Volvo Crash Test Laboratory - Behind the Scenes

The majority of carmakers struggle for some years now to develop a variety of passive and active safety features that are meant to protect the vehicle occupants from injuries and even death and reduce the financial prejudice. Agencies such as IIHS, NHTSA and NCAP are crash testing the respective vehicles, rate them and reveal the results to the general public through media. This is the moment when a carmaker may win or lose customers. But ten years ago, Swedish carmaker Volvo took the decision of creating its own crash test laboratory, a high-tech facility used for replicating accident scenarios and test new safety technologies in order to build safer cars for real-traffic conditions. The safety centre was inaugurated by Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf in early 2000, and at that time it was one of the most advanced in the car industry. Volvo tried to retain that position over the years with continuous implementation of new equipment and new test methods. Now, the crash test laboratory has a capacity to carry out more than 400 full-scale tests per year. The latest technology brought to the lab is a set of digital high-speed cameras that can take 200,000 frames per second. There are also a number of miniature cameras that are installed inside the cars to capture what happens with various key components in the vehicle. The crash-test laboratory has one fixed (154 metre) and one movable (108 metres) test track. The movable track can be adjusted from 0 to 90 degrees. This makes it possible to carry out tests involving a variety of incident and accident scenarios, from frontal impacts to side impacts, between two moving cars approach at different angles and speeds. Moreover, avoidance and mitigation of collision can also be tested. On the fixed test track, the maximum speed for a passenger car is 120 km/h. On the movable test track, maximum speed is 80 km/h. The speeds on each test track can be regulated independently of one another. Point of impact precision in a test in which two moving cars hit at 50 km/h is 2.5 centimetres, corresponding to two thousandths of a second. By comparison, the blink of a human eye takes about 60 thousandths of a second. On the fixed track it is also possible to crash-test trucks at speeds of up to 80 km/h. The two tracks meet above a six meter deep, Plexiglas-covered pit used for filming the collision tests from underneath. According to a company press release, in 2003, Volvo Cars demonstrated the side-impact protection of the Volvo S40 to invited media representatives by allowing the compact sedan model to be struck by a far larger XC90 model travelling at 50 km/h. The cameras that film the tests from above are installed in a rig 11 metres above the point of impact. There are about 50 high-speed cameras. The fastest can take 200 000 frames per second. The smallest cameras can be used to study the way in which small components inside the cars are affected by the collision forces. The laboratory's crash block weighs 850 tonnes. It is moved with the help of air cushion technique. Different types of crash test barriers can be built on three sides of the block. In addition, there are around 20 other barriers to support Volvos own extensive testing, based on knowledge from real life situations, as well as the various official test requirements. Volvo Cars' also performs crash tests in a unique crash test simulator using a reinforced car body with the actual interior that is to be tested. The crash simulator can recreate the tipping, or pitch, in real-life collisions without destroying the car body. It can also simulate intrusion into the passenger compartment, using ten pistons representing different parts of the car. According to Volvo, a new car model that is being crash tested in the lab has already been tested thousands of times on computers, where a crash test can efficiently be simulated a number of times with different parameters without destroying a car. Crash tests on both tracks can also be carried out in the opposite direction. At the end of the fixed track there is a concrete slab that can be used for various tests such as rollovers and tests including avoidance or mitigation of a crash. At the end of the movable track, the surrounding landscape serves as an integrated part of the crash-test laboratory. Here crash tests are carried out against a variety of objects found in the traffic environment. In addition to the lab's full-time employees there is a team of various crash-test dummies: men, women and children of different sizes, weight and ages. The dummies are advanced measuring instruments with different designs and configurations for different crash situations: frontal crash test dummies, side impact dummies and rear end dummies. 2000-2010 Milestones, as announced by Volvo, are detailed below:
2000 - The crash-test laboratory is inaugurated on March 29 by His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.
2000 - Tests of central road dividers made by wires.
2001 - Volvo Cars is appointed Centre of Excellence for safety within the parent corporation, Ford Motor Company. Over the following years, many crash tests are carried out on various models from Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Ford of Europe in Volvo's high-tech crash-test laboratory. The laboratory is also used by Volvo Trucks.
2002 - A new test rig for roll-over tests is demonstrated. The media are invited to witness a roll-over test of the new Volvo XC90.
2003 - Media activity involving a crash test in which the company's largest model, the XC90, drives into the side of the smallest model in the range, the Volvo S40, at 50 km/h.
2007 - The 2000th crash test is carried out in May.
2008 - A new set of digital high-speed cameras is installed. They can take 200 000 frames a second and this advanced technology provides enhanced scope for studying in minute detail exactly what happens to the test dummies and the car in a collision.
2008 - New test rig that creates a unique possibility to film the car from below when it hits a lamppost or tree.
 2010 - The crash-test laboratory celebrates its tenth anniversary by performing three different types of complex crash tests during one day in front of 100 invited journalists. Almost 3,000 crash tests have been carried out in the laboratory during its first ten years of operation.
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