High mountains, howling wind and searing heat in one room

High mountains, howling wind and searing heat in one room

Imagine a place where you can get a car higher than the tallest European mountain, batter it with hurricane-strength winds and expose it to searing desert heat. Škoda has a place just like that.

20. 6. 2024 Škoda World

When cars are being developed, prototypes are driven in extreme environments. They go to the Grossglockner in Austria, for example, where they are put through demanding tests as part of the development of the entire car, especially the cooling and braking system. The tests can only be carried out under certain conditions, though, and these are only found at the Grossglockner for a few months of the year, forcing the manufacturer to look for other test options. These might be laboratory tests in sophisticated facilities – and Škoda has just opened a facility like that.

Called the Simulation Centre, the facility makes it possible to simulate driving at altitudes from 0 to 5,500 metres above sea level, among other things. The Simulation Centre is designed for comprehensive testing of vehicles with all types of drives and for verifying virtual calculations in a wide range of driving and climatic conditions. “Making maximum use of virtual simulations is a clear trend in car development. These simulations need to be validated, though, and the new facility will make this possible,” explains Johannes Neft, Škoda board member for technical development.

DST2969_3260cb9fFrom the Simulation Centre control room, technicians can watch tests both on monitors and through the window.

In addition to altitude, the new special chamber can also create a number of other conditions. Cars can be exposed to temperatures from -7 to +50°C and relative humidity from 10 to 95%. The chamber’s dynamometric cylinders are designed for cars with power outputs of up to 300 kW and top speeds of 265 km/h, so the Škoda Motorsport department can test cars here. The laboratory is also equipped with a special track with a pair of fans 2.5 metres in diameter, which allow airflow around the car to be simulated. The laboratory can also be used to test different intensities of sunlight up to 1200 W/m2.

The goal is to test the car’s cooling system and thermal management, but also the powertrain itself and its behaviour in extreme conditions in terms of both emissions and consumption. For this reason, the laboratory features a modern analytical system for measuring emissions. To simulate driving in the mountains, special robots are used to drive the cars, replacing the driver – human operators are only allowed to work in the chamber up to a maximum simulated altitude of 2,500 metres.

A concrete sarcophagus that deforms

To enable testing in such a variety of conditions, the simulation chamber has a special structural design. The car enters through a double door that seals the compartment hermetically using an inflatable seal. In addition to the doors, the blades of the aerodynamic track behind the car are “closed” when the car enters, returning the air behind the car to the entire measuring track and to the fans.

On one side of the chamber is a giant heated and ventilated multi-layered glass window that lets technicians in the control centre see into the chamber. Next to that is a special sealed door. This allows the operator to pass through the 85 centimetre thick reinforced concrete wall into an airlock. Only when the door to the test area is closed will the pressure be equalised with the normal atmospheric pressure in the command centre.

The lab is equipped with a pair of fans 2.5 m in diameter that make it possible to simulate airflow around a car – the air streams out of the black recess in front of the car.

Incidentally, the facility itself is located in Mladá Boleslav at an altitude of approximately 220 metres, so the technology there can simulate a slight overpressure to generate conditions at sea level, as well as a highly depressurised space. Normal atmospheric pressure at sea level is 1,013 hPa, but at 5,500 metres above sea level the pressure is approximately half that, i.e. only 500 hPa. While the pressure outside the test chamber is always atmospheric, the pressure changes inside the chamber exert enormous forces on the reinforced concrete sarcophagus. The pressure difference here causes the sarcophagus wall to deform by about one centimetre.

Getting ready for Euro 7

The new Simulation Centre’s capabilities are even exceptional in the context of Volkswagen Group as a whole. “It will enable us to test vehicles for other Group brands as well,” Johannes Neft confirms. The neighbouring Emissions Centre will also be used for Group tasks. Here, Škoda recently commissioned one tempering chamber and two brand-new emissions booths for measuring car emissions. While the Simulation Centre will be used mainly by the Technical Development department, the Emissions Centre will be used both for vehicle development and for checking production cars’ conformity with homologation parameters, which is done by the Quality department.

DST3082_e7d45369 The Škoda Emissions Centre

The Emissions Centre’s climate chamber allows cars to be tested at temperatures from -40 to +65°C and relative humidity from 10 to 95%. The test cylinders can cope with up to 250 kW. One special feature is the rapid temperature change capability, which can handle temperature changes of 1°C per minute. The Centre is used to test both internal combustion engine cars and electric cars, where the energy consumption and maximum range of the car need to be verified in test cycles (especially WLTP). This is a more time-consuming process than testing combustion engine cars, by the way. And that is why the aforementioned tempering chamber was created, which prepares cars for the test temperature in advance. This means that cars don’t have to wait unnecessarily in the test area to reach the desired temperature (which can take up to 12 hours).

DST3062_7b7a1b86 A controllable robot is used instead of a driver in testing, such as the mountain driving simulation.