Ford Dunton Technical Centre

Wednesday 27th September 2017 – Ford Dunton Technical Centre.
We visited Dunton just a few days before the golden anniversary of the official opening by Harold Wilson on 12th of October1967. Dunton was then, and still is, one of the UK’s largest automotive technical centres.

The Motorway era experienced a number of tragic accidents.

Some were as a result of temporary works failures, others as a result of design failures. The collapse of the supports for Loddon Bridge (1972) during construction, and the design failure of the Cleddau Bridge(1970) in Milford Haven shown opposite are two examples.

Both incidents had a profound effect on the industry.

Almost one year after the opening I started work there but it nearly did not happen. I had driven down to the interview from Manchester with minimal directions and drove straight past the site as there was no signposting. The picture opposite shows the main entrance where I should have gone!

I ended up at the Ford Tractor plant that had a very obvious onion shaped water tower emblazoned ‘Ford’.

I was amazed when I got the job in this “secret” establishment, especially as two of my cleverer colleagues failed the interview (one of them later became Engineering Director at Dunton).

Planning of the test centre had taken many years and the new building incorporated the functions of six or seven separate Ford divisions and cost £10million.
At that time Ford were engineering the Mk1 Escort, Cortina and Transit, emissions were only a problem in Los Angeles And the whole site had only one punched–card driven computer. There were no electronic calculators but masses of drawing boards.

Since then it has been extensively modernised and extended and is now twice the size, employing some 4500 staff (of whom only 280 are chartered engineers). They are keen to get more electricals and are encouraging internal staff to ‘convert’ where possible.

Cumulative investment exceeds $8.8bn with $20m annual capital investment on site, which as can be seen from the illustration, is now quite extensive.

Dunton is the Powertrain and Commercial Vehicle Centre of Excellence in Europe and the global lead for small gasoline and diesel engines. Engines, which are designed and developed in the UK, power over 60% of all Ford vehicles and have gained many prestigious awards.

Over the years the site’s responsibilities have increased and in addition to Product Development include Environmental & Safety Engineering, Material Planning & Logistics, Purchasing, Information Technology & E-Business, Manufacturing Engineering, Ford Land, Marketing & Sales, Operations Staffs, Corporate Finance, Public Affairs, Ford Customer Service Division and Human Resources.

After an interesting introductory talk we visited three areas, Rapid Prototyping, The HYGE Crash simulation Facility and Environmental Testing.

Rapid Prototyping

Rapid prototyping is used in time critical scenarios to quickly produce components using 3D Printing. 3D printers

produce limited runs of parts: materials used range from plastic to various metals. For the latter, lasers are used to fuse each thin layer to the one underneath, thus producing a strong metallic component. Sand printers use moulding sand and a bonding agent to make moulds for hot metal casting.

The result of this is that parts can be produced at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods.
Components can be tested, verified and modifications made very quickly, significantly reducing lead times.
Dunton also has an extensive vehicle workshop and engine prototype build area delivering hundreds of prototypes per year. We saw many of these prototypes with a very fine pattern on their exterior paintwork: this is a form of camouflage to hinder spying observers from being able to preview the exact shapes of new designs.

We saw a ‘printed’ plastic engine block being accurately measured by laser cameras in order to determine what small changes have to be made to the input CAD file in order to allow for stresses and strains produced within the printed plastic item.

The HYGE crash simulation facility

They use an interesting set of dummies representing various humans from 9 month
old babies to full size ‘rugby players’. Dummies are coloured a politically correct colour midway between white european and dark afro-caribbean.

This shows a side view of a car’s front grille produced entirely on a 3D printer.

The HYGE Sled has been operating since the early days of Dunton but with major updates in the range of sensors used. It greatly reduces the need to crash test cars during development.

The larger dummies all wear ‘standard’ shoes dating back to a USAF issue, which now cost $120/pair. Why wear shoes? Because they possess a degree of friction in their soles which in turn influences some of the impact transducer

measurements. The larger dummies cost £45k basic or £150k when fitted with sensors (accelerometers, strain gauges, movement potentiometers). Typically there are up to 96 sensors in a dummy. Dummies are subjected to 10 ‘firings’, or

a storage time of 1 year, whichever comes first, before being sent away for re-calibration.
In a test, dummies are set into a mock-up partial car, which in turn is fixed to a 5 ton sled. The sled is butted up against a VERY powerful ram which has a 10 ́ travel and is powered by air at 3000 psi.

Environmental testing

The Environmental Test Laboratory was built in 1999 at a cost of over £26.5 million. Covering 3500 sq. metres, the facility comprises of 4 test ‘chambers’ (2 of which are full thermodynamic wind tunnels), 6 vehicle ‘soak’ rooms and a vehicle preparation workshop. The facility is used to enable engineers to calibrate systems in most environmental conditions without the cost of shipping vehicles all over the world.

Illustrated opposite is a Transit body shell mounted on the sled – the ram can be seen at the bottom left of the picture.

We were very lucky to see an actual ‘firing’ take place. Air is released into the ram cylinder, but in a controlled way in order to simulate the manner in which the real life impact energy is partially dissipated by crumple zones in a modern car.Datafromapreviousfullimpactisusedtomakeaspecialpiston,ofvaryingdiameteralongitslength. Thisprofiled piston is attached to the ram in such a way as to restrict the rate at which air enters the ram cylinder, according to its position. Hence over a length of about 14” and a time span of about 40ms, the sled is subjected to a varying G force corresponding to that which a person in the car would experience. We were told that in our particular demonstration deceleration had peaked at about 40 G and, inter alia, had produced a chest compression of 40mm.

We also saw an airbag being inflated with a spectacular bang – all over in 40 ms.
It was sad and worrying to note that this testing facility is shortly being closed down, and a new one is being set up in the

Cologne Test Centre.

The performance of cooling and heating systems can be evaluated at extremes of climatic temperature, ranging from -40oC to+ 55 oC. Here we see a vehicle after a low temperature soak.

Working in such extremes is not particularly pleasant!

Although it is highly utilised over two shifts, occasionally non Ford jobs can be squeezed in. I am aware that a prototype Foggy Petronas WSB bike managed to get itself into the wind tunnel to check its cooling capability at 225kph and 40 deg C ambient. This would have involved shipping the bike and test team to Southern Italy and a very brave rider if this facility had not been available. The bike disgraced itself after 30 seconds when the engine blew up in a big way leaving the normally immaculate test chamber very oily!

The chambers can simulate altitudes between 300ft (91m) below & 12,000ft (3657m) above sea level, relative humidity up to 100% and temperatures between -40oC to+ 55 oC.

Having got through in-chamber environmental testing, cars and drivers are then despatched to various places in the world for actual operation in real life extremes. These may show up further issues, as real life environments, though not always

providing the extremes presented by Dunton test cells, do provide extra hazards such as dust, snow and rain droplets.

New test cells, being built at Ford Cologne, will attempt to simulate these additional ‘real world’ hazards.

We were shown the re-circulating air tunnel surrounding the wind test cell. The walls of the tunnel are made of 3⁄4” steel plate in order to withstand the reduced air pressure when simulating 12,000 ft altitude. Large refrigeration plants cool the air, but they are now nearly 20 years old, and the gas they use (R507) is hard to come by as modern plants tend to useamixture of CO2 and ammonia. Apparently Dunton uses 29tons of R507 at a modern day price of £2m.

When in the chamber, the cars run on Dynamometer rollers, and for the more extreme conditions involving extended running times, robots are used to operate the cars.

There is a useful You Tube video of the environmental test laboratory at

Here we see a view of a vehicle under test from the test control room.

During this visit we were not able to see neither the engine test cells nor the extensive emission facilities which are briefly described below, but hopefully this may be possible on a later visit.

Over 70 Powertrain dynamometers deliver the full range of gasoline and diesel testing, covering both development and durability testing. A number of the rooms offer a range of temperature conditions and can accommodate the full range of global fuels.

This engine on test is fully instrumented to obtain the maximum amount of data.

Emission testing is now one of the most important parts of vehicle development requiring an enormous investment in test facilities in order to show compliance with ever demanding emission requirements.

Component testing is another important part of the facilities needed to prove performance and durability targets for new cars.

Overall this was a most interesting visit and Ford considered us a most informed and inquisitive tour party. We have been invited back again to see engine development and some of the dynamometer rigs

Many thanks are due to Mike for providing the minibus (Ford of course) transport for most of us.

Ivan Farrow & Mike Wooldridge