UOIT opens one-of-a-kind testing and research facility

  • 10-May-2011 02:36 EDT
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The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) EcoCAR 2 Challenge Chevrolet Malibu is shown undergoing testing in the Automotive Centre of Excellence (ACE) climatic wind tunnel.

After six years and nearly doubling in size and investment—from $58 million to $99 million—the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Automotive Centre of Excellence (ACE) will have its grand opening June 13.

“It’s been a while in the making, but it has grown in its scope and its capabilities away from that initial genesis into a very one-stop-shop automotive center of excellence,” said John Komar, ACE Director of Engineering and Operations.

Located on UOIT’s north Oshawa campus, ACE is a university owned and operated testing facility developed in partnership with General Motors of Canada, the Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering, the Government of Ontario, and the Government of Canada. ACE is comprised of a core research facility, with capability for full climatic, durability, and life-cycle testing, and an integrated research and training facility, with space dedicated for research, education, and training.

“It offers very sophisticated tools on a commercial basis to all industries, not only automotive but to the green industry, defense industry, whoever could use the capabilities,” Komar said.

ACE boasts one of the largest and most sophisticated climatic wind tunnels in the world, capable of producing speeds in excess of 240 km/h (149 mph), temperatures of -40 to +60°C (-40 to + +140°F), and humidity ranges from 5 to 95%. The tunnel is equipped with a four-roll dynamometer, with four independent motors capable of producing 1000 hp (746 kW), and features in-chamber fueling, a solar array to replicate the effects of the sun, and is hydrogen capable, allowing for alternative fuel cell development.

“They’re all hydrogen capable, so we can do fuel cell development and electric vehicle development. We have high voltage available, and we can do a lot of the thermal management immediately for a lot of battery development,” Komar said.

What truly distinguishes this climatic wind tunnel from others is the ability for the first time to test properties in crosswinds.

“One of the things that we’re going to be able to do is to yaw this dynamometer into the wind to simulate crosswinds; no other wind tunnel can do it,” said Gary Elfstrom, ACE Director of Business Development. “This is going to be, potentially, very critical for hybrid and electric vehicles, particularly electric vehicles, where the natural cooling in some cases like the Nissan Leaf could be very dependent on which way the wind is blowing.

“Cars are getting more and more sophisticated in how well the engine cooling system works, and no one knows for sure how well it works with a continual crosswind. We know already from some tests, that there is an effect. Now we’ll be able for the first time to actually quantify it with the engine running, with the vehicle yawed into the wind, etc.”

The ability to test properties in crosswinds is achieved thanks to an 11.5-m (37.7-ft) turntable that turns a test vehicle into the wind when under full load conditions.

“Many wind tunnels have a turntable, but the vehicle stays silent and isn’t able to actually yaw or put itself into those crosswinds,” Komar said. “As a result, as well, our nozzle isn’t just made for a small passenger vehicle, but in fact, as a result as you turn a vehicle into the wind, it has a wider footprint in the wind so our nozzle can adapt and grow and go from 7 m² all the way up to 14 m², and there is no other tunnel that actually has this capability that synchronizes itself with that yaw. “

ACE offers three additional climatic chambers, including large and small climate chambers that allow for tests under controlled conditions of temperature and humidity. The large climate chamber also has an input dynamometer and solar array.

“We can actually put [solar arrays] on trolleys and hoists such that we can change the angle of incidence. We can blast sun from the left or the right, sunrise, sunset, we can give you a different angle of incidence, different amount of intensity,” Komar said.

The fourth climatic chamber is equipped with a four-poster shaker to test products in an up-and-down motion for suspension and body durability and the detection of squeak and rattle.

“We can drive a vehicle on and then you input the road data and exactly exercise that suspension, but then you’ve got full climatic capability and on top of that we’ve provided the capability of high flow, high pressure to allow for full structural development up to 19 g,” Komar said.

ACE also features a multi-axis shaker table (MAST) in a hemi-anechoic chamber to test products for structural durability and the detection of noise and vibration.

The integrated research and training facility spans five floors with offices, laboratories, conference rooms, and common work areas. “We have industrial lab space for collaboration of academic and industry to get together and do development on a project-by-project basis,” Komar said.

The first floor is an industrial lab area with high bays and a support area with a variety of machine tools, including mills, welders, grinders, and lathes. The second and third floors are dedicated university spaces with offices and labs for UOIT faculty and students. The fourth and fifth floors contain industrial lab areas with support office space, able to be rented on a project-by-project basis.

ACE will initially be available to clients in the Ontario market, but interest in a truly independent test facility has already been expressed by companies in the U.S. and abroad.

“You don’t have to be as big as a Microsoft to play with the big-boy tools,” Komar said. “The border is not a limiting factor in anything. Initially we’re looking at the automotive sector, some defense industry, some green energy; we do have inquiries coming from overseas in Europe as well. We need to be walking before we’re running, so we’re going to cut our teeth with some local development first.”

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