One of the world's most advanced wind tunnels is streamlining the exteriors of Volvo vehicles as Volvo Car Corporation continues its efforts to lower fuel consumption and reduced carbon dioxide emissions. With its debut in 2007 after a 20 million Euro refurbishing, Volvo Cars is the first manufacturer to own a wind tunnel that fully simulates the airflow around and underneath the passenger vehicle's body, combined with wheel rotation on a flat road surface.
"With a firm focus on environmental properties for the foreseeable future, our recently upgraded wind tunnel is going to be a particularly valuable tool," says Magnus Jonsson, Senior Vice President, Research & Development at Volvo Cars. "Aerodynamic improvements to the body and underside of the vehicle will help us cut CO2-emissions across the whole model range."
Volvo Cars' wind tunnel was a cutting-edge facility when it was built in 1986 and, after 20 years and a complete refurbishing, it is once again setting the benchmark in the automotive industry for its precise measurements of aerodynamics.
Since the underside and wheels account for more than 50 percent of a vehicle's total air drag, a traditional wind tunnel where the vehicle and its wheels are stationary in a flow of air can provide an incomplete picture of the vehicle's overall aerodynamic properties.
"It's a bit like measuring the aerodynamic properties of a vehicle that is standing still in a parking lot during a powerful storm" reveals Tim Walker, aerodynamic expert at Volvo Cars. "Our new wind tunnel, on the other hand, has been designed to exactly replicate the flow of air around and underneath the vehicle when driving on a real road at speeds of up to 250 km/h. Our wind tunnel uses sophisticated techniques at the forefront of aerodynamics technology."
Rolling road and spinning wheels
The biggest improvements compared with the previous wind tunnel include: four flat steel belts that spin all the wheels, one central 5.3m long and 1m wide steel belt that simulates the road under the moving vehicle and an 8.15-metre fan with carbon-fibre blades that generates wind velocities corresponding to road speeds up to 250 km/h.
In the tests, a vehicle is connected to a highly sensitive balance using four small struts. These struts hold the car in position while the weight of the vehicle is transferred from the tires to the balance via the flat steel belts.
"This makes it possible to load up the wheels and tires exactly as they are when driving on the open road. The balance is so sensitive, it reacts even if you toss the world's smallest mobile phone onto the front seat," says Walker.
Flexibility is another vital benefit in an industry experiencing increasing pressure on product development lead times. Volvo Cars' experts can handle more than 100 different test configurations in just 16 hours.
In the EU Combined Driving Cycle, with an average speed of 33 km/h, air drag accounts for just over one-quarter of total fuel consumption. At a steady 90 km/h, this increases to more than 50 percent. These figures indicate just how important aerodynamic efficiency is to the vehicle's fuel consumption and environmental properties.
"In the original wind tunnel, the focus was on the body," says Walker. "In the new one, we can obtain an overall picture that also takes in the underside and the wheels. Thanks to the better simulation techniques that the new tunnel offers we have probably improved the aerodynamic drag by a third. It is here that the major improvements will be seen in the future. I would call the forthcoming developments in underside and wheel efficiency a revolution. Up top it's more about evolution."
Facts about the new wind tunnel:
Fan power 5 MW (6,800 hp)
Fan size (diameter) 8.15 m
Fan type Carbon fibre, 9 blades
Wind speed 250 km/h
Wind Speed Accuracy +/-0,05 m/s
Moving ground 2-72.22 m/s (260 km/h)
Test Section Size Length 15.8 m, width 6.6 m, height 4.1 m
Turntable (diameter) 6.6 m
Test yaw angle +/- 30 degrees
Max load on balance 3,000 kg
Max load per wheel 1,000 kg
Balance sensitivity +/- 30 gram
Volvo Cars of Canada Corp. is part of the Volvo Car Corporation of Göteborg, Sweden. The company provides marketing, sales, parts, service, technology and training support to the 42 Volvo automobile retailers across the country. The company's product range includes the stylish and sporty C30, the elegant C70 hardtop convertible, the compact S40 sedan, the S60 sport sedan, the S80 flagship sedan and the versatile V50 and V70 wagon. For customers looking for a Volvo vehicle with all-road capability, the company offers the versatile XC70 and XC90. Volvo Canada is also expanding its line-up with the introduction of the new XC60, a crossover with the award-winning City Safety system on the standard equipment list.
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