Not every feature associated with a now-closed test track in Florida is part of a safety supplier’s newly opened proving ground in southeast Michigan. “The Florida pond had an alligator, but there is no alligator in the Michigan pond,” assured Thomas Oginsky, the Chief Engineer of Vehicle Development for Electronic Braking Systems at TRW Automotive.
For more than 30 years, TRW owned and operated a proving ground in a state with more than 1 million tail-tossing, teeth-hammering reptiles. Now, the supplier has a proving ground that is in close proximity to the shakers and movers that matter: executives from automakers with an operational base in southeast Michigan.
“Executives are the ones who ultimately say a program is good to go. So if they can get to the track in a very short time and experience our technology, that’s very important,” said Oginsky. An easier trek for Midwest-based engineers also made the move to Michigan a smart choice. “The reality is most companies have trimmed their travel budgets,” he said.
Even the number of vehicles available for testing purposes is not immune to budget constraints. “A new vehicle platform means a new suspension and a new powertrain, and that’s something you can’t replicate by retrofitting. We really want to have those vehicles in order to validate our products. But those prototypes are very expensive, so OEMs don’t make the same number of pre-production vehicles available as they did two or three years ago,” said Oginsky.
Now with a second product prove-out venue in Michigan (TRW also leases a test track in Michigan’s upper peninsula), logistic considerations for getting pre-production vehicles to the track are less troublesome. “You need to do quality vehicle testing. Simulation helps you develop the product. Simulation helps you integrate the product, and simulation really drives that first level of safety,” said Oginsky, adding, “Simulation work also helps reduce the product development cycle, but you still need a track for testing and validation purposes.”
TRW’s 132-acre (53-ha) Locke Township test site features different road surfaces to conduct an array of tests, including braking, vehicle control, steering, and suspension system development and validation. “We can claim that preemptive steering reduces the stopping distance on a split-mu surface, but we certainly have to validate our claims. Now we have the perfect split-mu to prove that claim by very graphically demonstrating, ‘system on—there’s the distance, put out a cone. And system off—there’s the distance, put out a cone.’ On the track is where we prove the performance,” said Oginsky.
With the recent completion of phase one, the new proving ground has 4.5 mi (7.2 km) of paved surfaces, including a high-friction test pad of polymer-modified asphalt and a low-friction test pad of asphalt, ceramic tile, concrete, and Jennite. “All surface dimensions at the Locke Test Track were determined by governmental, automaker, and internal test requirements,” said Martin Brinkman, Principal Engineer for TRW Automotive.
Although TRW regularly uses outdoor test tracks in Alaska, Brazil, China, Germany, India, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, and Sweden, the new track is unique. “The Locke Test Track’s 900-ft length of tile and the subsequent tile/asphalt split is the longest available to TRW Automotive,” said Brinkman, who was responsible for the design of the new track. The next two phases of development at the Locke Test Track will mean numerous additions, including a vehicle dynamics area, traction control grades, gravel test zones, a 2-mi (3.2-km) oval track, a handling course, and a vehicle development center. Phase two is expected to begin this year.