...replicating the 'real world' in the laboratory
Göteborg, SWEDEN - The Safety Center at Volvo Car Corporation headquarters in Sweden recently performed its two thousandth crash tests since the center's inauguration seven years ago. Since 2000, the center has grown to become an integral part of Volvo Cars safety leadership position and a vehicle research and development powerhouse, performing up to ten crash tests every week.
The Volvo Car Safety Center is designed to reproduce a variety of 'real world' accidents. The crash test laboratory is equipped with two tracks, one movable and one permanent. The movable track is adjustable up to 90 degrees to enable tests of all kinds - from frontal to side collisions - whereby collisions can be examined between cars traveling at different angles and speeds. The length of the permanent track enables the test cars to be accelerated to speeds up to 75 miles per hour. A series of other tests, such as rollover accidents or collisions with animals or other objects in the surrounding environment, can also be performed.
Over 100 Crash Tests for Every Volvo Model
The requirements specified by various public agencies and organizations, such as EuroNCAP (European New Car Assessment Programme) and IIHS (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety), represent only part of the Center's work. Volvo Cars performs additional crash tests to ensure that the collision performance of its cars is the best possible. In the course of development, a new Volvo model undergoes no less than 100 to 120 crash tests.
"To offer cars with a world-class standard of safety, we have to verify that the systems protect occupants of various sizes at a wide range of speeds and in a variety of accident situations. The capacity to replicate real-life accidents is what makes our facility unique," explains Magnus Krokström, senior manager at the Volvo Cars Safety Center. In total, about 450 crash tests are conducted annually. Since the designation of the Volvo Car Safety Center as a "Center of Excellence for Safety" for the Ford Motor Company, other makes of car produced by the group - including Jaguar, Land Rover and Ford - are also tested at the facility.
Reproduction of real-life accidents
Development and testing activities in the laboratory involve the reconstruction of real-world collisions based on work conducted by the Volvo Accident Research Team. Since 1970, the team has studied more than 35,000 real-world collisions involving more than 50,000 occupants.
"By analyzing actual road accidents and then testing new safety systems in the laboratory, we are able to improve the safety of our cars making them safer in the real traffic environment," says Magnus. Since new legislation, market forces and safety systems constantly present new challenges in the laboratory, it is important to maintain close contact with the research community to ensure that resources are allocated correctly with an eye to future developments.
As an example, when planning work on the Safety Center began in 1996, it was foreseen that compatibility, in the context of crashes between large and small cars, would be an important area of research in the future (and time has proven this to be the case). Other types of testing that have grown in importance in recent years: Rear-end collisions - increasingly common in heavy urban traffic; and angled side collisions - a common occurrence at junctions. "Although we have had to make some modifications since the early days, there are now almost no limits to what we can do in the laboratory," says Magnus.
Planning and follow-up
On average, a crash test takes five days to complete. Three days are spent preparing the test car, fitting sensors and applying a matt paint, usually orange, to avoid reflections from the car while filming. Concurrently, the test dummies are also prepared. Final preparation, including the installation of instrumentation systems and cameras, takes place the day before the actual test. Routinely every day two crash tests are performed, ensuring effective use of the facility. "Although test data can be read out within an hour, manual inspection of both car and dummies is also required. Our analysts deliver a preliminary report to the car project team within 24 hours. This is followed by a more detailed analysis that can take up to a fortnight (two weeks)," says Magnus.
Using advanced computers, computerized crash simulations are performed about three and a half years in advance of production for a new car model. About a year before launch physical testing commences, usually with vehicles used by the project team in their other tests. The cars are updated as required to make them as similar as possible to the final version. However, no physical testing is carried out unless Volvo Cars' safety experts are satisfied with the results in the virtual testing process.
Testing of preventive safety systems - systems that help to prevent accidents - has also begun recently. The demands and complexity of today, obvious calls for testing methodology that is much more advanced than Volvo's first crash test 50 years ago. Then, a car simply rolled down a hill and hit a concrete wall. Effectively anticipating the modern 'real world' represents one of the biggest challenges facing the Volvo Car Safety Center for the next 2000 cars.
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