Tilting bus at Millbrook proving grounds

Millbrook proving ground

Millbrook is one of Europe's leading vehicle test and development locations, and is this year celebrating 40 years in the business. The track was dreamed up in the mid 1960s after Vauxhall and Bedford felt a need for a dedicated proving ground.

The importance of hills on the test track was already well established and a task force scoured the UK for a site that was both flat and hilly, unfortunately ruling out the traditional choice of a former airfield. The Millbrook emerged as the favourite contender, coincidentally but usefully close to Luton and London; a smaller version of North American General Motors' Proving Ground was constructed. The new facility replicated many of the most successful features of the Milford site and benefited from the accumulated wisdom of more than 50 years of proving ground operation.

The proving ground is now equipped with a huge range of tracks, including a network of about 73km of various rural road types, including country roads, motorways, green lanes, off-road routes and specialist test tracks.

The on-highway track resources encompass two major proving grounds, with more than 50km of metalled surfaces and a vast range of technical features. Modular design and a highly experienced engineering team means that programmes can be precisely correlated against customer procedures and new facilities can be quickly constructed to meet specific requirements.

With the support of a substantial cross-country facility, specialist laboratories and a wide range of support services, Millbrook's on-highway track resources can make a significant contribution to accelerated whole-vehicle and systems development.

The proving ground also has facilities for testing the ever-growing numbers of specialised vehicles that require facilities that simulate the challenging conditions they are designed to make accessible. This has been particularly advantageous with the downturn in the automotive market and the upturn in work from the MoD as it looks to reduce costs.

The facility is carefully designed to be an outdoor laboratory offering repeatable conditions across both the off-road tracks and the specially-constructed technical features which provides a significant contribution to the development of all-terrain vehicles up to and including the largest wheeled trucks.

Millbrook does not just carry out road tests but can apply static loads up to 350kN (dynamic up to 100kN) using hydraulic actuators with control systems to apply simple sine, triangular, square wave inputs, or complex time history fatigue inputs.

The centre also has environmental chambers for accelerated corrosion testing able to accommodate any size of test piece, up to a double decker bus. Combinations of temperature, humidity and solar loading are available to reproduce just about any real-world climate, with accelerated ageing achievable through the application of extreme conditions.

The facilities at Millbrook are ever-evolving with the latest developments in vehicle technologies and the facilities are currently testing electric vehicles and batteries, fuel cell and hydrogen technologies.

It has also advanced its capabilities with new equipment to simulate the effects of the sun on vehicles, which can achieve an irradiance in excess of 1400W/m2. The new solar radiation simulation equipment enhances the existing solar capability of the site's Variable Temperature Emissions Chamber (VTEC).

The VTEC has a temperature range of -40C to +50C and the solar simulation equipment will provide full control over diurnal cycles replicating the sun's intensity over one complete day.

The new solar arrays are more easily installed and consist of six modular sections, measuring up to 4m in height, 3.1m in width and 6m in total length, offering full flexibility for variable vehicle size and contours.

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