• Inside Volvo’s Safety Centre

Over 2,000 Crash Tests and Counting

The Safety Centre at Volvo Car Corporation headquarters in Sweden recently performed its two thousandth crash tests since the centre’s inauguration seven years ago. Since 2000, the centre has grown to become an integral part of Volvo Cars safety leadership position and a vehicle research and development powerhouse, performing up to 10 crash tests every week.

The Volvo Cars Safety Centre is designed to reproduce a wide variety of collisions in an effort to reproduce the varied collisions Volvo vehicle owners might experience in the real world. The crash test laboratory is equipped with two tracks, one movable and one permanent. The movable track can be adjusted up to 90 degrees to enable tests, from front to side to rear-impact collisions, to be carried out between cars traveling at different angles and speeds. The permanent track is long enough to allow cars to reach speeds of up to 120 km/h. The centre can also conduct rollover tests or conduct vehicle collisions with simulated animals or other objects (trees, poles, debris, etc.) likely to be found on or near the road.

Such tests are a stark contrast to the earliest Volvo vehicle collision tests conducted more than 50 years ago: cars were rolled down a hill into a concrete wall. Today’s safer cars and extensive safety systems are a testament to Volvo engineers’ relentless pursuit to finding new and more effective testing methods.

Over 100 crash tests per model

The vehicle safety requirements specified by public and government organizations, such as European New Car Assessment Programme (EuroNCAP) and the US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), represent only part of the Safety Centre’s work. Volvo Cars performs additional crash tests to ensure that the collision performance of its vehicles meets the company’s own stringent internal safety standards. In the course of development, a new Volvo model undergoes no less than 100 crash tests.

"To offer cars with a world-class standard of safety, we have to verify that the systems protect occupants of various sizes at a wide range of speeds and in a variety of accident situations," explains Magnus Krokström, senior manager at the Volvo Cars Safety Centre. "It is the capacity to replicate real-life accidents that makes our facility unique."

In total, approximately 450 crash tests are carried out annually. Since the Volvo Cars Safety Centre was designated the "Safety Centre of Excellence" for the Ford Motor Company, other makes of vehicles - including Jaguar, Land Rover and Ford - are also tested there.

Reproduction of real-life accidents

Development and testing activities in the laboratory involve the reconstruction of real-world collisions based on work conducted by the Volvo Accident Research Team. Since 1970, the team has studied more than 35,000 real-world collisions involving more than 50,000 occupants.

"Analyzing actual road accidents and then testing new safety systems in the laboratory enables us to improve the safety of our cars, making them safer in the real traffic environment also," says Magnus.

Since new government legislation, market forces and new safety systems constantly present the laboratory with new challenges, it is important for the centre to maintain close contact with the research community to ensure that resources are allocated correctly with an eye to future developments. As an example, when the initial plans for the Safety Centre were drawn in 1996, engineers forecasted that compatibility – crashes between large and small cars – would become an important area of research. The centre has also witnessed the growing attention on rear-end collisions, which have become increasingly common in heavy urban traffic, and angled side collisions, which are a common occurrence at intersections.

"Although we have had to make some modifications since the early days, there are now almost no limits to what we can do in the laboratory," says Magnus.

Planning and follow-up

A crash test takes five days to complete. Three days are spent preparing the test car, fitting sensors and applying a matt paint, usually orange, to avoid light reflections from the car while filming. Test dummies are also prepared at this time. Final preparation, including the installation of instrumentation systems and cameras, takes place the day before the actual test. On average, two crash tests are performed every day, ensuring effective use of the facility.

"Although test data can be read out within an hour, manual inspection of both car and dummies is also required," says Magnus. “Our analysts deliver a preliminary report to the car project team within 24 hours. This is followed by a more detailed analysis that can take up to a fortnight.”

Virtual simulations

Computer crash simulations are performed three and a half years prior to the production of a new vehicle and physical testing commences approximately a year before the model is launched on the market. As the virtual model undergoes frequent updates in the development process, the results of the virtual crash test often reveal the progress made by the engineers and designers. Signifying the growing importance computer systems play in the safety development process, no physical crash tests are carried out unless Volvo Cars’ safety experts are completely satisfied with the results of virtual testing.

Shaun Keenan
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