All-new research and development technology that helps make Ford Performance racecars faster also is helping Ford to speed up development of its consumer vehicle lineup and improving the company’s operational fitness.
Breakthroughs including a daily-driving vehicle simulator, 3D race environment and other advancements are helping Ford to improve product development fitness by reducing the number of physical prototypes. In its latest move, Ford is working to speed up vehicle development and reduce costs through a new production vehicle dynamic simulator in a 33,000-square-foot facility in the heart of NASCAR country in North Carolina.
The initial purpose of the facility, up and running since 2014, was to develop and test racecars virtually through an immersive simulator. But the tools have become so good, so fast that Ford is now using the technology for its production vehicles.
How good are Ford’s advanced aerodynamic development tools? The 2019 NHRA Funny Car programme will have no prototype bodies physically created before the racing body is built – a milestone in the history of Ford racing development.
Ford is so confident in its dynamic simulator, development and testing tools that much of its race testing is now done in advance of ever arriving at a racetrack. Virtual prototyping and simulator tools help optimise both performance and manufacturing capability, which becomes critical when designing production vehicles which are often made in volumes in the hundreds of thousands annually.
Along with the new simulator, Ford is using several other advanced tools to help speed production development times and cut costs. These include a new dynamic simulator, computational fluid dynamics for aerodynamic testing, and virtual manufacturing. Together, these tools are migrating from the super-high-tech, low-volume racing development world to Ford’s global product development system.
The racing simulator at the Concord facility also received a recent upgrade and now features an immersive 3D environment for drivers. Before the then-new Ford GT ever put its tyres on a racetrack, it racked up hundreds of hours of testing on virtual racetracks around the world.
Each simulator runs on numerous software programmes that must all be calibrated to work in perfect harmony – operation, movement, visuals, audio, physics modelling, environment replication, results analysis – so that the experience remains as natural as possible for the operator. Even the slightest amount of difference could pull someone out of focus and induce motion sickness.
Along with upgrades to the race simulator, other breakthroughs include supercomputer modelling of race and regular tyres to improve rubber wear and performance.