Aug 1, 2005 12:00 PM
FREIGHTLINER Group recently completed a major upgrade at its test engineering facility near South Bend, Indiana. Improvements at the proving ground include a 24,600-sq-ft building with state-of-the-art equipment for servicing test vehicles and offices for engineering staff.
The Freightliner Group Test Engineering staff began operations in the new building in June. Owned by Robert Bosch Corporation, the 625-acre proving ground has been used by Freightliner since 1980. Seventeen engineers, technicians, and test drivers staff the facility.
The new test building includes eight drive-through bays for inspecting vehicles and their trailers, plus a 45-foot drive-over pit for servicing trucks and buses. Three overhead cranes can move the length of the building. Equipment includes the latest computer hardware and software tools for diagnosing and recalibrating vehicles.
“One of The Freightliner Group's key strategic directions is to deliver distinctive quality across our product lines,” said Michael von Mayenburg, senior vice-president of engineering and technology for The Freightliner Group. “The new resources at our South Bend Test Engineering operation will enhance our capability to develop commercial vehicles that offer maximum durability, reliability, performance, and overall quality.”
The Freightliner Group uses the facility to test all of the vehicles manufactured by the company's brands. These include heavy- and medium-duty trucks, RV and bus chassis, school buses, and cabs and chassis for fire and emergency apparatus. Vehicle testing activities conducted here include accelerated structural durability evaluations, brake system development and certification, stability testing, interior/exterior noise testing, powertrain endurance, cold weather performance, and fuel economy.
“This is the place where we push vehicles to their limits,” said Ramin Younessi, chief test engineer for The Freightliner Group. “We want to ensure that every vehicle produced by the company will stand up the rigors of operation and perform safely, productively, and consistently for our customers.”
Younessi said accelerated durability testing is the principal activity conducted by Freightliner Test Engineering at the proving grounds. This activity evaluates the structural integrity and reliability of every component on the test vehicle — from cabs to chassis to frame rails to such major components as engines and transmissions.
The test course produces up to 83:1 acceleration ratio: every mile driven on the test course is equivalent to approximately 83 miles in real world operation. Over the course of a year, vehicles at the proving grounds accumulate the equivalent of millions of miles of operation.
The durability course on the property includes such features as chatter bumps, inverted chatter bumps, impact bumps, staggered bumps, cobblestones, chuck holes, an undulating road, and a resonance road.
“Imagine the worst road you have ever driven on,” Younessi said. “That's what we run our test vehicles on every day, seven days per week. It takes some very special test drivers to be able to meet the rigors of our operation and some very special test engineers to be able to inspect and determine the structural integrity of the components.”
After vehicles complete their specified test runs, they are evaluated by engineers to determine the nature of wear and tear. According to Al Pearson, Freightliner's director of the Vehicle Test Group, that's where the new building and its state-of-the-art equipment will prove highly useful.
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