Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Stressing Out Over Bogeys

Jeffrey Zyburt

Jeffrey Zyburt is Director of Proving Grounds at Chrysler's Chelsea (Mich.) Proving Grounds.

People often have no idea how complex and involved the tests we perform on our cars are, from the very beginnings of their development. This means that long before the parts are even set in motion on the assembly line, we have a deep understanding of how they will work within the final product.

To accomplish this, we generate hundreds of ‘load cases’ to figure out what kind of issues may arise in the vehicle’s design. A ‘load case’ is a specific test on the ability of a car’s components to withstand the stress and strain that comes with regular use.

We have certain thresholds in mind (what we like to call ‘bogeys’) that we test our products against to make sure they can withstand the fatigue of operation.

This testing is important because engineers can take this data and optimize the vehicle’s performance and design based on our analysis. By subjecting the car – and its components – to a detailed set of procedures and analysis the customer ends up with a superior product.

This happens on three levels. First, we test the components on an individual basis to make sure that they’re up to par. We do this with computer analysis, detailed simulations and oftentimes some good old fashioned elbow grease.

For example, if we want to make sure that a door can withstand tens of thousands of slams shut, we will literally force the door to be opened and slammed shut thousands of times. In fact, we perform tons of tests like this on many different parts of a vehicle.

Next, we perform some ‘systems’ tests. Without getting too technical, this involves key groups of the components we’ve tested, like the chassis for example, operating as an entire system. When we’re satisfied that the system is reliable and ready for the next stage we begin vehicle testing.

This phase you may be more familiar with. By the time a vehicle is ready for a full-blown vehicle test, it has been vetted and approved by computers, engineers, and our laboratory’s stress and design staff and is ready for a real-world test on the test track.

Sometimes this involves chasing bogeys, or pre-established standards for durability and usefulness and sometimes it involves testing to failure, which is exactly what it sounds like.

This might seem involved or intensive, but our customers deserve to have every product we manufacture perform to the highest standards of performance and safety. My job is to ensure that every component in these vehicles is thoroughly tested to ensure that you get the highest quality product possible from our company.

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