The transformation of UK-based Millbrook proving ground and test facility since it was taken over by new management in 2014 has been nothing short of impressive
When former F1 team leader Alex Burns took over as CEO at Millbrook in early 2014, he saw an opportunity that presented a unique challenge. He has since implemented a suite of changes that are preparing the proving ground for the development of future transportation.
Most recently, it announced the acquisition of winter test facility Test World in Finland. “The Test World acquisition is very exciting. I was out there just last week!” enthuses Burns during an exclusive tour of the UK proving ground. “We were looking for opportunities where we could expand the range of services that we offer and we were also looking to expand our geographic base. Test World will allow us to look at not only winter testing, but particularly tire testing. We have just appointed a new deputy MD there, so we’re investing in the management team and we’re also looking at options to build an asphalt track there.”
Also in the pipeline are ongoing upgrades to the powertrain test facilities (below) at Millbrook, investment for which has totaled approximately US$2.9m. The control systems for all 12 engine dynos inside the engine test center are currently being upgraded, and four new cells specializing in fuels and additives are to be built.
As part of those plans, Millbrook is developing an emissions laboratory, which will house a large vehicle temperature chamber and two passenger vehicle size dynamometers with four-wheel-drive capability. It’s being built on an existing car park, requiring some changes to the road layout. The lab is complemented by a second PEMS system, which was purchased in June, supplied by Horiba.
A unique mobile damper laboratory, designed and built by a team at Millbrook, was also added to the inventory earlier this year and will enable it to manage suspension-tuning projects both on-site and at customer facilities worldwide.
Creating the specification for the unit presented a challenge, notes Gerry Baker, head of vehicle development: “Improving the design took some time we were working on it for about a year. A lot went into understanding what sort of truck we should have and what dyno, also making sure the structure was strong enough to protect the dyno and drive on the road. We decided to put it on a 7.5 [metric]ton truck, which means most of us can drive it without needing a special license and we’ve got the load capacity and space to fit a workshop in.”
The mobile workshop includes an integrated damper rig, which exceeds industry standards for damper characterization, and can be customized to any vehicle with dampers or springs of up to 100mm stroke. The 7.5kW damper dynamometer provides ride and handling tuning, comparative test, quality control and fault analysis.
The lab has been booked up for business since it was completed in June and has interest from customers based across the UK, in Germany and in Sweden.
Other major investments implemented in 2015 have greatly enhanced Millbrook’s crash test capabilities. A new ServoSled (below) was installed in place of the older HyGe sled and is said to be the first of its kind in the UK. “Our automotive clients required better correlation of the sled pulse to the full-scale crash pulse, allowing them to further enhance occupant restraint systems and CAE models,” explains Matt Hillam, manager of crash testing.
The upgraded sled can be used to simulate frontal and offset impacts. It uses a servo-actuated braking system to control the crash pulse correlation. The computer-controlled crash pulse can be changed with minimal key strokes unlike the older simulator, which required partial dismantling to change a metering pin. A new banked air system has helped reduce the time it takes to charge the pneumatic actuator that fires the sled, from 1 hour 30 minutes to 90 seconds, which greatly reduces test turnaround time.
A suite of 16 high-speed, high-definition IDT-supplied cameras were installed and two preparation bays integrated into the building.
Although the ServoSled is an off-the-shelf conversion, the actual fit of the facility into Millbrook’s infrastructure is bespoke and required considerable changes to the existing building. This took around eight weeks, including installation of the sled.
To complement the sled, there’s also an upgraded seatbelt anchorage test system. “We’ve done a major overhaul of the rig itself and have applied a new control system, which was supplied by Tiab,” Hillam explains. “The control system provides us with two great advantages: it enables us to deliver multistage load ramps so we can ramp up to a given load and move on from that at an alternative rate; and system setup is now much faster, giving much quicker test turnaround.”
In future, the ServoSled could be further upgraded to enable side-impact simulation. “It’s something we can’t do at the moment, but hope to do in 2016,” says Hillam.
Elsewhere, a new Siemens LMS noise measurement system will greatly enhance Millbrook NVH test capabilities. The system offers 16 analogue channels with an expansion slot for eight more. “That will enable us to use the system to conduct other types of testing; acoustic holography, and vehicle onboard exterior and interior noise testing,” notes Ravi Bal (left), principal engineer for the vehicle measurement group. “The overall system gives us a lot more capability, especially when it comes to analyzing data in real time and immediately post-test. It enables us to look at not just the sound emitted from the vehicle but also the 1/3 octave spectra. Historically it was very inefficient to look at the frequency content but now this can be done instantly.”
“We are also looking at using acoustic holography, which will enable us to see sound sources on the vehicle. For hybrid and electric vehicles, the next big challenge will be to monitor the sound internally and externally and sync the two together. When we spoke to the supplier, we asked whether this was possible, and we’re going do some more development of the system.”
Meanwhile, the Millbrook Technology Park (below), which offers 60,000m² of office and workshop space for start-ups, R&D centers and head office buildings, now has its first tenants. Around 6,000m² of space is available immediately at the Technology Park and a further 35,000m² of buildings will be available elsewhere within the site.
December 2, 2015