iQ Research Centre of Excellence
Q’Straint unveils its new research centre
Safety is and has always been at the heart of the products of wheelchair passenger securement specialist, Q’Straint
Its vision is to develop the world’s most effective wheelchair passenger safety solutions and just lately it has taken its efforts to the next level, unveiling the new iQ Research Centre of Excellence, a testing station for wheelchair restraint devices
Chris Peat visited the Centre, meeting the team behind the new venture who showed him the test facility in action
World class R&D
Housed in Q’Straint’s UK headquarters in Whitstable, Kent, the iQ Research Centre of Excellence is intended to be a world class research and design facility, which furthers research innovation and enhances the company’s product development capabilities while increasing the speed with which new products can be brought to market. The company claims the pound investment reflects its commitment to advancements in research and development while further reinforcing its position as a global technology leader within the industry.
Additionally, the Centre is expected to create new job opportunities for research and engineering positions well into the next decade. The business’s team of specialist engineers and technologists is to be developed to explore new ways to transport wheelchair users in comfort and safety.
The Centre was officially unveiled in February during a global launch ceremony for a number of guests from all over Europe and as far afield as America, Asia and the Middle East. Among the guests were some of the foremost vehicle manufacturers, standards officials and members of transport associations, trade bodies and disability action groups. According to Q’Straint MD, Andy Cumming, feedback from this event was very positive with many visitors stating that the facility far exceeded expectations. It has also received a large amount of industry interest.
Andy said, ‘Q’Straint is extremely proud of the new iQ Research Centre of Excellence. With our investment in the facility, we can now research, test, certify and deliver the next generation of securement systems to market, thereby improving safety for everyone.’
At the heart of it
At the heart of the iQ Research Centre of Excellence is the HYGE accelerator sled, which is capable of reproducing crash conditions simulating a vehicle impact at in excess of 60mph. The test sled: can deliver 225,000 pounds of thrust (equivalent to a modern jet fighter); is capable of handling in-vehicle tests to 2.25tonnes; accelerates to a maximum of 60g; and can reach maximum speeds of 66mph in 0.1seconds.
The HYGE system works through a complex series of air pressure build up, with the release of a metering pin to exert the force and develop the acceleration for the impact simulation. The machinery allows the pulse of the exertion for the test to be adjusted exactly, ensuring a high rate of repeatability when testing.
The iQ Centre’s system comprises of an air storage tank and compressor, enabling more tests to be conducted in one session than with systems without this combination. The compressor takes about an hour and a half to charge per test, but the tanks hold enough charge for six to eight cycles, depending on the pulse of each test. Decreasing the restriction on the power available helps it achieve test times twice as quick as without the tanks. Also improving test time speeds is the fact the metering pin can be refitted in the relatively quick time of 40 minutes. This means the set up can be changed over a lunch break, allowing for a different test to be made in the afternoon than in the morning, increasing the facility’s versatility.
HYGE dynamic crash simulation systems are a rarity, with only around 60 in existence worldwide. In the UK, there are only three others, one of which is at Millbrook Proving Ground and another at the MIRA vehicle test site in Nuneaton. It is operated through the Control Console, which if it looks like something from the 1970s, is because, essentially, it is. It has proved so well designed that it has not been altered since then, although the actual unit is brand new. The Console has its own housing, protecting the operators from the testing area, which could potentially be very dangerous due to the high speeds and the impact simulation. Every access point is interlocked; meaning the cylinder that fires the sled will not fire if someone gains unauthorised access to the test facility.
Q’Straint has taken what Andy described as a ‘novel’ approach to setting up the test centre. Unlike many similar systems, there are no separate lighting gantries. Instead, all of the lights are onboard the sled. It is important to properly light the test equipment to ensure the cameras get an optimum recording of the impact. The iQ centre uses Luminys Sunblast LED lighting units, which provide intense illumination, do not flicker when in use and, importantly, can withstand high impacts.
The camera used is a Phantom L320s, which records at 100,000 frames per second (fps) for capturing the impacts in in-depth slow motion. Situated close to the dummy and chair, it has full HD resolution and works in accelerations of 100g with a wide field of view to capture as much as possible. Such a highly specified camera is required to properly capture the motion of the dummy and the distance it travels during impact. It was the first of its kind to be adapted for a HYGE environment.
A Humanetics Hybrid 3 crash test dummy is used on the sled. This is no ordinary mannequin though, the replica human being is meticulously designed to match the weights and movements of a real human as accurately as possible. It features a skeleton substructure, making its reactions in an impact a highly accurate recreation of how a human would react. Instruments can be mounted at every joint for full reaction recording. The company providing it started out producing dummies for space craft ejection seats in the 1950s and has advanced its specialisation in the area since then, providing its solutions worldwide.
Inside the sled is a DTS Slice Micro data acquisition device, used to store all the information from the tests. Described as the world’s smallest data acquisition system, it houses a microprocessor and is shock rated at 5000g. An advantage when installing it is that it has a small footprint of 42mm cubed, which also means it has a low mass. It is a modular system and has the capacity to record up to 384 channels, meaning up to this many points can be measured on the dummy during a test.
In summary, Andy Cumming said the site offered ground breaking, industry benchmark equipment. When designing it, he said the company looked to provide the best practice in testing to achieve optimum results for customers. ‘Extremely high performance’ was what the company was aiming for.
Although iQ was developed by Q’Straint, it has its own accounting system and is run at arm’s length from its originator company’s operation with a separate identity, complete with its own logo and branding.
Helping guide the development and roll out of the iQ Centre was Development Engineer, Mark Easton. He previously worked in ballistics testing for military equipment, so he has plenty of experience in examining high speed impacts.
On entering the 17,500 square foot iQ Research Centre of Excellence, it is immediately noticeable how clean it is. This is something Mark is keen to keep up, as it facilitates even more accurate testing, not to mention making it a nicer environment to work in.
Building the centre required extensive construction work below ground, including the installation of a substantial concrete base. The amount of concrete is staggering: the part of it that protrudes above ground, itself considerable in size, is the tip of the iceberg. The building the Centre is based in adjoins Q’Straint’s existing site and was leased in April last year, with the ground works for the facility started in July 2013. As well as building the test facility and installing the equipment, an office with an observation window for those carrying out the testing and other staff to work in had to be constructed. With what was described as an ‘aggressive’ turnaround time, it was operational from January this year and according to Andy, it has already started ‘earning its corn’. He said it has been ‘working hard’, ‘all day and everyday’.
Q’Straint was established over 30 years ago in the USA, expanded into the United Kingdom 20 years ago and continues to grow globally. The company currently serves over 70 countries worldwide from offices in the UK, US, Canada and Australia. It certainly had plenty of choice when deciding where to set up this state of the art facility, so, why the UK? The location of iQ provides good access to some of the best engineers in the country, according to Mark. There was also the existence of R&D tax incentives in this country, as well as the availability of funding and loans in Kent for businesses looking to expand and create new employment opportunities. The creation of the new site has seen the company take on new engineers to run the Centre. When launched, Q’Straint invited neighbouring companies from the industrial estate, who Mark said were pleased with the fact it is growing business in Kent.
And finally . . .
Opening this facility certainly is sending the message out that Q’Straint is a company striving to be at the global forefront of wheelchair restraint systems. For over 30 years, the company has been developing equipment that makes the transportation of wheelchair occupants safe and comfortable. You need look no further than the recently launched Quantum restraint system for buses (see B&CB 1256, 20 December 2013) for an example of that. The product won an award for innovation at Busworld in Kortrijk last year and it would not be a surprise if Q’Straint’s new iQ Research Centre of Excellence also achieved high profile recognition.