Maintaining a winter test facility

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The Keweenaw Research Center (KRC), a research agency of Michigan Technological University (MTU), operates a major winter test facility near Houghton, Michigan, USA. The facility consists of test roads, snow pads, ice pads, slopes, and specialized test areas. Since winter conditions are variable and companies expect consistent surfaces, it takes special expertise and care to develop and maintain these test areas.

“Houghton is located in an area that consistently gets lots of snow. Our average annual snowfall is over 20ft. Winter is also long here,” says Russ Alger, director of the institute of snow research. “The effects of cold, snow, and ice on vehicles and infrastructure are constantly being identified and need to be rectified. Research in this area is complicated by the extreme variability of winter conditions.”

When testers book a slot at a test facility in the winter, they want to test at all times of day and night. Maintenance times for tests courses are therefore often limited. “For this reason, operators need to be expert at grooming surfaces quickly and efficiently,” Algar says. “Secondly, measurements of surface properties are very useful during a test, as well as after testing is complete and engineers are back home in their offices. As properties are constantly changing throughout the day, it is advantageous to document them as much as possible. For instance, KRC operates an on-site weather station to record changes in environmental parameters.”

The Keweenaw Research Center’s winter facility is constantly being developed and recently, 400 acres of property adjacent to the facility were purchased for future expansion.

When asked how KRC could compete with new indoor winter test facilities – such as Test World in Finland and Arctic Falls in Sweden – Alger says, “Testing in the natural environment is always the first choice if possible. We have some indoor facilities, but it is usually quite difficult to correlate the indoor conditions to real-world conditions except for just plain old cold temperatures. We can model that quite well. Snow conditions are difficult to duplicate, however. Indoor facilities are also very expensive to operate and use.”

September 10, 2015

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