The Automotive Centre of Excellence – or ACE for short -- opened in June 2011 at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in Oshawa, Ontario.

Less than seven years later, it's recognized as the world's foremost aero and thermal test centre. Eleven of the biggest carmakers, including General Motors, regularly beat a path to the door to put their vehicles through rigorous conditions as they test for everything from aerodynamics to how paint holds up in extreme weather conditions.

But while ACE was built for testing vehicles, it's not just the auto industry that has taken notice of the centre's unique capabilities.

"We started with automotive, and it still accounts for about 85 per cent of our business, but we've grown to 14 sectors," says ACE director of engineering and operations John Komar. "We meet needs in architectural and civil engineering, consumer products, health sciences, emergency response, and drones."

And, performance athletics. Well before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics began, Alpine Canada athletes came calling to help test Calgary-based Quixskinz's high-performance race suits. In alpine events like the downhill, Super-G and slalom, the difference between getting the gold and being out of the medals can come down to a thousandth of a second – making the air resistance of an athlete's ski suit as crucial to success as perfect technique and top of the line equipment. Thanks to ACE's climatic wind tunnel, Quixskinz was able to determine which sports fabrics were fastest and to readjust each athlete's individual suit to ensure optimal aerodynamics.

A Canadian Olympic skier tests his race suit in winds of 130 km/hr
Canadian Olympic skiers helped test Quixskinz high-performance race suits in 130 km/h winds in front of the nozzle of the ACE Climatic Wind Tunnel

The most sophisticated climatic wind tunnel in the world

It's that wind tunnel – and its dynamometer – that sets ACE apart from the competition.

Big enough to accommodate a 22-metre long articulating bus, wind speeds in the tunnel can exceed 280 kms/hour, temperatures can range from -40C to 60C and humidity from 5 to 95 per cent – all created within minutes by the click of a mouse. And all precise, reliable and reproducible.

A vehicle covered in ice and snow in a test chamber.
The climatic wind tunnel can recreate arctic blizzards, freezing rain and tropical downpours. Sensors on autonomous and electric vehicles need to be developed and tested in adverse weather conditions to be proven 100% affective.

The dynamometer, built into an 11.5-metre turntable, enables vehicle performance testing in a crosswind. ACE's wind tunnel is the only one on the planet that can do that. There's also an easily configurable solar ray that replicates the effects of the sun and a variable nozzle that allows for a range of vehicles and test property sizes.

As well as the wind tunnel, there are shaker chambers that test suspension and structural durability, as well as noise and vibration in three dimensions.

To keep ACE at the leading-edge, it's adding a moving ground plane, a giant belt that acts as a road moving under a vehicle, simulating the aerodynamic forces against moving vehicles and measuring the physical characteristics in real-world conditions.

ACE offers clients exceptional engineering expertise

But, there's more to ACE than state-of-the-art equipment. The $100-million centre also houses a research and training facility, complete with labs and bays, machine shops and office space – all available to any company that wants to take advantage of it.

ACE also has 14-full time staff, including some of Ontario's best and brightest engineers, who are available to work alongside clients' engineers and designers.

"Collaboration is built into everything we do," says Komar. "So is thinking outside the box. Our engineers, graduates of Ontario's top schools, take on any challenge they're handed and so far, they haven't been stumped. Quite simply, we can do development that no-one else can do."

With automotive companies from all over the world lining up to use it, Komar is justifiably proud of his $100-million centre. Revenues have doubled in six years, with international business accounting for half of them. The client list has grown to 70-plus, 80 per cent of them repeat business. Some 30 new clients find their way to Oshawa every year.

For Komar, it's proof positive that ACE has established itself as a major resource for the worldwide automotive industry.

Sector/subsector: 

March 22, 2018

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