Over 2 000 crash tests performed at Volvo Cars Safety Centre – many thousands more lives saved

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In the year 2000 Volvo Cars celebrated a landmark in the history of the 80 year old company: The inauguration of the Volvo Car Safety Centre in Torslanda at Gothenburg, Sweden.

In the seven years that followed more than 2 000 crash tests were performed in this state-of-the-art facility – but more importantly, the information and experience gained through the very precise and well-researched testing procedures have made it possible to save many thousands more lives through the practical implementing of it.

The nature of modern-day testing in the Volvo Car Safety Centre is a far cry from the first test 50 years ago – when a car was rolled down a hill to hit a concrete wall. But the same commitment to safety for occupants of a Volvo which led to that first test still motivates the work and daily activities of the safety engineers and staff in the Volvo Car Safety Centre.

Since the opening of the Safety Centre seven years ago, the level of activities has grown to a point where 10 cars per week are now tested in the crash test laboratory.

The centre is designed to reproduce accidents of many different kinds. It is equipped with two tracks, one movable and one permanent. The movable track can be adjusted up to 90 degrees to enable tests of all kinds, from frontal to side collisions, to be carried out between cars travelling at different angles and speeds.

The permanent track is long enough for the cars to be accelerated to speeds up to 120 km/h. A series of other tests, such as rollover accidents or collisions with animals or other objects in the surrounding environment, can also be performed.

The movable track is positioned at the required angle through the use of giant air cushions – the same technology implemented to move the 850 ton block which is used inside the centre for the simulation of various types of crashes against a static object.

Over 100 crash tests per model
The requirements specified by various public agencies and bodies such as EuroNCAP and IIHS represent only part of the centre’s work – Volvo Cars performs additional crash tests to ensure that the collision performance of its cars is the best possible. In the course of development, a new Volvo model undergoes no less than 100 to 120 crash tests.

“To offer cars with a world-class standard of safety, we have to verify that the systems protect occupants of various sizes at a wide range of speeds and in a variety of accident situations. It is the capacity to replicate real-life accidents that makes our facility unique,” says Magnus Krokström, senior manager at the Volvo Cars Safety Centre.

In total, about 450 crash tests are carried out annually. Since the designation of the Volvo Car Safety Centre as a Safety Centre of Excellence for the Ford Motor Company, other makes of car produced by the group – including Jaguar, Land Rover and Ford – are also tested there.

Reproduction of real-life accidents
Development and testing activities in the laboratory also involve the reconstruction of real-life accidents. “Analysing actual road accidents and then testing new safety systems in the laboratory enables us to improve the safety of our cars, making them safer in the real traffic environment also,” says Krokström.

In order to develop accident simulations as they are found in real life, Volvo Cars use data that is acquired by a technical team which visits each serious motor vehicle accident in a 10 km radius around Gothenburg. Their measurements, pictures and other data recordings are fed into the two super-computers at the Safety Test Centre for the simulation of virtual, real-life accidents.

New challenges
Since new legislation, market forces and safety systems constantly present the laboratory with new challenges, it is important to maintain close contact with the researcher community to ensure that resources are allocated correctly with an eye to future developments. As an example, when planning work on the Safety Centre began in 1996, it was foreseen that compatibility, in the context of crashes between large and small cars, would be an important area of research in the future.

And so it has proved. Other types of testing that have grown in importance in recent years include rear-end collisions, which have become increasingly common in heavy urban traffic, and angled side collisions, which are a common occurrence at junctions.

“Although we have had to make some modifications since the early days, there are now almost no limits to what we can do in the laboratory,” says Krokström.

Planning and follow-up
A crash test takes five days to complete. Three days are spent preparing the test car, fitting sensors and applying a matt paint, usually orange, to avoid reflections from the car while filming. The test dummies are also prepared at this time. Final preparation, including the installation of instrumentation systems and cameras, takes place the day before the actual test. On average, two crash tests are performed every day, ensuring effective use of the facility.

“Although test data can be read out within an hour, manual inspection of both car and dummies is also required. Our analysts deliver a preliminary report to the car project team within 24 hours. This is followed by a more detailed analysis that can take up to a fortnight;” says Krokström.

Virtual simulations
Computerised crash simulations are performed, using advanced computers, about three and a half years prior to the production of a new car model. Physical testing commences about a year before the model is launched on the market. Test cars used by the project team for other tests are among the vehicles used for this purpose.

The cars are updated as required to make them as similar as possible to the final version. However, no physical testing is carried out unless Volvo Cars’ safety experts are satisfied with the results of virtual testing.

Testing of preventive safety systems that help to prevent accidents, has also begun recently – calling for effective test methods much more advanced than the first, rather primitive, Volvo crash test 50 years ago.