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Ford commits to Geelong

Skunkworks: Ford's new $27 million R&D Centre in Geelong.

One of the most significant facility upgrades in Ford Australia history is on schedule

Ford logo31 Dec 2007


FORD Australia says its brand-new Research and Development Centre, unveiled recently to the media along with cutting-edge new testing equipment at Ford’s nearby You Yangs Proving Ground (YYPG), represents tangible evidence of the company’s commitment to the development of world-class vehicles for Australia and overseas.

The $27 million purpose-built R&D complex at Ford’s Automotive Manufacturing Operations (AMO) site in Geelong will be one of the first major new facilities to come fully on line in early 2008 as part of the unprecedented $1.8 billion, decade-long investment strategy Ford announced in mid-2006.

It replaces the company’s “less efficient” (read: archaic) Product Engineering Office (PEO), located over the road in a WWII warehouse that was converted in the 1960s to develop Australia’s first Falcons.

Already operational, the new R&D buildings are located adjacent to both the stamping plant, which has undergone a large-scale press upgrade in preparation for production of next April’s eighth-generation “Orion” Falcon, and the 82-year-old engine plant, which will be defunct in two years.

As we revealed exclusively on July 11, and Ford officially confirmed a week later, 600 engine plant jobs will be lost when an imported Duratec V6 replaces Ford Australia’s inline six after 50 years of service in 2010. Ford says it can no longer justify the production of 70,000 engines for domestic consumption beyond this decade, when tighter Euro IV emissions regulations come into full force.

Less than another week later, Ford Oz also confirmed a report it will manufacture the next-generation Ford Focus from 2011 and, in doing so, create about 300 jobs as part of its mid-term plan to return the Campbellfield assembly plant to maximum capacity.

The Focus plan, which will see Ford become Australia’s first small-car maker since Toyota built the Corolla at Altona in 1999, is in stark contrast to the business models of both Toyota and GM Holden, which this week announced the first shipments of Commodore SS sedan-based Pontiac G8s to the US in a landmark export deal that has helped Holden join Toyota in utilising all of its production potential. The pair now export about 50 and 60 per cent of the cars they build respectively.

“For over 80 years, Ford has taken a leadership role in automotive design, engineering and manufacturing in Australia,” said Ford Australia president Tom Gorman.

“The new facilities in Geelong and at our proving ground represent some of the most significant facilities investment programs ever undertaken by the company, demonstrating our commitment to technological leadership, as well as helping build Ford's capability as an innovative and progressive vehicle manufacturer.

“The new R&D Centre is set to become a centrepiece of our local operation, which will underpin future engineering projects and equip Ford Australia to play an even greater role within the Asia Pacific region.

“It will enhance Ford Australia's position as a design and engineering centre of excellence within the company's global product development community, as well as ensuring our local operation can take advantage of strategic global opportunities,” said Mr Gorman, who added that many of the new the facilities at the YYPG near Lara have been employed in the development of next year’s redesigned Falcon.

Following are details on Ford’s new R&D facility and upgraded stamping plant in Geelong, as well as the first fruits of a $29 million investment in YYPG facilities as Ford Australia becomes a design and engineering “centre of excellence” in the Asia-Pacific and Africa regions. They include Australia’s first vehicle semi-anechoic chamber, a vehicle dynamics area, a kinematics and compliance rig and a robotised, 24-hour high-speed test centre.

Also commissioned in 2007 and now under construction are an environmental wind tunnel and emissions test cell, funded in part by the Victorian state government through its Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) infrastructure grants program, as part of the Advanced Centre for Automotive Research and Testing (ACART), a joint-venture with the University of Melbourne.

R&D Centre

BUILT to Ford Motor Company’s strict fire prevention standards and bringing all of Ford Australia’s Geelong component manufacturing premises together for the first timn ’s , Ford’s new Australian skunkworks comprises two separate buildings connected by an overhead walkway and housed behind a front facade inspired by the original brick Ford manufacturing building founded in the 1920s.

Behind a two-storey office complex across the front of the site are three large workshop bays and a smaller, second building also at the rear of the facility. Covering a total of almost 10,000 square-metres and split 40/60 between office and workshop space respectively, the new buildings will house about 350 engineers and support staff in offices, plus 120 employees across the workshops.

The open-plan office area can be adapted to work group requirements depending on the stage of vehicle development, and Ford says the four adjoining workshop areas are bigger and more efficient than in the PEO.

They include, including a development garage, mechanical and hydraulic test laboratory, an engine test and development laboratory and a prototype shop, where automotive artisans craft panels, create “package bucks” and modify complete vehicles for research clinics, motor shows and dynamic evaluation.

“Anything that’s done on wheels we can do here,” said a Ford engineer.

The development garage houses a range of latest-technology vehicle lifts to suit both low and high-clearance applications, while the three-storey test lab houses new noise enclosures for component and full vehicle testing, complete with two 400kW road-simulating engine dynos and high frequency vibration testing equipment – usually mounted on massive concrete blocks beneath the ground to isolate the test rig from the surrounding building.

Upgraded stamping plant

REPRESENTING more than double the R&DC investment at a total of $55 million is an expanded stamping plant with new buildings to house new press lines and press equipment that will produce the 2008 Falcon.

27 center imageLeft (from top): Press Line 21 (Geelong stamping plant) Australia's first seven-axis robots Orion in the semi-anechoic chamber Falcon ute in the high speed centre (both at You Yangs proving ground) R&D Centre service garage (Geelong) new Falcon XR takes to the upgraded vehicle dynamics area (YYPG).To be operational from the second quarter of next year, the transformed press facility will be the culmination of three years of civil works to incorporate a new “wide-body” press line dubbed Press Line 21, a hydraulic try-out press and a new blanking press.

Manufactured by Fagor in Spain, the new single-bodyside press will see the Falcon match Mitsubishi’s 380 and Holden’s Commodore in featuring a single-piece body side, which brings benefits such as improved quality, rigidity and refinement.

It consists of four integrated, state-of-the-art mechanical presses, serviced by six robots and five automated guided vehicles, and is capable of producing 380-520 parts per hour and eventually up to 28 unique parts. Further improving productivity, the tandem presses can stamp left and right-hand side doors simultaneously using a “smart” tooling design.

To allow the continued manufacture of Falcon and Territory models, existing equipment including the baler had to be temporarily relocated during the extension construction, sub-station fit-out, connection of services, installation of a 50-tonne overhead crane, scrap conveyors and basement works for the new press and blanking lines.

Ford says the new press is a world-first in aluminium tooling with an auto tool-change device, which delivers world-class four to six-minute die changeover times (from Falcon sedan, ute or wagon to Focus hatch or sedan, for example), and said to be the first facility in the world to employ the latest level seven-axis robots, also from Spain (ABB).

It claims the new “tryout” press will allow “testing and quality improvements to be initiated outside of the main press line, as well as supporting the addition of the Focus small car to Ford's manufacturing operation in 2011”.

Semi-anechoic chamber

DESIGNED for noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) testing in a controlled environment by replicating a moving vehicle during open-road driving, Ford says its new vehicle semi-anechoic chamber (VSAC) is the first of its kind in Australia.

Vehicle testing benefits include the elimination of errors in measurement due to wind and weather and the repeatability of tests under constant temperatures, on identical road surfaces and with a driver robot. Front and rear axles can be tested independently and testing (including top-speed) can be conducted 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Of course, improved prototype security is also a key benefit as it reduces risky and expensive road test time.

VSAC comprises an all-wheel drive capable, 250km/h dynamometer, rated to 300kW at the rear and 200kW at the front, and is temperature-controlled via a 200kW chiller and 38kW heater units. Ford says 70 per cent of cooling air is recirculated to increase energy efficiency and reduce running costs, while the energy generated during dyno braking modes is fed back into the community power grid.

Measuring 17x13 metres, the Ford Australia-designed acoustic chamber features 200m-thick tilt-slab concrete walls and 750 1.35-metre Metadyne perforated, metal-faced acoustic absorption wedges to replicate the open road above 50Hz, which is well below all powertrain and road noise frequencies of interest for driving. Ford says background noise is less than 25dB(A) for engine idle measurements, while it has also been certified at 50dB(A) at 100km/h. It can handle wheelbases between 2500mm and 4200mm and its maximum permissible axle load is 2000kg.

Textured epoxy “road shells” that can replicate both Australian coarse-chip surfaces and the Gleneagles coarse road at FoMoCo’s Dearborn proving ground (to enable global proving ground correlation) are wrapped around the dyno drums, positioned on a 120-tonne seismically de-coupled concrete footing, for vehicle and tyre development.

Vehicle dynamics area

FORD’S enlarged vehicle dynamics area (VDA) was modelled on the specifications of similar facilities at the company’s Lommel (LPG), Dearborn (DPG) and Michigan (MPG) proving grounds and is designed to accommodate both current test procedures and future test capabilities, including future low-friction surfaces and wet test facilities.

The layout complies with a list of mandatory requirements and corporate test procedures for vehicle dynamics that could not be performed anywhere at You Yangs, plus 27 other vehicle dynamics sign-off tests, development tests and other vehicle systems tests for powertrain and wind noise.

The core vehicle dynamics test area is 935 metres in length and 100 metres across at its widest point (for a total of 50,000sq-m), and is serviced from both sides by 650 metre acceleration roads. Its asphalt surface has a very specific tolerance for coefficient of friction, while basalt tile and brushed concrete surfaces will be added later.

Ford says that core samples from MPG and design verification tests of LPG by Auburn University Alabama's NCAT (National Center of Asphalt Technology) enabled a localised design to be developed and tested at NCAT which was the best fit for required friction levels and cost.

Kinematics and compliance rig

TO BE installed at YYPG in early 2008, the new kinematics and compliance (K&C) rig employs flight simulator technology (Ford of Europe is claimed to have been “heavily involved in its development for application in vehicle testing”) to test the elastokinematic properties of suspension systems.

Employing analysis and data format that is 100 per cent compatible with Ford in Europe and North America, the K&C rig allows vehicle suspension to be loaded with cornering forces, braking forces, wheel alignment torques and simulated road undulations to facilitate the measurement of characteristics such as road wheel steering angle changes (toe changes), road wheel camber angle changes, steering wheel torque, roll-centre height. tyre contact reaction forces, wheel displacements and suspension component displacements.

High speed centre

REDUCING test times, improving safety and guaranteeing repeatable test regimes are the automated driver robots that are capable of clocking up tens of thousands of kilometres - non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week – at Ford’s new high speed centre (HSC)Designed for conducting powertrain durability, powertrain system durability and catalyst ageing mileage accumulation at high vehicle speeds, the facility could add brake pedal control to the list of robotic vehicle controls currently available: key switch actuation, throttle control actuation, gear shift actuation (manual and automatic) and clutch control actuation.

The HSC dyno is 250km/h capable, is filmed by eight digital video cameras, supports wheelbases between 2250 and 4700mm and features an automatic fuelling system, oil and water leak detection, in-car CO2 sensor, under-car CO2 sensor, flame detection and smoke detection.

Environmental wind tunnel

CURRENTLY in the final stages of construction is the southern hemisphere’s most powerful wind tunnel, featuring a test cell capable of reaching temperatures from -40 to +55 degrees C and wind speeds of up to 250km/h.

Providing the automotive, off-road and military sectors (as well as Ford subsidiaries from the Asia-Pacific to Africa) with a 24/7-operational, controlled and repeatable environment in which to more quickly develop products suitable for all global markets, it will be used to develop future automotive heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) and engine cooling systems, as well as research.

Featuring two independent soak chambers and able to replicate 10-95 per cent humidity, the environmental wind tunnel (EWT) is future-protected for rain and snow simulation.

Emissions test cell

LOICATED near the EWT at the 930-hectare YYPG, which was opened in 1965 to improve the reliability of the original US-design Falcon in Australian conditions, the new emissions test cell (ETC) is housed within the existing Ford Australia Emissions Laboratory that has served both internal and external customers in Australia and overseas since 1972.

Beyond maximising fuel economy, achieving low exhaust and evaporative emissions and optimise performance and driveability for new vehicles, the new multi-fuel cell ETC 2 has been completely redesigned and re-equipped as part of ACART, and now adds diesel testing capability and new test equipment including an AVL-manufactured all-wheel drive 48-inch 300kW/200km/h dyno.

The ACART ETC 2 meets Euro 4 diesel, Euro 5 petrol and SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) testing requirements, and features two raw gas lines, a micro soot sensor, Horiba Euro IV-capable emissions benches and CVS (Constant Volume Sampling), PC VETS software, Horiba Particulate Dilution Tunnel and sampling unit, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy fast response analyser for up to 30 different emission components simultaneously and a combustion analyser/pressure indicating system with combustion sound prediction, real-time knock analysis, rotational and torsional vibration analysis and cold-start functionality.

Ford says both facilities are certified to ISO 9000 and ISO14000, while the emissions lab that houses the emissions test cell is accredited by Australia's national laboratory accreditation authority, the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA), to ISO 17025.

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