Testing new vehicles under realistic driving conditions is becoming more and more challenging, mainly due to tighter budgets, shorter development cycles and global climate change. A deep chill car tunnel in Finland should make things easier for the international automobile industry and OEM suppliers: now they can reproduce wintry conditions all year round and carry out dynamic driving experiments.
Developing new vehicles or components would be inconceivable without the huge battery of simulation programs now available, although nothing can beat real driving. Every year test drives clock up millions of miles testing vehicles in countries all over the planet, in hot and cold climates. Global warming has made winter testing increasingly difficult. Operators of testing grounds in the countries where most of the industry is concentrated – Sweden and Finland in the northern and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere – say the testing season has become noticeably shorter.
In Kajaani, a town in the heartland of Finland, lies a technology center where, after 10 years running a success cold tunnel for cross-country skiing, it was worked out that the tunnel system could also be used for round-the-year winter testing of vehicles. In 2007, the Finish national center of excellence for measurement technology, Measurepolis- Kajaani, was invited to plan the project with the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Automotive Engineering. Their brief involved four main tasks:
After intensive rounds of meetings with all key stakeholders at automotive companies and suppliers, the layout of the test station was finalized in the second half of 2008. It should be economically viable, so it’s now time to start realizing their plans. The testing tunnel in Kajaani will be managed by Test World Oy, which has been operating a number of winter testing grounds since 1991. It will also market and sell the tunnel.
The total length of the fully enclosed testing tunnel is approximately 3.5 km. It consists of a variety of test sections connected by transfer tunnels. Each section of the tunnel can be used separately and reduced individually to temperatures between 0° and -25° Celsius. The exact humidity can also be set. The asphalt driving surface can be set to different testing conditions, if required with ice or snow. Each test section is managed through a control room which monitors access, use and safety. To prepare, refit or repair test vehicles, there are several workshop areas.
This new-fangled winter testing station is scheduled to start operating in 2010 by which team vehicle and car part makers will have the option of testing their products all the year round. More and more vehicle testing is going on these days due to the growing number of models, the effect of hybrid engines on the number of different drives, and the increasing complexity of mechatronic stability control systems. The planned testing tunnel combined with surrounding outdoor testing grounds will play an important role in the future in meeting the high expectations of customers and car markets.