Torturing Trucks to Reduce Rattles and Squelch Squeaks
Ian Wright posted on February 26, 2016 |
The 2016 Ford F-Series Super Duty. (Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.)
The 2016 Ford F-Series Super Duty. (Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company.)

Nothing trumps the euphoria of driving a brand new truck off the lot, except maybe the moment of dread that comes after it hits its first bump and starts making that weird rattling sound.

What is that? Where’s it coming from?

Those questions keep coming back, every time you go for a drive.

What is that? Where’s it coming from?

Then your passengers start pointing it out.

“Hey, have you noticed that your truck is rattling?” they ask, oblivious to the countless nights that noise has kept you tossing and turning.

Eventually, when it becomes clear that you aren’t going to solve The Case of the Mysterious Rattle on your own, you relent and take your brand new truck to a mechanic.

Of course, the first one you go to doesn’t hear the rattle, but after a few more weeks of frustration you manage to find one who hears it. They tell you matter-of-factly that the cause is a factory defect.

This scenario isn’t nearly as common as it used to be, thanks to advancements in automotive development. Nowadays, prototypes go through all kinds of quality testing before the first production model even rolls off the line.

Ford’s Nightmare Road is one example and its mobile climate and road simulators are another.

A Mobile Truck Torture Chamber

Ford is using what they call Transportable Environmental Four Posters to minimize squeaks and rattles in its new F-Series Super Duty trucks. These incorporate four-point road simulators inside an 18-wheeler. The simulators sit under the testing vehicle’s wheels and recreate all manner of terrain and road surfaces.

In addition, the inside of the test chamber can produce extreme humidity and temperatures ranging from -20°F (-28.8°C) to 120°F (48.8°C). This controlled environment allows Ford technicians to use advanced audio-sensing equipment to identify the causes of noise.

A Ford technician checks for squeaks and rattles.
A Ford technician checks for squeaks and rattles.

The simulator’s portability allows Ford to test its prototypes whenever and wherever they’re being developed.

For example, testing the new Super Duty involved bringing a simulator to the Kentucky Truck Plant, which has produced more than 5 million Super Duty trucks since the line was introduced in 1999.

According to the company, on-site tests of this kind are much more efficient than sending a vehicle to another location and waiting for the results.

An instrument panel on a Transportable Instrument Panel Sound Testing Evaluation Rig.
An instrument panel on a Transportable Instrument Panel Sound Testing Evaluation Rig.

Ford also uses the mobile laboratories to perform component-level testing for squeaks and rattles. Instrument panels are subjected to shake testing on stands called Transportable Instrument Panel Sound Testing Evaluation Rigs.

Punishing Cars to Improve Quality

Ford’s mobile labs have now been used for more than 100 global vehicle launches.

“Mobile climate and road simulators are absolutely key to finding unwanted noises in the early stages of vehicle development,” said Craig Schmatz, Ford F-Series Super Duty chief engineer.

“Extreme climates and terrains are especially known for bringing out squeaks and rattles. Identifying and mitigating these noises long before a vehicle goes into production is one more way Ford is working to deliver great vehicle quality,” Schmatz added.

Ford vehicles are subjected to extreme temperatures.
A Ford F-Series Super Duty is subjected to extreme temperatures.

“Simulator technology has come a long way in helping to reduce noises in vehicles,” said Timothy Wittrock, Ford North American current model supervisor for squeak and rattle testing. “Transportable Environmental Four Poster technology has been instrumental in reducing squeaks and rattles under various operating conditions to deliver a whisper-quiet driving experience for customers.”

For more information, visit the Ford website.

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