Product Testing: Automobile Manufacturing Industry
To manufacture vehicles which customers want to buy them is quite a demanding and highly competitive business. Manufacturers invest millions on research and development to enhance their vehicles and to gain a competitive edge over their competitors and they go extra miles (no pun intended) in their attempts to keep their findings secret until they’re ready to be launched. This is the reason why prototype cars seen in auto magazines are covered in disguise to distort their true features.
To ensure that their products meet the consumer’s expectations and beat their competitors, automobile manufacturers test their prototypes in all types of environments. While much testing can be done on closed tracks, real-world testing needs to take place in real-world conditions. By collating data from these tests, manufactures are able to design vehicles that they hope will satisfy market demand.
This process covers everything from performance, comfort, reliability, safety to quality and appearance. The idea behind testing is to ensure automakers fix all the potential problems of a model before it goes into full production. It is much cheaper to eliminate a problem with a product before mass production than it is to discover problems and try to fix them afterward.
In this post, we’ll talk about vehicle testing and how it influences the automotive manufacturing industry. Testing and continuous development makes it possible for vehicles to improve each year while their prices remain the same or even decrease for the same set of features.
Automotive testing entails a process of effectively abusing a vehicle prototype to find its life limits in as short a time as is possible. Normally this is the opposite if what a vehicle owner does with their car. A car owner’s aim is to keep repairs and maintenance bills low so they take good care of their vehicle. i.e. driving it moderately and modestly, having it serviced regularly and avoiding operating it in extreme conditions whenever possible because stresses of hard driving, harsh temperatures and environmental exposure takes toll on a car’s life expectancy.
In vehicle testing, the concept is the opposite as test engineers attempt to break-down the prototype to discover issues and fix them before the end-users have a chance to experience any of the problems or complains. Hence production engineers seek out the services of unbiased private testing facilities.
The testing process could be a long, expensive and tedious one with the primary goal of manufacturing a vehicle that meets established industry standards, satisfies consumer use expectations while incurring minimal warranty claims and reaching a balance between customer demand and manufacturers profitability.
One of the common tests is crash testing. You may know the slow-motion films of cars being crash tested with dummies inside “playing” car passengers. Depending on the purpose of the film, the mannequin either goes flying through the windshield, or is protected by a car seatbelt and airbag. Manufacturers differentiate their vehicles from their competitors when one of their vehicles, especially a family-oriented vehicle, scores well in government and independent crash-safety tests.
In addition to crash testing, automakers target numerous other quality measurements. These tests are conducted by the manufacturers themselves or by parts suppliers on subsystems to refine their vehicles as much as possible. Here are a few quality metrics that manufacturers may tackle:
- How noisy is it inside the cabin?
- How much noise comes from the engine?
- What is causing squeaks and rattles?
- How much noise is created by tires contacting the pavement?
- How much vibration is there at different speeds?
- How fast does the air conditioning system or heater kick in?
- Does the quality and luxury match other products in this brand? Does it equal or exceed competitive offerings?
- Are we meeting our own standards for brand expectations for the car are?
- What drivetrain combination will give us optimal fuel efficiency while satisfying emissions requirements?
- How do we reduce weight and waste without compromising safety or comfort or quality?
- How does the car perform in extreme conditions?
Depending on what’s being tested, engineers can make changes immediately to designs but in other cases, test findings may require an extensive rethinking of how a part or set of parts functions in order to develop the most appropriate solution to address the discovered issues.
To make sure the entire testing process stays reasonably on schedule, manufacturers make multiple “test mules,” or pre-production cars, for testing. This way, multiple systems can be designed and experimented with at once.