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If your wind turbine were a car

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mandag 14. november 2011

Terms: Design, testing, and research

What differentiates testing from research? BMW gives the following interpretation of terms often used within R&D.

Research: A term for work where the result or goal is unknown.
Test: A term for work where the goals are defined. You know what result you are going for. The question is whether or how you can meet the goal.
Design: In this context, a poor term due to its vagueness. It can relate to anything from outer looks to interactivity to buttons.

Testing is an old and renowned skill in the car industry. One of the big manufacturers shares their experience and points out three trends for testing.

By Karsten Prinds
For many, the automotive industry represents a mature sector, providing a textbook example of how any production industry will develop. OceanWise thus considers cars in an effort to describe where the trends for testing might be heading. Our assumption is that the automotive industry leads the way and could serve as a role model for wind.

Agreed? Then let us begin our thought experiment.

The first conclusion for trends in testing is: More. So says Daniel Kammerer, spokesperson for BMW Technology Communications in Munich.

"Testing is absolutely essential. We test everything," he says.

Five Percent on Development
All research and development at BMW is located at the so-called FIZ or ‘Forschungs- und Innovationszentrum’ – a workplace for more than 7000 engineers engaged solely in research and development. According to 2009 figures, BMW uses 4.8% of revenues on research and development. This amounted into €2.5 billion that year.

Testing is part of every department’s activities within the FIZ, with the exception of one department that is devoted solely to research. Daniel Kammerer works in the drivetrains department, the department best suited for comparison with a wind turbine:

"There are all sorts of tests: Durability, temperature, vibrations, aging of oils, humidity levels, electro-magnetic endurance. Some of these are done individually and some are cross-tested, to see for instance the maximum amount of humidity for a drivetrain to perform optimally. Or how many times the gears can be shifted up and down, and how much vibration propagates in the system," says Daniel Kammerer.

Partial Testing is of Minor Importance
This leads us to the second conclusion: Holistic. The entire drivetrain, i.e. the engine, transmission, shaft, bearings, and differential, is tested as a whole.

"We are merely going for holistic tests: The whole engine and then the whole drivetrain. Of course, there are partial tests of each component. They have to live up to standards and quality measures. But even if every part did that, the combination of parts could still present problems," says Daniel Kammerer. He gives this example:

"Say we have a new diesel engine with 10% more torque. We could run a durability test on the engine, and it would function. We could crank up the gearbox test with 10% more torque, and it would be OK. But we have to test the combination, the whole drivetrain. Because torque is not just torque – it is ignitions in the cylinders, sending pulses one by one through the whole system".

"These pulses can cause unforeseen wear, vibrations, or other effects that we could not have predicted. That is why the interaction is important".

The whole drivetrain mounted on the test bench for a full load test. Note the glowing red exhaust pipes. The transmission, shaft, bearings, and differential are included in the test. With wind turbines, full drivetrain testing is first emerging now. Photo: BMW. 

Customers Define the Tests
The third trend would be: Own standards. In the car industry, the factory’s own standard is the bar against which performance must be measured.

"Governmental requirements and standards from accreditation institutes are minor in respect to our own quality tests. We test much more in-depth. For example, how long a car can be if it is to tow a large weight uphill. There is no industry standard for this. But we have a certain quality that we and our customers expect from our product – so we test it," says Daniel Kammerer.

"And it is precisely those demands from customers that are keys to our own standards – if customers did not have a particular demand, fulfilling this lack would be over-engineering," Daniel Kammerer points out:

"Translating customer demands to test routines is a whole research area in itself. If a customer says a prototype has to be more comfortable, you have to ask: Is it sub-noise, vibration, shaking axels, transmissions? We have a whole department that ensures the response is implemented into development and tests," says Daniel Kammerer.

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