DEARBORN - Ford Wind Tunnel 8 is marking its 10th anniversary this year, and there is a big reason to celebrate the occasion.
Powered by a gargantuan 23-foot-wide fan with 44 massive carbon fiber blades that can simulate air speeds up to 150 mph, Wind Tunnel 8 has enabled Ford engineers to dramatically improve wind noise – one of the top complaints of new car buyers.
Since its opening in 2001, Wind Tunnel 8 has helped Ford to reduce the number of Things Gone Wrong attributed to wind noise by a whopping half, outpacing General Motors, Volkswagen, Honda and Toyota, according to data from the Global Quality Research System (GQRS) report, a study conducted for Ford by RDA Group of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
“Quiet equals quality in the minds of customers, and the advanced work that the team has been able to do in Wind Tunnel 8 has boosted Ford from an uncompetitive position to best-in-class for wind noise,” said Bill Gulker, supervisor, Ford Interior Quietness Engineering.
Prior to the development of Wind Tunnel 8, engineers performed wind tests on the road or at out-of-state facilities where appointments had to be booked months in advance. Wind Tunnel 8 provided an easily accessible local facility where wind, climate and acoustics could be controlled in a very precise way.
“It gives us repeatable data,” said Gulker. “A big part of wind noise is all the details – a small design change with a side mirror or with the insulation of the car can make a huge impact. If you don’t have a repeatable tool, you can’t measure all of those things in a consistent, accurate fashion.”
Time in the tunnel is split equally between the wind noise group and aerodynamic engineers who work to reduce drag and achieve optimal fuel economy in future Ford vehicles. The tunnel is used to test vehicles up to 150 mph, registering the forces felt by the vehicle using a precision balance, which can detect weights as light as a dime and carry loads as heavy as 10,000 pounds.
“Our goal is to craft the vehicle so that it slips through the air with minimum drag,” said Steve Parks, Ford aerodynamics senior engineer. “When built in 2001, the state-of-the-art open jet tunnel enabled aerodynamic optimization of vehicles right here in Detroit. More efficient access to the tool meant we could increase our testing by 27 percent over our previous process, and that certainly moved the needle for us.”
According to Parks, some programs improved in aerodynamic efficiency by as much as 18 percent since the facility came on line.
“Most importantly, we know that our customers demand both stunning design and leadership in fuel economy,” he said. “Having Wind Tunnel 8 here in our backyard enables us to work hand in hand with our design studios to rapidly achieve that goal.”
Gulker says a major factor contributing to the success of Wind Tunnel 8 is the dedicated team of engineers who use it.
“Other automakers have wind tunnels but just because you have one, it doesn’t mean you are going to be able to deliver good results,” he said. “It’s a combination of having the test site and a phenomenal team that can utilize it optimally that leads to top performance.”