GKN opens new US winter test base

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The facility at the Smithers Winter Test Center in Brimley, Michigan, will enhance GKN Driveline’s test capabilities for all-wheel-drive and e-drive systems

GKN’s new cold-weather facility at the Smithers Winter Test Center (SWTC) in Brimley, Michigan, means that the company now has proving grounds for extreme cold-weather conditions on three continents – Europe, Asia and North America. It will provide GKN Driveline’s North American customers with a local base to comprehensively test the company’s all-wheel drive and e-drive systems in the extremes of cold and hazardous, low-traction road conditions.

Gavin Streather, senior director of engineering processes and systems, GKN Driveline, says, “Many of the driveline systems that are in production and use in the Americas were originally developed and calibrated in Europe or Asia, but with an increasing number of active programs now focused on the US market, it was necessary to achieve a more even spread of testing capabilities across GKN’s global footprint.”

Streather continues, “With winter test facilities already on two continents, GKN Driveline therefore wanted to add a third, to cater for its customer base in North America.”

According to Streather, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was at the top of the list of potential sites, since GKN Driveline was already using the SWTC facilities, but was previously based out of a small rented garage: “With GKN Driveline’s continued expansion, the company decided it was time to build its own facility within the test track grounds.”

The Michigan Upper Peninsula test site comprises a new 10,000ft² facility within the SWTC’s 750-acre complex. It is adjacent to the main SWTC track and features a large central workshop bay with four vehicle hoists. Three private garages ensure confidentiality and security for GKN’s customers. The facility also has three bespoke tracks, 300ft and 600ft ice circles, and packed snow handling lanes.

GKN Driveline has shared use of the tracks on the SWTC site, which incorporates more than 30 test areas with a range of surface types. Program requirements are diverse: test disciplines can include acceleration tests on split-friction surfaces, straight-line braking on polished ice and driving on icy and challenging hill gradients.

“During the winter months, GKN Driveline’s entire vehicle integration team for the region spends most of their time working out of this facility,” Streather comments. That includes 15 engineers and technicians. For the rest of the year, the team is based at GKN’s regional headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Typically, testing lasts from late December to mid-March (weather dependent), however, the supplier is also considering the opportunity to use the facility for additional non-winter testing. A 10-year lease has been signed on the facility.

Streather adds, “GKN Driveline continues to expand its in-house testing capability at the Auburn Hills Technical Center, mostly in regard to AWD and e-drive systems. The current expansion is focused on three-motor testing capability, but there is also continued growth in the CV joint development capabilities on-site as well.”

May 24, 2017

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John joined UKi Media & Events in 2012 and has worked across a range of B2B titles within the company's automotive, marine and entertainment divisions. Currently editor of Automotive Testing Technology International, Crash Test Technology International and Electric & Hybrid Marine Technology International, John co-ordinates the day-the-day operations of each magazine, from commissioning and writing to editing and signing-off, as well managing web content. Aside from the magazines, John also serves as co-chairman of the annual Electric & Hybrid Marine Awards and can be found sniffing out stories throughout the halls of several of UKI's industry-leading expo events.

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