Each year, Ford brings global prototype vehicles and a team of engineers to the world’s largest climatic test facility at McKinley Climatic Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle to push the limits of extreme cold-weather testing.
Ford engineers test vehicles ranging from the F-Series Super Duty to the Focus in a laboratory with temperatures as low as minus-40 degrees Fahrenheit over 10 hours. The hot, humid climate of northwest Florida in August has no impact on conditions inside the lab, which makes it ideal for simulating winter in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay or Canada’s Yellowknife region, according to the automaker.
The opportunity to accommodate 75 global prototype vehicles of all sizes for rigorous testing creates efficiency in the company’s product development cycle that helps Ford learn in just three weeks what could take twice as long in a smaller facility. Collecting multiple data sets, analyzing results, and comparing and contrasting enables Ford engineers to quickly implement changes that enhance vehicle quality and ultimately benefit the customer, according to the automaker.
Engineers test the vehicles for specific situations.
In the oil fields of Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, Ford F-Series trucks are not only a mode of transportation, but also a safety device for workers who need a warm cabin to retreat to on-site to prevent cold-weather injury on the job. Ford engineers conduct idle tests at the lab by running the engine week after week as temperature fluctuates from 40 degrees to minus-40 degrees, and examining the exhaust as it heats up then cools back down.
For those customers who depend on their vehicles for work commutes and to transport their families around town, Ford testing at the lab ultimately seeks to provide them with the assurance that their vehicles are designed to start and run in the bitter cold. As temperatures in the lab drop to minus-22 degrees, Ford engineers examine the volatility of 13 different types of fuel commonly used by customers across the globe to calibrate the cold start.
When running tests at such low temperatures inside McKinley Climatic Lab, engineers make changes daily to help ensure engine start and vehicle driveability. Learnings from these cold-weather tests helped Ford engineers perfect the 6.7-liter engine that powers the current F-Series Super Duty.
Engineers found that replacing metallic plugs with ceramic gold plugs enabled the engine to heat up more quickly, for a more robust start, according to the automaker.