For 58 years, the crash testers from Mercedes-Benz have been having a truly smashing time in the name of accident safety. At the Technology Centre for Vehicle Safety (TFS), safety is a matter of hundredths and thousandths of a second.
Traffic accidents are the nightmare of each car driver. Therefore, Mercedes-Benz committed itself to the goal of accident-free driving. Already today, assistant systems can avoid collisions or temper their consequences. Nevertheless, it is essential to be prepared if a crash happens anyway.
For this scenario, crash tests were invented. Prior to its series production, a car has to get through a couple of these – more specific: 15,000 accident simulations on the computer, and about 150 real life crash tests. The latter are conducted at the Technology Centre for Vehicle Safety (TFS).
55,000 square meters brilliant engineering
273 by172 by 23 meters – with a total area of 55,000 square meters, the TFS truly is a giant. Thus, the dimensions are mirrored by the construction materials used: in total, the building is made of about 7,000 tons of steel – almost as much as in the Eiffel Tower.
To build the vehicle safety center, a triple-digit million amount was invested. During the three-year construction phase, planners and construction workers were confronted with many a challenge.
An example: The longest track run-up at the TFS measures more than 200 meters. In order to obtain data that can be reproduced exactly, the track must be completely level: for the complete track the tolerance is an incredible five millimeters per 100 meters. Furthermore, nothing is allowed to wobble here when the sensors gently make contact with the immaculate sheet metal of the car to create a point-by-point and micrometer-precise, digital 3D image of the flawless vehicle body. Therefore, around 500 concrete pillars below the ground plate descend as far as 18 meters deep into the ground.
Alpha and omega: the preparation
Computer simulation allows the maturity level of test vehicles to be improved even before the first crash. However, real crash tests are the icing on the cake when it comes to sound vehicle safety development. Therefore, crash tests already take place in the early development phase.
The facilities at the new TFS offer a lot more than that: cars can be driven into each other at any imaginable angle – even automated driving manoeuvres with a subsequent crash are possible. Possible collisions with differing overlap angles or side-impact tests with two moving vehicles can also be simulated. Also trucks, buses and coaches and other vehicles can “be crashed” here.
Crashing complete cars being fully equipped and which, in the name of science, sometimes even make the journey to their cold grave with their own engines running, is extremely expensive and time-consuming, of course. It is therefore a great help that individual components can be tested in sled tests: in such cases there is no real collision – a sled is merely braked abruptly.
In sum: There is hardly an accident that couldn’t be reproduced here.
The fact that Mercedes-Benz has designed the new facility to accommodate up to 900 crash tests and 1700 sled tests every year shows just how intensively the company researches the topic of safety. Even though current active safety systems perform so well that a collision can be completely avoided in some cases, Mercedes still has an obligation to protect vehicle occupants in the best possible way should the worst-case scenario arise.