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  January, 2015
Climatic Wind Tunnel in Decatur Illinois Replicates Extreme Conditions
by Thomas R. Cutler

Predicting the weather and its consequences is not easy. Each year reports a new temperature extreme from bitter cold to brutal heat. The capacity to replicate these extreme conditions in the climatic wind tunnel assures automotive (and other) manufacturers the conditions and consequences have been considered in the design and reliability of the finished good. T/CCI is able to validate temperature control from -30C to 50C (0.5C steady state and 1.0C during transition) with proven repeatability. Cooling systems are tested at 600HP direct expansion R-22 refrigerant while heating systems are electric, sheathed tubular heaters. The control system, a LabVIEW Host contains an AB RS Logix PLC (programmable logic controller) PID closed loop.

The climatic wind tunnel allows for the accurate simulation of extreme temperatures to ensure the desired set point is accurately established to ensure the error is zeroed out before the product reaches production and the customer. Understanding the implications of climate on passenger automobiles, cargo and passenger vans, recreational vehicles, light and heavy duty (Class 6, 7, and 8) trucks are essential. Some of the testing validation required before a vehicle is sold to the public must evaluate air conditioning cool-down, heater warm-up, defrosting (according to legal standards), defogging (all windows), engine and transmission cooling. Additionally road loads, inclines, trailer towing must be considered along with city traffic simulation (cold and hot).

OEM customers around the globe recognize the value of a HVAC supplier with advanced technologies. T/CCI's Climatic Wind Tunnel complements the Decatur, Illinois-based compressor design and manufacturing capabilities for optimum performance and durability. The testing budget is carefully considered as the custom LabVIEW based acquisition system protects the quality and accuracy of data. The climatic wind tunnel custom simulates virtually any programmed test cycle including extreme climate and road conditions.

For several years the major automotive manufactures have utilized data generated by the tunnel located in Decatur. Below are a few examples of design questions and decisions that past tunnel data have answered. Often there is an inquiry about which heat exchanger is evaluated, from radiator, transmission cooler, oil cooler, power steering cooler, heater core, or evaporator.

Which cooling fan to utilize is often a design decision based upon cost reduction programs. The wind tunnel has been a source of test programs that have validated cost reduction ideas. This methodology may be as simple as going back to a current design and pulling content out, such as seals around the cooling package. It may not initially sound like significant savings, however when 50 cents is removed from a cooling package used on X number of vehicles, dramatic savings can be accumulated.

Extreme Conditions: Humid to Arid

From the swampy humid rainforests to the arid parched deserts, the ability to test and evaluate the impact of humidity in a climatic wind tunnel is equally important as temperature replication. The same closed loop process described above pertains to humidity variables as well. With humidity ranging from 10% to 95% from 4.4C to 50C with 2% with wet bulb/dry bulb air sampler, real-world simulation authenticates equipment consequences. Steam injection with atomized water injection can be utilized if needed.

Extreme Conditions: Airflow

The climatic wind tunnel tests 0 to 160 kph and aerodynamic equivalent back to the "A" pillar passenger vehicles with 3 nozzles using centrifugal aluminum wheel and an Allen Bradley DC 500 hp drive. These tests demonstrate wind effects on vehicles and other objects, wind characteristics, local wind environments, pedestrians comfort, structural response, diffusion, pollutant dispersion and matter transport, wind effects on heat losses and ventilation, and transport systems.

Extreme Conditions: Dynamometer

A dynamometer or often-abbreviated "dyno," is a device for measuring force, torque, or power. The power produced by an engine, motor, or other rotating prime mover can be calculated by simultaneously measuring torque and rotational speed (RPM). From 0 to 160 kph (200 HP each @ 400 RPM DC Driven motors) Burke E. Porter - D3 controller twin axle, twin drive 48" diameter movable rolls is utilized in the TCCI Climatic Wind Tunnel allowing for comprehensive front wheel, rear wheel, all wheel, and tandem axle capability. The data assesses the control achieved in absorbing, motoring, road load simulation, city traffic cycles, and transient modes in real-world replication and accurate simulation.

Extreme Conditions: Let the Sun Shine

Solar simulation is particular important for military vehicles, public bus systems with long exposure to sun. The methodology for replicating solar impact is achieved through infrared array with a size of 24' long, 10' wide using bulbs: 375 watt, 240 total bulbs; also, 100 to 1400 W/m2 with closed loop PID control is established. Testing the impacts of solar implications on vehicular reliability and diminution ensures that error and failure rates are eclipsed.

Extreme Conditions: Beyond the Climatic Wind Tunnel

While the climatic wind tunnel can replicate the vast majority of extreme environmental conditions, it is not exhaustive which is why T/CCI's multi-million dollar R & D lab and engineering test facility offers advanced product design and validation capability. Test equipment includes a calorimeter with 10 performance test points, 5 Ransco climatic chambers, 8 modern durability stands, thermal shock, noise, dust, and liquid slugging equipment. The test equipment provides additional simulation data to verify, validate product reliability, and ensure all corrective lean manufacturing processes and principles are applied before product is released to the customer.

The most critical test performed in the Decatur, IL, T/CCI Climatic Wind Tunnel is the FMVSS-103 Defroster Test, mandated by the government to meet minimal clearing of the windshield to stringent requirements. All motor vehicles sold in the United States must meet this requirement.

Tunnel testing is part of the development process, if left out it is like not doing your homework in school. The test is when the vehicle hits production. If a manufacturer completed the homework, the vehicle will be well received without issue. If not, then issues result in higher product cost, dissatisfied customers, or worst case recalls, warranty work, and law suits.

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., ( Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 5000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide and can be contacted at and can be followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler. See More Details.

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