Piece by millionth piece: Component testing and the challenge of doing one thing well

An image showing a racing track and ocean liner to highlight how F1 team Sauber are working in partnership with Accelleron
Join Accelleron and Sauber as we take a look at how the testing of individual components enables engineers to improve a machine’s overall performance.

In our last article, we took a shallow dive into the world of testing at Accelleron and Sauber, and explored why testing is so crucial to creating technologies able to withstand their extreme operating conditions. This week, we’re looking at the topic from a different angle, and asking how the testing of individual components enables engineers to improve a machine’s overall performance. 

A Formula One car has a lot of individual components and one singular objective.

To win.

The same goes for a turbocharger; myriad components work together to serve one purpose: to improve an engine’s performance as efficiently as possible, for as long as possible.

But the simplicity of what these two machines are ultimately built to do stands in stark contrast to the mind-boggling complexity of creating them. A turbocharger and a Formula One car are the result of hundreds of hours of research and development, prototyping and production. Months before a complete model is created, engineers must assess whether its individual pieces will perform their role within the machine’s system.

How is this achieved? Component testing.

Along with establishing reliability, component testing plays an essential role in pinpointing opportunities for performance enhancements in both future and installed models of turbochargers.

Michael Jung runs Accelleron’s Test Center in Baden, Switzerland. “A development engineer’s task is to conceive new designs to improve a component’s performance” explains Jung. “But in the development process, there’s no finished machine to test these new designs with. So, my team creates experiments to find out: does this component design perform the task it is designed to, and will it perform well within the whole system?”

Using dedicated component test rigs, Michael’s team devise experiments to simulate the operating environments a component will encounter. The value of these experiments lies in the data that can be extracted from them. But doing this isn’t easy. The operating conditions being experimentally simulated may include super-sonic exhaust flow velocities, hundred-ton centrifugal forces and extreme temperatures. Then comes the challenge of installing sensors on a component designed to extremely high specifications – and understanding how these might impact the experiment’s results.

For all its complexity, the component testing process is built on a very simple principle: the better the individual components of a machine perform their function, the better the machine they form will perform its own, singular task.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than on the track of the F1 grand prix. With only a few days and a handful of hours on-track to test their cars before the season starts, development engineers must build an image of the car’s potential performance based on data from individual component tests – and identify failure risks.

“A single component fault can mean total failure”, explains Eric Gandelin, Chief Designer at Sauber, “so we invest hundreds of hours in testing each individual component. But it’s also this process that helps us to validate potential improvements in a component’s design. So the faster and more effective our testing process, the faster the car we can produce.”

This is exactly where Michael sees potential in Sauber and Accelleron’s new partnership: if teams can enhance the process of testing and developing new, improved components, then this will lead to an increase in their products’ overall performance.

“Experimentalists are often facing the same challenges: the need for minimally intrusive experimental methodologies, higher-accuracy and more robust instrumentation. Data transmission, processing and storage are also common topics. So open exchanges with people from other laboratories, and other fields, can be very fruitful.”

With their new partnership, Accelleron and Sauber have an opportunity to look again at how they develop every crucial component: to achieve those thousands of incremental advancements, and create machines that fulfil their one, singular purpose even better.

Accelleron is a partner of Sauber and the Alfa Romeo F1© Team ORLEN. Catch the team in action throughout the 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship™