Pothole test track helps with suspension innovation

| Transport

Ford has created innovative protective suspension systems to mitigate pothole damage with the help of a new proving ground located in Belgium.

Potholes and other rough road surfaces have become an expensive problem for motorists around the world with pothole damage having cost US drivers around $15 billion in repairs over the last five years, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
Recognizing the issue, Ford Motor Company has created a 1.2-mile test track consisting of precise replicas of some of the worst potholes and road hazards from around the world. By using the test track, Ford engineers can create more robust chassis systems and develop innovations to ensure the company’s vehicles are better able to withstand the world’s increasingly bumpy roads.

The track is part of 50 miles of proving grounds at Ford’s test facility in Lommel, Belgium. It incorporates potholes from Europe and the USA and simulates more than 100 hazards from 25 countries worldwide.

“From a rutted traffic junction in China to a bumpy German side-street, this road is a rogues’ gallery of the most bruising surfaces that our customers might encounter,” said Eric-Jan Scharlee, durability technical specialist at Ford’s Lommel Proving Ground in Belgium. “By incorporating these real-world challenges into our test facilities we can develop future vehicles to better cope with challenging conditions.”

Engineers are always investigating potential new additions for inclusion at the facility. Engineers drive through the potholes at speeds of up to 46 mph using sensors to record the loads and strains on the suspension and components. This includes surfaces as diverse as granite blocks from Belgium, cobbles from Paris and speed bumps from Brazil.

So far, the use of such testing facilities both in Belgium and the USA has led to practival innovations available on production models. Ford is debuting Continuous Control Damping with Pothole Mitigation technology in Europe on the Mondeo, Galaxy and S-MAX models. In the USA, the Fusion V6 Sport is the first Ford car equipped with technology which adjusts the suspension if it detects that a wheel has dropped into a pothole, and can help protect the suspension from damage. Ford’s Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) alerts drivers to punctures and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) can help drivers maintain control of their vehicle when avoiding obstacles.

Pothole mitigation on the Ford Fusion

The 2017 model year Ford Fusion V6 Sport is the first of Ford’s models in the USA which has been equipped with an advanced computer-controlled shock absorber system which significantly reduces that unpleasant feeling associated with driving down a pothole-riddled road.

“The new Fusion V6 Sport substantially reduces the harsh impact potholes often deliver,” says Jason Michener, Ford continuously controlled damping engineering expert. “Our new pothole mitigation technology works by actually detecting potholes and ‘catching’ the car’s wheel before it has a chance to drop all the way into it.”

Onboard computers analyse multiple signals collected from 12 high-resolution sensors, adjusting the dampers every two milliseconds for the best vehicle response in every situation. When the edge of a pothole is detected, the car’s computer adjusts the dampers faster than the blink of an eye to their stiffest settings so the wheel doesn’t fall as far into the pothole. Because the tyre and wheel don’t drop as far, they don’t strike the opposite side of the pothole as harshly. The rear suspension can respond even faster, with a signal from the front wheel providing a pre-warning to the rear wheel well before it reaches the pothole.

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