Mobile wind tunnel provides fast noise testing

Mobile aeroacoustic wind tunnel in use on Ford Fusion

Ford is performing noise testing of production vehicles using a portable, low cost aeroacoustic wind tunnel.

Low noise level is one of the main purchasing considerations among people looking for a new car, according to Ford and so the company has come up with a better way to make its vehicles even quieter.

The world’s first fully mobile aeroacoustic wind tunnel is an innovative, patent-pending test system that allows for sources of unwanted wind noise in early production vehicles to be identified faster and remedies developed sooner. In the end, customers drive away in cars designed with a quiet interior that’s so essential to delivering a refined vehicle experience.

“This project was born from a desire to be the best when it comes to controlling and limiting the cabin noise customers are so sensitive to,” said Bill Gulker, Ford wind noise core supervisor. “And our new mobile wind tunnel saves our engineers time and increases productivity.”

Ford’s new wind tunnel debuts at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan and joins a growing fleet of mobile testing facilities including three environmental evaluation chambers.

Changing the business of quiet

Full-sized aerodynamics labs, such as Ford’s main wind tunnel in Allen Park, Michigan, are outfitted with the latest in sensitive measuring and analysis equipment. These office building-sized facilities are specialised for advanced aerodynamic and aeroacoustic development work on future models, with each facility costing about $50 million. Due to the specialised instruments and cost, running time for these machines is precious.

Ford’s new mobile wind tunnel costs a fraction of what a full-sized lab costs. Because testing requires only a steady stream of highway-speed wind, many of the large and sensitive instruments of a full aero lab aren’t required. But high-tech, in-cabin sensors like the Aachen head and Noise Vision can still be used.

With an on-site wind noise facility, Ford factories can pull more sample vehicles directly from the production line and test them with no delay – eliminating the time and complexity of shipping vehicles back and forth across the country. Issues requiring assembly process refinement can be detected and resolved earlier, since everybody involved is on hand.

“Now, we’re able to detect even the most subtle noises,” said Gulker. “We can identify an area in need of improvement, have key people gather, communicate quickly, and resolve the issue without delay.”

Rethinking the idea of a wind tunnel

Similar in concept to a full-scale wind tunnel laboratory, the heart of the mobile facility is built inside two 53-foot shipping containers. Each includes aeroacoustic vanes and internal ducting to provide smooth, controlled airflow at the nozzle end of the machine, while two 16-bladed, six-foot-diameter ducted fans – each powered by a 250-horsepower electric motor – deliver a maximum blast of 80mph wind. A series of doors around the containers ensure the sections remain secure during transport or storage.

The machine consists of the two main containers fastened together side by side on flat, level tarmac. In between, two roll-up doors are lifted, while doors on the front and back ends are opened to create the air intake and outlet nozzle. A third 40-foot container – housing a small office, power distribution and controls – is placed nearby, and data and power cabling are connected between the containers.

The entire operation can be broken down within a day, shipped to any Ford North American assembly facility via truck, then reassembled at the new site and be ready for testing within hours.

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