The University of Windsor / FCA Automotive Research and Development Centre (ARDC) marked its 20th anniversary on June 15, 2016. The first of its kind for Canada, the ARDC opened in 1996, as a $30 million investment. By 2016, $1 billion had been spent on research and development at the ARDC, which, according to the anniversary press release, “plays an important role in the product development of nearly every vehicle produced by FCA.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that the Ontario government will provide up to $85.8 million to support enhanced research at the ARDC, as well as training for the Windsor Assembly Plant (WAP) workforce and technology enhancements needed for production of the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, the first electrified minivan — to go around 30 miles solely on battery power.
Today, the ARDC employs 180 people and covers 93,000 square metres in its Windsor facility. It does millions of kilometres of road test simulation, extreme weather testing, corrosion control, and headlight testing. The ARDC also works with universities in Ontario, such as McMaster, Waterloo, and Windsor, to research challenges including advanced powertrains and light-weighting.
The University of Windsor has also worked with Italy’s Politecnico di Torino on creating a dual-degree automotive engineering program. Over the years, the ARDC has mentored more than 500 students, many of which have become employees of the facility.
Specific labs at ARDC cover structural development, lighting, elastomer characterization, engine cooling, steering systems, recycling, and corrosion.
Before checking on corrosion, vehicles go through an extensive, accelerated corrosion test at the Chelsea, Michigan proving grounds. Then Windsor takes them apart to see how well corrosion-proofing has worked; they also do full dissections of Electrocoated vehicles to see how well anti-corrosion materials coat intricate cavities. The results are used to improve manufacturing process and the design of future cars and trucks. This lab covers 205 square meters (Americans, a meter is roughly a yard).
The structural development lab has 3,863 square meters of space; in 1996, it launched with just three test cells, two multi-axis, spindle-coupled car rigs and a tire-coupled rig in an environmental chamber. A light truck rig was added in 2000; and in 2001, they added three new cells with spindle-coupled light truck rigs. These simulators have six degrees of freedom controls, and the University of Windsor boasts that they are the most advanced models sold (2016).
The light research facility is one of the largest in the world, at 2,323 square meters. It researches advanced lighting systems and includes a simulated roadway with markers, signs, and reflectors, relying not just on human vision but also advanced light meters.
The elastomer characterization lab tests the capability of elastomeric components (such as bushings, mounts, and grommets), including its ability to compress and return to form under load; the lab also does competitive benchmarking, and has two test rigs, one linear and one rotary, to measure static and dynamic frequency response across six degrees of freedom.
The engine cooling lab, created in 2015, involves both the engine cooling systems team and the aero-thermal system simulation team; data is collected through all plumbing branches and heat exchangers to optimize cooling before designs are finished, and to develop better simulation tools.
The steering column and component lab was created in 1997 and expanded in 2000, and does functional and durability testing covering not just the primary steering systems but also components such as sway bars, door panels, body hardware, and carpet. There are thirty testing stations, many measurement devices, vibration rigs, environmental chambers, shakers, a tensile strength machine, door-slam machines, and a seat-belt measurement machine. The related 2010 steering system durability lab was creatd to test electric and electric-hydraulic systems, using tow test stations that simulate real driving conditions.
Finally, the 140 square meter recycling lab, creating in 1999, researches vehicle end-of-life issues.
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