A crash course on drives

Ford calls on ABB drives team to help improve vehicle crash testing accuracy.
Manufacturing a car today involves more than simply casting, welding, assembly and spray painting. When you buy a vehicle in Australia, you can be sure that the model has passed a number of rigorous tests before being allowed out on the road.

Local automotive manufacturer Ford Australia operates a testing ground in the You Yang Regional Park in Lara, Victoria, where it assesses vehicles to ensure they meet a number of standards including handling, corrosion, vibration, emissions and – perhaps most importantly – safety.

The Ford You Yangs Proving Ground (YYPG) is a 930-hectare site, located in close proximity to the company’s Geelong R&D Centre, and Broadmeadows Manufacturing Plant, Engineering & Technology Centres, Design Studio and Head Offices.

The facility comprises four laboratories – the Operations Building, Vehicle Refinement and Dynamics Centre (VRDC), Emissions Laboratory, and Powertrain Development building – housing a number of testing amenities, including the Vehicle Crash Barrier.

A 203-tonne block of reinforced concrete set into the ground, the Crash Barrier features a 3x3.7m impact face, covered by 25mm-thick boiler place. A wide concrete apron and 6.1m pit are located in front of the barrier to facilitate filming the underside of the vehicle during impact.

A 115m-long concrete approach road has a channel down the centre, where the tow cable and vehicle tow trolley run; the tow cable is driven by a variable speed DC motor and winch.

ABB's drive team helps to improve vehicle crash testing accuracy

Systems upgrade
Ford employs 2,750 individuals and operates 200 dealerships across the country. Its Product Development (PD) and Proving Ground workforce is made up of 1,100 engineers and scientists, along with 350 technicians – all tasked with the important goal of developing safe cars for the modern population.

This year alone, Ford will introduce a slew of new cars to the local market – including updated versions of its Falcon, Falcon Ute and Territory – and will continue to offer its well-known Fiesta, Focus, Mondeo, Kuga and Ranger models. By 2016, the automotive manufacturer plans to increase by a huge 30 percent the number of new vehicles it offers its Australian customers, among them the all-new Mustang coupe and convertible.

No doubt, Ford is transforming its business. However, further than simply rolling-out new car models, the manufacturer is also renewing its commitment to its PD centres – investing in new technology to ensure it continues to develop market-leading vehicles for both the Australian and international markets.

Based in Victoria, the PD teams are fully integrated, offering advanced virtual engineering capabilities for both local and global vehicles. The sites played a significant role in engineering and testing the popular Ranger pickup, which is now sold in more than 180 countries.

At its all-important YYPG site, Ford has recently completed a significant investment, upgrading the technology used in its vehicle crash barrier operations. Having worked with ABB previously on a number of projects across its business, Ford once again called on the power and automation company to offer services and equipment for the upgrade.

Ford Motor Company of Australia Limited Research and Development Centre (RDC) facility engineer, Tony Golaboski, says the car-maker required an upgrade to the site’s electric drive system, including brand new DC electric motors, DC drives and a PLC.

"ABB’s products helped us by installing up-to-date equipment that uses current technology and that is supported with spare parts and service. This equipment also provided the correct performance characteristics to suit our internal testing procedures, with a high level of quality and repeatability," Golaboski explained.

ABB's Drives and Controls business worked closely with Ford to select the right products out of the ABB portfolio for this demanding application. A range of factors needed to be taken into account, including: the acceleration times of the vehicles being tested; and the addition of a soft-start capability to prevent sensor damage to the crash test dummies involved in the procedures. Drives Engineering and Service, the service business of ABB Drives and Controls was then involved in the engineering, commissioning and ongoing support for this installation.

"During commissioning we had some technical issues to resolve and credit needs to go to the Ford team and ABB for pulling out all stops to resolve the issues and meet our testing deadlines," said Golaboski.

ABB had previously worked with Ford to supply a number of robot cells for the car-maker’s machine and assembly facilities in Geelong.

"I have had many interactions with ABB prior to this in the manufacturing division of Ford Geelong where we worked closely to install robot cells in our new cylinder head machining lines and engine assembly operations," Golaboski recalled.

The system
According to the ABB Australa product manager for DC Drives/MV Softstarter, Andreas Schatz, the system at the YYPG Crash Test Barrier was outdated, and needed to be both faster and more accurate. The set-up also needed to be able to cater for larger car sizes, as well as different models.

"The former crash test system was very old. It needed to be upgraded to cater for new (heavier) vehicles, and to gain better control and accuracy for the crash testing," explained Schatz.

ABB provided a range of DCS800 DC variable speed drives, DMI 180S DC motors, a touchscreen, and an AC500 PLC, along with engineering and commissioning, improving considerably the abilities of the YYPG Crash Test Barrier.

The touchscreen now allows fully-automated adjustment of speeds dependent on the weight of the car; according to Schatz, this was previously done manually. The addition of a PLC also allows data logging, which wasn’t possible using the previous set-up.

"The new system now allows the customer to adjust via touchscreen the weight and the crash velocity exactly. All control of the crash procedure is now done out in the field using the touchscreen, which is much more accurate than the previous manual operation," said Schatz.

"The new high performance DC motor allows the system to pull bigger weights (cars) and, in conjunction with the new DC drive, the control of the speed and even the acceleration can be controlled very smoothly in order to prevent any damage to the sensitive measuring equipment on-board the crash car.

"Ford is very happy with the result of the upgrade. They now have the chance to increase the accuracy of the tests and are not restricted anymore in regards of vehicle weight."