Lab that puts automotive components to the test expands its scope
CLEMSON — The automotive components are shaken, heated, frozen and aged with simulated sunlight for weeks at a time.
It sounds like any proud car owner’s nightmare, but it’s done for a good purpose at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR).
Engineers in the Component Testing Laboratory have been running tests for Tier 1 BMW suppliers for two years, subjecting components to controlled environmental conditions to accelerate the aging process. Now a new accreditation will position the lab to pursue the testing business of other manufacturers.
“This step confirms CU-ICAR’s ongoing commitment to innovative business models for addressing industry’s needs,” said CU-ICAR Executive Director Fred Cartwright. “We are establishing ourselves as a central location for testing services in South Carolina’s growing automotive and manufacturing sectors, while expanding opportunities for graduate students to get real-world experience in product testing.”
John Ballato, vice president for economic development at Clemson University, said the lab helps automakers save time and money because they can do their testing in the Upstate rather than send parts to facilities that often are overseas.
“It helps make CU-ICAR’s partners more competitive,” he said. “They can get their innovations to the marketplace more quickly. BMW suppliers have seen the benefit, and now other automakers and manufacturers can, too.”
The lab in CU-ICAR’s Center for Emerging Technologies was opened in September 2012 to perform product-validation tests on components produced in the BMW supply chains.
It includes two cutting-edge environmental chambers. A vibration chamber shakes parts vertically or laterally while precisely driving the temperature to as low as -60 or as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit, while also controlling relative humidity according to customer test specifications. A solar chamber has the same temperature and humidity control capabilities, but instead of vibrating parts, it ages them with solar irradiation that simulates the sun.
Tests give automakers a good idea of how a component performs by simulating wear and tear on the road. After the tests, engineers analyze components for warping, gaps and other signs of strain.
When the lab opened in 2012, BMW Manufacturing Co. accredited the lab for use by its suppliers.
Other automakers and manufacturers typically require test labs to follow the “ISO/IEC 17025” standard and achieve independent accreditation before clearing their suppliers to use it. The key that unlocked that door was a recent accreditation by the American Association of Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA).
“It reinforces what current customers already recognized in this testing facility,” said Rob McDaris, the lab/project manager. “We can now serve new customers within the automotive supply chains and companies in other industries.
“We’re certified to perform mechanical testing in compliance with several automotive, international industrial and military standards.”
Engineers with industry experience perform the tests.
But the lab also helps enhance the educational experience at CU-ICAR, said Imtiaz Haque, who oversees academic programs as chair of the department of automotive engineering in the College of Engineering and Science.
Professors take automotive engineering graduate students into the lab to show them how classroom lessons apply to actual products. Some graduate students also work in the lab as trainees under the supervision of engineers.
“We’re thrilled the Component Testing Laboratory has achieved its new accreditation,” Haque said. “Clearing the way for more partnerships will broaden the opportunities for students to see real-world product testing. It helps set the Clemson educational experience apart.”
The accreditation shows that the lab has met the standard for the “general requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories” as set by the International Organization for Standardization.
“The CU-ICAR Component Testing Lab joins thousands of like-minded, A2LA-accredited facilities that understand the value of providing high-quality services that are backed by defensible data,” McDaris said. “We are proud that this lab is the first organization with Clemson University to achieve this international standard.”