The Proving Ground

The Proving Ground

March 14, 2012

A team of Construction Equipment editors was priviledged to be invited to a manufacturer proving ground recently. After the security checks, safety checks, and briefing, we loaded up into two pickup trucks.

As we drove to a remote section of the grounds, our host told us the size of the facility and how they had included a buffer zone of acreage to keep the neighbors free from noise and dust. We passed a test track, some indoor facilities, and even a “roll-over hill,” where the manufacturer evaluated operator safety before the advent of computer modeling.

I wonder if they still roll ’em down there every once in a while?

Once at the site, numerous new models were lined up with a predecessor and, yes, a competitor. Our host told us it’s standard procedure for manufacturers to obtain comparable competitors and run tests against them. We weren’t here to see those tests, though, and frankly, I don’t want to see that. But it was interesting to see the machine parked among “the home team.”

We were there to see the new models and observe how the manufacturer evaluated them against their predecessors. As the marketers and engineers were going over the nuances of their new machine, comparing it to the old, a series of repetitive testing runs were occuring behind us.

The test machines had on-board testing equipment, which was monitored in real time in a small glass-enclosed building by two or three people peering at laptops. With wireless headsets, they were in constant contact with the operator. This operator stayed with the test for the entire day, riding new, old and competive machines.

I was intriqued by the testing, having spent a summer in a factory doing QC on some sort of 1-inch widget. (I don’t remember what it was assembled into.) I asked someone about the variables they had to account for in this test, and they far outnumbered those of the my summer widget.

In addition to the operator, they monitored the environmental conditions. This day was sunny, but they test during inclement weather, too. What’s important isn’t the rain or shine, but it’s that each machine is operating in identical conditions.

The material was monitored, too, whether it was gravel, sand, or the stuff underfoot. They knew exactly the volume and mass, and the dirt was compacted and watered.

Even the tires are taken into consideration. In this case, each machine was wearing the same tread.

As one representative told me, they want to learn everything they can about a machine’s performance—and limits—before it ever gets in the hands of a customer.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by the level of expertise at this proving ground. Afterall, we’ve been doing Field Tests for more than 15 years, and we understand each of the variables we witnessed here.

What was impressive was the investment behind the proving ground. This manufacturer—and it’s not the only one—had built this facility in order to run some pretty simple, and in some cases sophisticated, testing. The return on its investment is in machine quality.