremes: How Ford’s Multiple Testing Facilities Push Vehicles to the Limit

Ford’s complete lineup of testing facilities around the globe puts vehicles through everything from the extraordinary, to the everyday, to guarantee that only world-class vehicles roll off the production line.

Across facilities in Thailand, India, Australia, the Middle East and China, Ford vehicles and components are ‘shaken, rattled and rolled’ in an assortment of tests, some directed in temperatures ranging from an arctic minus 40 degrees Celsius, to desert-scorching heat of over 50 degrees Celsius.

The Middle East
Based out of Jebel Ali, near Dubai, in the UAE, the engineering team at Ford’s Product Development base take the warmth during testing regularly.

Thanks to extremely high ambient temperatures throughout the summer months – and a nation canvassed primarily in rambling desert landscapes – hot weather testing in the UAE places vehicles under genuine conditions very dissimilar to that accomplished anywhere else on the planet.

“With encompassing temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius, we need to ensure our cooling systems, engine, transmission, driveline systems, and also our passenger comfort are all robust to temperatures like this,” said Ziyad Dallalah, Chief Resident Engineer, Ford Middle East and Africa. “Driving in profound sand puts a special burden on the engine and transmission – with high revs at low speed. That implies the engine works very hard, placing demands on systems that rely on the engine for power – like the air-conditioning.”

Dust and sand can also play havoc with engine internals and suspension components by quickening wear on moving parts, so the team additionally screens sand and dust egress on the engine, dampers and the lodge to ensure each Ford stays an agreeable spot to be, even in the peak heat of a Middle East summer.

Thailand and India
The Ford labs in Thailand and India are on the cutting edge of keeping up customer mental soundness by eliminating the little things about vehicles that drivers can regularly discover exasperating.

At Ford’s ‘Voice of the Customer’ Fleet facilities at the Ford Thailand Manufacturing (FTM) plant, and Sanand Vehicle Assembly Engine Plant (SVAEP) in India, engineers walk in the shoes of customers, emulating the rough and tumble they might put their vehicle through in a variety of conditions and climates. In one of the labs, an environmental road simulator recreates years of travelling over tricky road surfaces, like cobblestones, to check that there are no annoying squeaks or rattle noises.

Hot and cold chambers at both facilities test the usefulness of things like the rear liftgate, the hood and electrical highlights such as the interior heater in temperatures ranging from a sweltering 49 degrees Celsius, to a bone-chillingly low minus 29 degrees. While customers in Thailand and India are pretty unlikely to experience temperatures that low, the team needs to consider customers in the dozens of cold climate countries the Ranger pickup, Everest SUV, EcoSport and Figo are exported to throughout the world.

“Testing our vehicles under controlled environmental conditions enables us to ensure our clients by catching issues related to fluctuating temperatures and distinctive road surfaces,” said Jay Rada, Asia Pacific Voice of the Customer Fleet Manager, New Model Program.

Ford’s You Yangs Proving Ground (YYPG) in the kangaroo-filled paddocks outside Melbourne, Australia is the oldest of Ford’s testing facilities in Asia Pacific, and is also home to some of the most demanding tests conducted anywhere in the industry. Given the rapid changes now underway in the global auto business, Ford’s 950-hectare facility is currently undergoing an upgrade, allowing the company to test a greater range of products and driver assist technologies.

One of the many tests that prototype and pre-production vehicles will undergo at the proving ground is the Total Durability Cycle. This sped-up evaluation runs around the clock, day and night, to simulate 10 years, or 240,000km, of severe customer usage in just a few weeks. Gravel roads, cobblestones, pot-holes, curbs and water baths feature in this grueling test. Just for good measure, environmental factors like dust, water and mud are thrown in, while dynamometers simulate towing heavy loads in traffic and over mountain passes.

“The reason we go to such extraordinary lengths of testing is to guarantee our clients are buying the most ideal vehicle,” said Stephen Andrews, Corrosion Supervisor at Ford’s testing facility in Australia.

“These tests push the vehicle a lot more than your typical consumer would, so we can be certain about the reality they will perform when out in the real world – and if we find anything untoward during testing stages, we have the chance to amend it,” added Andrews.

Another extreme test Ford engineers undertake at the YYPG is the full Vehicle Corrosion Test, which runs for 12 weeks straight, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so vehicles can withstand even the most humid, salty conditions a coastal life can bring.

Comprising of a controlled dampness drenching, followed by a shake-down over different road surfaces, this laborious test exposes the vehicle to salt, dust and gravel, at the same time encompassing temperatures and moistness levels drop and spring back like a yo-yo.

The total accumulated mileage for the Vehicle Corrosion Test is an incredible 10,000km, which represents approximately six years of exposure to such regions as the East Coast of Australia or the West Coast of New Zealand.

Just when the vehicles think it’s over, all body panels are removed to check out how they fared for corrosion resistance – even the hidden underbody parts. This process also ensures all areas are assessed for appearance, function and serviceability. Knowing exactly what sections and body parts of the vehicle are effected in certain ways allows Ford’s engineers to better guard against long-term environmental impact.

Nanjing, China
Ford’s new environmental chambers in Nanjing, China, takes vehicles to the outrageous by shaking, roasting and smashing vehicles to test their performance.

The first of the three chambers – the sun-load camber – reproduces hours of a car sitting in relentless sunlight. High-intensity lamps heat the chamber to a peak of 45 degrees Celsius, which causes some parts of the car to reach a scorching 107 degrees –hot enough to fry an egg.

To secure against the extraordinary conditions, Ford engineers who venture inside the chamber to verify the equipment wear an aluminum-coated suit that makes them look like astronauts from a 1960s science fiction movie. The suit is a precaution in case any the metal parts melt and spray in the direction of the engineer while they’re in the chamber, and can protect the wearer from environmental temperatures of up to 200 degrees Celsius.

“During these tests we’re looking for any indications that a material or part will change or warp when exposed to heat and intense sunlight,” said Breeze Shi, Test Engineering Supervisor at Ford’s VEV environmental chamber in Nanjing. “Any bubbling or deforming would make us make improvements so that customers won’t face the same issue.”

In the second chamber, tests replicate what a particular component will experience over 240,000 kilometers on incredibly bumpy roads – all in a mere 72 hours. Vehicle components are strapped to a multi-axel simulation table – a hydraulic platform that shakes, and shakes, then shakes some more. If that wasn’t enough, the tests are carried out in conditions ranging from minus 40 degrees Celsius to 95 degrees. The tests are a way to assess vehicle performance under extremes of use that aren’t practical to replicate on the test track.

The final test chamber is about a significant vehicle component that can spare your life: airbags. If airbags don’t deploy at the right speed, or safely enough, they can be less effective. The airbag deployment chamber in Nanjing utilizes ultra-slow motion cameras to record deployment so that Ford’s engineers can critically analyze every millisecond of the process to identify potential problems.

When it comes to safety everything about significant, which is the reason Ford’s engineers in Nanjing also test airbag deployment in temperatures ranging from negative 40 to 65 degrees Celsius. But this created a problem for Ford’s engineers: the camera equipment can’t operate in those temperatures. To overcome this problem, the engineering team developed an innovative work-around, “We concocted a rail framework that enables us to cool or warmth the whole testing mount in a different load, and then roll it into an adjacent room for the actual test,” said Shi. “We can move the whole system and convey the test in just two minutes, while the airbag prototype is still extremely hot or cold.”




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