Freightliner LLC Opens Full-Scale Wind Tunnel Facility in Portland, Oregon

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Truck Manufacturer Will Use New Facility To Optimize Vehicle Aerodynamics for Reducing Fuel Consumption and Emissions

PORTLAND, OREGON…Freightliner LLC today announced the opening of an advanced transportation research facility to study the aerodynamics of heavy- and medium-duty vehicles. Located near the company’s headquarters here, the new Freightliner Wind Tunnel accommodates a full-sized heavy-duty truck. Over the coming years, the Freightliner Group will use data and experience from the wind tunnel testing to refine the aerodynamics on its trucks with the overall objective of reducing fuel consumption and emissions. Freightliner today marked the facility’s opening with a ceremony attended by Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski; U.S. Representative David Wu; Portland Mayor Vera Katz; project participants; media; and Freightliner engineering and corporate staff.

“The new wind tunnel facility is an example of Freightliner’s continuing focus on technological leadership in the truck manufacturing industry,” said Rainer Schmueckle, President and CEO of Freightliner LLC. “The wind tunnel will help us make further gains in aerodynamics and fuel efficiency, which will ultimately lower operating costs for our customers. By designing more fuel efficient vehicles with the help of this new tool, we will also contribute to the goal of environmental protection.”

Aerodynamic Testing

The 12,000-square foot wind tunnel facility will allow for a uniform, repeatable airflow over the vehicle being tested. This will enable Freightliner engineers to collect comprehensive data on airflow and aerodynamic performance. Sensors will provide information regarding wind load and surface pressures on the vehicle as a whole and for specific parts. Non-toxic fog will be used to provide airflow visualization and qualitative data regarding localized airflow. A sophisticated instrumentation system is employed to operate the wind tunnel, monitor ambient conditions and record aerodynamic data.

All Freightliner LLC commercial vehicles will be tested at this new research facility. Using the wind tunnel, Freightliner engineers will examine air flow over the hood, under the vehicle, and past the windows and mirrors. Engineers will also study how air flow affects engine cooling and splash and spray generation. Freightliner LLC will use this wind tunnel not only to test upcoming new products, but to refine aerodynamics on existing vehicles.

“The new wind tunnel facility is a fantastic new tool for the Freightliner LLC Engineering and Design team,” said Michael von Mayenburg, Senior Vice President, Engineering & Technology, Freightliner LLC. “The Freightliner Group has always been a leader in vehicle aerodynamics. To achieve this, we have subjected our vehicles to extensive wind tunnel testing in the past at off-site facilities. Now we will be able to perform extensive development programs to optimize the aerodynamics of all of our vehicle models. And we can do this at a facility specifically designed to study heavy- and medium-duty trucks.”

The Importance of Aerodynamics

Enhanced aerodynamics are an important aspect in increasing fuel efficiency and reducing the emissions of commercial vehicles, particularly those vehicles like long-haul highway tractors which operate at higher speeds for long periods of time.

Said von Mayenburg, “The more we can decrease air drag on the vehicles through optimized aerodynamics, the less fuel our vehicles will have to consume to perform their jobs. Less fuel consumed means lower operating costs for our customers and less emissions into the environment.”

Fuel efficiency is extremely important to long-haul truck fleets as fuel represents one of the largest costs associated with operating a long-haul tractor.

Aside from the competitive advantages Freightliner will garner by producing more fuel efficient vehicles, the new wind tunnel facility also helps contribute to the company’s continuing goal of reducing the environmental impact of commercial vehicles.

The heavy-duty truck industry has already made tremendous progress in reducing emissions, according to von Mayenburg. “By improving the aerodynamics of our vehicles and reducing fuel consumption on a per truck basis, we can make further progress,” he explained.

Design and Construction

The Freightliner Wind Tunnel was designed by the Freightliner Engineering team with help from the Freightliner Vehicle Systems Technology Center (VSTC), NASA Ames Research Center, Portland State University and the Mercedes-Benz Trucks analysis team. Construction of the facility began in May of 2003 and was completed in April of 2004.

The Freightliner Wind Tunnel features a unique and efficient design that differs from those of traditional automotive and aviation wind tunnels. Standard building materials were used in innovative ways to build the structure. The power section is revolutionary as well, using ten industrial blower fans, all synchronized by computer, in place of what would typically be one large custom-designed and built fan. The fans have a combined 2500 horsepower capability and process over 2.5 million cubic feet per minute (CFM) of air. This allows for test section wind speeds of over 65 mph.

The wind tunnel works by drawing air in through the intake at very low speeds through fine screens and aluminum honeycomb to remove any turbulence. The air then accelerates as it moves through the contraction cone into the test section where the air flow is smooth and uniform. This is where the test vehicle is placed and all of the data is recorded. The air then moves past the test section through the fans and is decelerated and vented upwards.

“We utilized the best aerodynamic engineering talent and latest computer-aided design tools both inside and outside of DaimlerChrysler to design a unique facility,” von Mayenburg said. “We look forward to putting this facility to work to further enhance the aerodynamics of vehicles produced by Freightliner LLC brands.”

Investment in Portland Operations

The new Portland wind tunnel also illustrates Freightliner’s continuing investment in its Portland operations. In 2002, Freightliner invested $16 million to bring Western Star-brand truck production to the Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant, which began building Western Star trucks in October of that year. Freightliner today employs approximately 2,000 people at its corporate headquarters and 1,100 people at the Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant.

“With the opening of the wind tunnel, Freightliner further enhances our engineering and technical capabilities in Portland,” said Freightliner LLC President and CEO Schmueckle. “Portland, Oregon is now the home of an important transportation research facility which will help deliver real-world benefits in fuel efficiency and emissions reduction.”

Freightliner LLC, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, is the leading heavy-duty truck manufacturer in North America. Freightliner produces and markets Class 3-8 vehicles under the Freightliner, Sterling, Western Star, American LaFrance and Thomas Built Buses nameplates. Freightliner is a company of DaimlerChrysler, the world's leading commercial vehicle manufacturer.

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