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Daimler Chrysler's Automotive Research and Development Center carries out a lot of practical research on current and future products. The odd thing is, DCX doesn't own the facility, nor is it responsible for half the personnel on site. That responsibility falls to the University of Windsor.

One of the toughest places to gain access to in the Daimler Chrysler universe is the Automotive Research and Development Center in Windsor, Ontario. Located just south of Detroit in Canada, the 154-acre site opened in May 1996, and is run as a joint venture with the University of Windsor. The college not only owns the facility, half the personnel at the ARDC are faculty and students working on automotive-specific research, and gaining practical experience while completing their engineering degrees. Over $540 million (Canadian) has been invested in the facility over the past seven years, much of it in the following areas.

Vehicle Structural Development Lab
It has a total of six road simulation cells within its 41,580 ft2. area. Two of the three original test cells are multi-axis, spindle-coupled passenger car simulators (MTS 329s with four degrees of freedom), while the third, a tire-coupled design, sits in a Ransco environmental test cell and has one degree of freedom at each wheel. A light truck structure/suspension test unit was added to the facility in 2000. This fixed-reactive component has an overhead gantry to which a frame is attached, and ride motions are fed through the axles and into the frame. Three spindle-coupled light truck rigs were added in 2001, and each has six degrees of freedom. This adds steering and moment measurements to the longitudinal, lateral, vertical and brake torque readings measured by the original MTS 329 simulators. The latest simulators sit on an 18-in. steel bedplate over 1.5 million lb of concrete, and require 600 gallons of hydraulic fluid per minute at 300 lb/in2. It isn’t uncommon to shut down every 10% of a test for inspection. This goes beyond the structure or component in question to include fit and finish, noise, and other areas of customer concern.

Steering Column Development Lab
When it was opened in 1997, this area had just two test rigs, and supplemented the testing done by outside contractors. Today it has 84, and saves DCX $87-million annually. Tests can be conducted under a variety of environmental conditions. Flexible fixtures allow for quick changeover. Digital files from Chrysler’s Chelsea, MI, proving ground are used for much of the durability and vibration testing, and the results are uploaded on a real-time basis to engineers at the Auburn Hills headquarters. Because all of the fixtures and testing equipment were designed internally, modifications can be made quickly. For example, Dan DiDomenico, a third-year electrical engineering student at the University of Windsor, created a test rig that combines three tests (tilt, latch fatigue and loading) into a single unit, and cuts testing time by 25%. The steering column lab also includes an area referred to as the “door slam lab” that concentrates on body hardware development. As its name suggests, doors are open and shut continuously, and movement is synchronized between the doors, windows, and outside mirrors in order to replicate the harshest conditions. The methods and control loops were created internally, and are easily adapted to testing doors, decklids and hatches.

Lighting Research Facility
This 25,000 ft2 building has matte black walls and ceilings, a two-lane cement road with gravel verges running down its center, overhead road signs, and movable roadside signs. Fog can be simulated in varying degrees from “light” to “where did everything go?”. A gantry lets engineers take photos of lighting patterns from above. A year-round facility, the lighting lab can be reconfigured to test left- or right-hand drive lighting systems, evaluate the legibility of current and proposed signage with current and planned headlights, finesse headlamp cut-off, check glare from oncoming vehicles, test fog lamps, and evaluate taillight designs. Before a prototype vehicle exists, new head and tail lamps are mounted to fixtures and tested against both current designs and computer simulations.

Other Labs
The ARDC also contains a 2,400 ft2 recycling facility, 45,000 ft2 coating research lab, and a corrosion test area that performs 30 complete vehicle teardowns, on average, each year. As with all of the other labs at ARDC, the information gained is fed back into the system, or to the on-site computer-aided engineering center. For example, each Chrysler assembly plant’s paint shop can be simulated, and its robots checked for reach, speed, and path. Plus, a thermal profile of the drying ovens is created to determine the optimum flow speed for each of the 264 drying nozzles in order to eliminate drips, reach into wheel arches, and minimize drying time. The first real test came when the facility modeled the complete paint process for the 2004 Dodge Durango, which is larger than the vehicle it replaces. This program also is being used to lay out the system used for the upcoming LX sedan and sport wagon.