As a follow up to yesterday’s post is this one about the next stage of component testing once products clear the hurdles set before them in the laboratory: field trials on actual commercial vehicles.
Dietmar Knoop (at right), head of engineering for Meritor’s European brake operations, explained to me that the braking demonstration conducted by his engineering crew outside the small Welsh town of Pontypool is but a glimmer of the far more detailed field tests his team engages in.
“Testing is critical to ensuring we build a robust product that either fulfills or exceeds the expectations we set for performance and wear,” he told me. “The first step is the laboratory. Once we’re assured the product can perform under the stress of rig tests and dynamometers, we go to test vehicles like you see here.”
Once Meritor’s engineers are confident in product performance on the company’s test trucks, Knoop said the next and final step is field trials with customer vehicles. “We’ll work with 15 to 20 customer trucks for a year; a time span that must include one winter,” he told me. “If at the end of the field trial, if all the data we’ve received is satisfactory, that’s when we finally move to production.”
[For fun you can observe a special “go and stop” braking challenge Meritor’s European engineering crew cooked up below.]
Knoop explained that it takes about three years at minimum to develop a new brake application, with one of those years devoted to a customer field trial. “You cannot condense the field test; that year is a given amount of time, period,” he emphasized to me. Thus the only things that might alter the testing timeline are how the product performs in the lab and on Meritor’s test trucks.
Dietrick Zaps, general manager of Meritor’s European brake operations, added that the company doesn’t skimp when it comes to testing either as it right now invests about $2 million annually in testing and research development. Indeed, Meritor spent $10 million on its research and development efforts alone over the past four years – half of the $20 million in capital investments the company has made over the same time period.
That testing budget may seem excessive, but Dr. Laszlo Straub, senior director of sales and strategy for Meritor’s heavy vehicle braking systems division, explained that it’s critical in terms of ensuring that safety is in no way compromised as component makers try to make their products lighter and longer lasting.
“The most important factor remains safety – that is a given. An OEM needs a product under their truck they don’t need to worry about,” he told me.
Testing in the lab and on the road, then, is what assures that – even as Meritor has shaved three to five kilograms (6.6 to 11.1 pounds) off its air disc brake (ADB) assemblies. “We’ve redesigned the housing assembly for example to save weight,” Straub noted. “But testing confirms that and other changes will compromise neither durability nor performance.”
Tell you one thing: it shows you just can't slack off where product testing is concerned. Not that you ever could, let it be said.