Indianapolis-based Allison Transmission Inc. (NYSE: ALSN) has begun operations at its new Vehicle Environmental Test Center. The company says the more than $34 million facility, which was announced in early 2019, allows for testing and product development by simulating temperature environments, altitude and other vehicle conditions at any time in a single location. Allison says the 60,000-square-foot center is a first-of-its-kind innovation in the Midwest.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Allison Senior Vice President of Product Engineering and Program Management Randy Kirk said the facility is the culmination of a lot of hard work.
“From groundbreaking to the point in time we were operational was really just a short 17 months,” said Kirk. “And to have a facility of this nature that represents what I consider a benchmark in the industry certainly here in the Midwest, probably in the U.S., at least in the private sector…for us to be able to create temperature conditions, road conditions any day, 365 days a year, it’s exciting.”
Kirk says the company has been using the facility for several weeks and the early results have been “beyond what we had anticipated.”
The company says the overall primary objective of the center was to find ways to shorten the total product development time at the total vehicle level.
Kirk says the facility allows the company to work closely with its original equipment manufacturer partners with the goal of getting to a virtual design process mode.
“We recognize that there was an emerging demand in the industry,” Kirk said. “We spent a lot of time, effort, money and resources sending vehicles out on the road to create test conditions so that we could develop calibrations or other development activities. There is a need to be able to create conditions year round. We were heavily dependent on mother nature and other factors. This takes (those factors) out of the equation and allows us daily to recreate whatever conditions we want…in a very repeatable environment.”
Jeanne Rues, managing director of engineering services at Allison, says construction on the facility had to be adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however the work did not cause any significant delays.
Rues says the pandemic did speed up the timeline for one aspect of the facility that was planned for later down the road.
“We had it planned to phase in some virtual collaboration tools into our business system that we have also stood up in starting this new operation,” said Rues. “(It) will enable our customers to send their vehicles here to test but not have to accompany those vehicles when they come to test. That’s something we had planned but certainly COVID-19 has accelerated getting that stood up.”
Kirk says the facility will also allow the company to rapidly develop electrified vehicle products. He says battery emulation technology allows researchers to run an electric vehicle as long as they want without worrying about a battery charge.
“We recently completed as series of tests that had we done it on the road like we typically do, it would’ve taken us 60% longer to complete the test that we completed in the VET. So it’s already demonstrating to us the value and the reason we made the investments that we made here.”
Allison plans to officially open the facility with a virtual ceremony on Monday.
Kirk says the facility is the culmination of a lot of hard work.