According to Ford, a full-size wind tunnel is the same size as an average office block, and can cost upwards of US$50 million to develop. Once you've made that massive outlay, you also need to pay to power the tunnel, as well as the specialized instruments inside it, making running time an expensive commodity.
Although full-scale wind-tunnel tests are essential to some parts of development, they're not necessary for cabin-refinement testing, where all you need is a steady stream of highway-speed air and some in-cabin sensors.
That's where Ford's new mobile setup comes into play. Inside each of its two 53-foot (16-m) shipping containers are the aeroacoustic vanes and internal ducting required to create a smooth, controlled airflow through the nozzle at the end of the system. The winds of up to 80 mph (129 km/h) are generated by two 16-blade, 6-ft (1.8-m) diameter ducted fans.
When it comes time to set the "wind tunnel" up, the two main containers are fastened to each other and the doors are opened to let air flow through and over the car positioned outside at the end of the containers. Thanks to a series of baffles inside the containers, the setup is quiet enough to be used for in-car acoustic testing.
The whole system is controlled from a 40-ft (12-m) container, which plays home to a small office, power distribution systems and controls for the main containers. To connect it all up, engineers simply run data and power cables between each section.
By creating the mobile wind tunnel, which can be unpacked up in six hours, Ford says it has freed up its main wind tunnel in Allen Park for development work. The new setup also allows teams to grab cars directly off the production line, rather than having to transport them to facilities that might be on the other side of the country.
The wind tunnel will debut at Ford's Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan.
Ford explain the system in the video below.