Ford just lately invited us all the way down to their Ford Efficiency Technical Middle, situated within the coronary heart of NASCAR nation in North Carolina. The aim? To see firsthand how they’re able to use the identical analysis and improvement expertise for his or her racecars to hurry up improvement of shopper autos, whereas decreasing engineering prices within the course of.
Strolling into the 33,000-square-foot facility, you’re instantly drawn to the varied racecars (NASCAR, rally, street racing, and so forth) on show. However the actual magic occurs within the two simulator rooms, which characteristic a 26-foot wraparound display screen and a “buck” (a cockpit that recreates the inside of varied vehicles) within the middle of the room. When the sim goes dwell, the room goes darkish, and the driving force and engineers are capable of fine-tune vehicles based mostly on their expertise on the observe.
On the day we’re visiting, NASCAR’s David Ragan was preparing for the Charlotte race by taking just a few digital laps across the notorious “Roval” configuration, after which he stopped and relayed some suggestions to engineers, who made the required modifications to his automobile earlier than sending him again onto the observe. As soon as he finds the optimum setup, his group will be capable of make these modifications on his precise race automobile for the upcoming weekend.
Afterward, we noticed him crash into the tire wall. “Perhaps the opposite set-up was higher,” he informed the management room. However that illustrates what a invaluable device the simulator is, as had this occurred on the precise observe throughout their observe, he would have been seemingly down for the rely, with the automobile broken and unable to race.
However this expertise isn’t only for racecars. There’s a second simulator right here that’s used to check pre-production autos. The truth is, when the Ford GT was being developed, it was put by way of a whole lot of hours of digital testing earlier than ever rolling onto precise pavement. Think about with the ability to drive Nürburgring as a lot as you need, fine-tuning the automobile alongside the way in which to get the absolute best efficiency, however with out the expense of transport a automobile, elements, and groups of individuals over there, to not point out the precise observe time.
We had an opportunity to “drive” one of many simulators, taking out a Mustang GT350 for a spin on certainly one of Ford’s check tracks (which I really drove for actual years in the past). Hopping into the buck, I used to be greeted by the acquainted Mustang cockpit, full with a working gauge cluster, steering wheel, and 6-speed shifter, and all three pedals. I eased onto the observe, obtained my bearings, after which drove the course as if I had been in an actual automobile.
My solely criticism is that the feeling of pace nonetheless isn’t utterly there, however in any other case the expertise was fairly spot on, and the automobile behaved precisely like the actual factor. The truth is, I gave the automobile a little bit an excessive amount of fuel going into the nook, and the again finish obtained away from me, with the automobile going airborne and crashing, a cloud of smoke coming from my digital hood. Glad this was a simulation and never a multi-million greenback prototype that I used to be driving!
Talking with one of many engineers there, I discovered that he had logged a whole lot of hours with the upcoming Mustang GT500.. on the simulator. He’s been capable of check out numerous aero kits, a far faster and cheaper course of than constructing and swapping them out bodily. Ultimately, these modifications will likely be examined in the actual world, however the simulator is fairly spot on. Evaluating the simulator lap occasions to actual on-track occasions – “Our lap occasions at Virginia Worldwide Raceway, the place we go very often, are fairly comparable.” ‘Nuff mentioned.
Now lest you assume this solely applies to sports activities vehicles and the likes, the simulator will be additionally used for one thing as mainstream because the Ford Edge, Fusion or F-150. Once more, the objective right here is saving time and decreasing engineering prices.
Together with the simulator, Ford is utilizing a number of different superior instruments to assist pace manufacturing improvement occasions and reduce prices. These embody a brand new dynamic simulator, computational fluid dynamics for aerodynamic testing and digital manufacturing. Collectively, these instruments are migrating from the super-high-tech, low-volume racing improvement world to Ford’s international product improvement system.
It’s actually superb to see how we’ve got come from the outdated days of clay modeling to renderings on computer systems, and now to simulators and such which can be dashing up the method much more so. The truth is, the 2019 Ford Mustang NHRA Humorous Automobile program may have no prototype examined earlier than the racing physique is constructed, a testomony to the group’s confidence in its talents.
Due to Ford for giving us a peek behind the curtains, and to see how the corporate is utilizing the data they’ve gained from racing to make their mainstream autos higher.