June 12, 2012

Inside Westport: What’s a Test Cell?

Test cells are essentially an isolated space where Westport engineers, technicians and technologists can run batteries of tests and record the findings with highly sophisticated technology. Test cells are an integral part of Westport operations: they’re for research and development as we test and experiment with new technologies; they’re needed to regularly test the durability engines or fuel systems, and they let us replicate the conditions our customers face ‘in the field’ in order to identify and troubleshoot issues.
Here at Westport we do almost all our engine testing in-house using 13 test cells located in Vancouver. Our original headquarters houses three original test cells and the newly built high-tech centre houses another 10. Of these 13, some are running tests 24/7 – particularly those that test durability.

At our Detroit facility Westport will install seven engine test cells and one vehicle chassis test cell near the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013. These will be used to evaluate, develop, validate and implement engine, natural gas fuel system and controls systems hardware and software for use on the Westport Global Light Duty applications (including our Swedish, Italian, Australian and Canadian projects). The vehicle chassis test cell will be used to apply those systems to specific light-duty vehicles similar to the current Ford F-250 and F-350.

In Italy there are three vehicle test cells – two in Brescia at our Emer facility and one in Pernumia at our OMVL facility. Two of these are vehicle emissions test cells used for developing and fine-tuning calibrations, while the third is a “power only” cell used for calibration work with the bi-fuel units that control the compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied propane gas (LPG) fuel systems.

Once fuel system components are designed and manufactured, it’s important to prove that they’ll stand the test of time. Part of our quality control involves testing each of these components to ensure they meet their expected lifespan. At any given time there may be an engine in one of the test cells that’s been running for more than 2,700 hours – with pauses only to inspect and recalibrate according to procedures and regulations. These tests measure everything from changes in efficiency and emissions to standard performance testing.

The remaining test cells that aren’t constantly running durability tests are used for current product support, and research & development. For current product support, Westport technicians work with our customers to replicate any fuel system issues. If there’s a problem that’s affecting the function, here’s where we work to correct it. Often these issues happen when a particular component of the fuel system changes. Our technicians also regularly test different calibration modifications, to provide regular, ongoing support to customers in all geographic regions where our engines are deployed (different geographic climates can affect necessary engine calibration).

Our research and development team probably has the most flexibility in the test cells. They experiment with different components and run an exhaustive array of tests to create new technologies. Each test cell has sophisticated equipment that measures everything from emissions to temperature of the engine, and can even replicate road conditions (such as changes in speed, incline, load and torque) to simulate a realistic environment for testing.

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