Millbrook charts the progress of vehicle crash testing since it formed 46 years ago culminating in its landmark 6000th crash test this year.
Millbrook has performed its 6,000th full scale crash test at its Bedfordshire based proving ground. Expert engineers have been crash testing vehicles at the site since it opened in 1970, and what started as one basic frontal crash is now a suite of multiple tests, carried out to high-tech legislative and manufacturer specifications.
Over the past 46 years the development of safety features in vehicles, including seatbelts, airbags and the way a car crumples on impact, have all been influenced by the testing and development work carried out at Millbrook.
The first crash test was conducted at Millbrook in March 1970; at that time testing basically involved crashing a vehicle head on into a wall at 30mph and assessing the level of steering wheel displacement, which was the biggest cause of fatalities in collisions.
Back then it was an open air site, consisting of just a runway, block and lights. The rest of the facility has since been built around the original site, including a test hall, camera pits, prep hut and covered runway.
With rapid developments in vehicle technology and the increasing emphasis on early safety legislation (FMVSS/ECE/EEC), Millbrook began side and rear impact testing. The introduction of Crash Test Dummies into legislation was the first sign of the importance safety would have on the future of the automotive industry.
In the late 1990’s, Millbrook worked as a consortium under a GM research programme to develop rollover tests to replicate ‘real world’ crashes in the laboratory. As the test partner, Millbrook produced repeatable rollover tests that helped shape the industry standards used today, such as corkscrew, FMVSS 208, gravel trip and ditch.
Millbrook was an early adopter of miniature systems, which are easier to attach and have less effect on the vehicle during the crash test. In the early 2000’s Millbrook – in conjunction with one of the world’s largest vehicle manufacturers – requested a development of the ultra-compact TDAS G5 miniature Data Acquisition System (DAS), which is one-thirtieth the size and a fraction of the weight of a typical DAS. Designed for the WorldSID dummy, Millbrook foresaw the benefits of using this DAS for all data collection, and in 2006 Millbrook became the first crash facility to use the miniature device.
Millbrook was also the first independently managed test centre to invest in a new generation of microcams. The NAC Memrecam system, with a camera barely the size of a marker pen, reduced the weight of traditional camera systems by 75% and enabled the cameras to record interior vehicle movements during crash tests, including the interaction of the dummy with the pedals, floor and knee bolster, airbag deployment and chest and head interaction with the steering wheel and airbag.
In recent years vehicle design has increasingly been carried out using sophisticated simulation software, with virtual tests being used to predict how the vehicle will behave in an actual test. Crash tests are now mostly carried out to assess the correlation between actual and predicted results and to validate final performance, making vehicle design much faster and reducing the number of tests that need to be carried out, saving time and money.
The ever evolving automotive industry has seen a huge shift in recent years, from conventional petrol and diesel to alternative fuelled vehicles, and Millbrook is increasingly being required to develop the protocols and procedures for crash testing future technologies. Millbrook’s experience and understanding of these types of technology means it is now able to test everything from a lead-acid battery quadricycle to a lithium-ion family car and hybrid supercar, a million miles away from Millbrook’s first crash tests on the likes of the Vauxhall HA Viva or Firenza HP.
Matthew Hillam, Chief Engineer – Safety at Millbrook explains: “The 6,000th crash is a significant milestone in Millbrook’s long and varied testing history and we are pleased to be marking the occasion with a valued customer, who we have worked with on previous vehicle test and development projects.
“Since Millbrook became independent (no longer GM owned) in December 2013, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of crash tests carried out year on year, and expect to be celebrating our 10,000th crash in the not too distant future.”