The Pilot Center: Where Real World Testing Begins

Powertrain 07/23/2013

My last post focused on the Engineering Lab, which makes up one half of the DetroitTM Powertrain Test Center. Now let’s talk about the other half. The Pilot Center is where real world testing of engines, hardware and aftertreatment systems take place—on the road, in every operating cycle and under every conceivable condition.

The vehicles are fully instrumented, complete with data and emission acquisition systems.  We like to call them “test cells on wheels.” And this is where the fun begins. To test for altitude, we take the vehicles to places like Denver or Loveland Pass in Colorado—validating for performance and durability up to 12,000 feet. For cold testing, we might take a vehicle to Grand Forks, North Dakota then head up to Winnipeg or Thompson, Manitoba—validating to minus 40 °F. If we want to test for heat, we go to the Las Vegas area in the summer months where we can easily validate up to 110 °F (and even hotter on some days).

The bottom line is that all projects need to be tested. Before we introduced the DT12 Automated Manual Transmission, for instance, we had to test it under multiple conditions. Before the most recent release of the DD15® Engine went into production, it had to be rigorously tested for performance and durability in every operating cycle. The Pilot Center is basically the last series of functional checks before production and assembly.

As Senior Manager of the Detroit Powertrain Test Center, I oversee all pre-production testing. The Pilot Center is essential because this is where we pull the whole powertrain together—validating all systems and components. And we take quality seriously. Our engineers spend countless hours designing, developing and analyzing every aspect of our engines, aftertreatement devices and transmissions. As a result, our products deliver unprecedented fuel economy, performance, durability and serviceability.