Ford’s new state-of-the-art environmental test centre puts all the world’s weather under a single roof.

At the push of a button engineers can simulate conditions higher than the Mt Everest base camp, vehicle and wind speeds of up to 250 km/h, plus snow, strong sunlight and driving rain.

In an area the size of a soccer field, engineers can take vehicles on demanding journeys around the world, from the desert heat of the Sahara, to the arctic cold of Siberia and the heavy humidity of Costa Rica.

“The vast range of punishing simulation tests will enable Ford drivers to be confident their vehicles can handle whatever climate zone they live in,” , Vice president, Product Development, Ford of Europe, Joe Bakaj, said.

“Travelling to the four corners of this building is like taking a trip to the four corners of the world, and our engineers will do that around the clock, every day, to continue to develop future best-in-class vehicles.”

The A$110 million weather centre offers the first automotive wind tunnel that can simulate 5200m altitude, the same elevation as Mount Everest North Base Camp, and the first with such a range of conditions that can be simulated under one roof.

The facility also has two rooms that can be heated or cooled — from -40 to 55C — as well as generate 95 per cent humidity.

The temperature extremes make the facility at Ford’s John Andrews Product Development Centre in Cologne, Germany, the hottest, coldest and most humid place in Europe, and home to the highest point in Western Europe.

Now fully operational, engineers can work on up to 10 different vehicles simultaneously.

Testing covers comfort, safety and durability, as well as electrical performance, braking, air conditioning, trailer towing, cabin heating and traffic jam situations.

Engineers analyse the effects of high speed winds on exterior parts, check the robustness against rain and snow, and see how fast a windscreen defrosts at different temperatures.

“The Environmental Test Centre represents a significant investment for Ford of Europe that will help enable the company here to develop vehicles for global markets,” Bakaj said.

All Ford vehicles will be tested in the facility, which features three climate wind tunnels, including a high-altitude lab, and four temperature-controlled test chambers, one of which will also facilitate humidity testing.

 

  • Wind Tunnel 1 is set up for hot and cold immersion testing. 28 spotlights with 4000‑watt bulbs help to simulate the powerful sun beams that enable engineers to check how fast the cabin can be cooled. This wind tunnel can also evaluate the interior noise from vehicle systems at different speeds, temperatures and humidity levels, to check the heating and air conditioning noise

 

  • Wind Tunnel 2 is also set up for hot and cold immersion testing. Engineers can use this wind tunnel to make snow and rain to check the effect on visibility, engine starts and how long it takes to heat the cabin

 

  • Wind Tunnel 3 is the altitude lab, where engineers can test vehicles at wind speeds of up to 120 km/h at up to 5000 metres. The high altitude cold start and durability tests ensure the vehicle’s liquids don’t burst their lines when working under higher pressure. More than half of Ford vehicles worldwide are sold in territories with roads above 1000m

 

“We can see how windshield wipers function in Arctic temperatures, how engine performance changes in extreme heat and cold, and even how much snow falls on the driver’s head when they open the door. It’s an engineer’s dream,” Project manager, Environmental Test Centre, Michael Steup, said.

The weather factory draws 11 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a small town of 2400 inhabitants, that comes from a fully renewable, environmentally-friendly source.

The electricity provided by RheinEnergie originates from certified sustainable sources in Scandinavia and covers the complete electric power demand of Ford’s facilities in the city.

The ground-breaking test centre complements testing facilities that include Ford Lommel Proving Ground, in Belgium, home to a specific pothole-testing track, side-wind tests, and saltwater and mud baths.

 

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Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.