When Ford Motor Co. cut the ribbon last March for its new Volvo Safety Center in Gothenburg, Sweden, the center's sheer size and pricetag - 86,110 sq.-ft. (8,000 sq.-m), built at a cost of $81 million - served as testament to the automaker's commitment to being No.1 in safety.

As far as Ford's concerned, "size" apparently does matter for doing safety right. But for some suppliers that helped Ford equip the new center with the most modern crash-test equipment available, the size issue is not the gargantuan dimensions of the building - but rather one of compactness.

Lighting specialist K.H. Steuernagel Lichttechnik GmbH (KHS) outfitted Ford and Volvo with the latest array of crash-test filming lights - some of them tiny enough to illuminate the most remote of interior spaces to record the complexities of a modern crash test.

The KHS developments prove that nothing can be overlooked when it comes to getting the most out of a crash test, even in esoteric areas like film illumination. Ford knows that safety sells, and so does KHS, a company that supplies crash-test illumination to several automakers, as well as Tier 1 wind tunnel moguls such as Sverdrup Inc. The industry's safety initiative has propelled crash-test technology development to new levels.

In the early days of crash testing, black-and-white film running at 500 frames per second was state-of-the-art. Dummy technology was crude, seat belts were new, and air bags were yet to be invented.

Those low-tech lighting systems, based on visual data gathered by film through now-dated tungsten lamp illumination, are largely inefficient and reduce the value of a safety test. In short, if you can't see the information, you can't analyze it.

At the Volvo Safety Center, impact tests now are filmed by high-speed film and video cameras that operate at speeds of up to 3,000 frames per second - so proper lighting for these tests is critical.

At the recent Auto Interior Expo in Detroit, WAW spoke with George Coonley, KHS U.S. sales manager - and one of the world's handful of crash-test illumination experts - about current and future trends in lighting for automotive safety testing.

He reminds that lighting's role is one of illumination, or "image capturing," but it's important to remember that it is the film and/or video camera that actually records crash images. Still, the two systems are co-dependent, and the ability to effectively provide uniform, flicker-free light in the correct location is vital.

"The main product of safety testing is information - information that comes in many forms and from many areas of the safety test system," Mr. Coonley says. He stresses the multiple information paths often required of crash tests; specific components can be painted contrasting colors or highlighted with targets - those symbols on the test dummy's head, for example.

And the tracking and analysis of these specific details are best obtained through the use of like-colored spectral response lighting (lights that match the film's parameters) that provides high visibility, good color and a tight rendering for optimal acceleration, impact and other types of data. This, in turn, increases both the amount and quality of information obtained from a single test, thereby reducing costs - after all, smashing cars is never a cheap process.

Reliable and reproducible information is the key to a successful safety test. When the light source matches the sensitivity of the film/video sensor, many other improvements over tungsten-based lighting technology occur.

The effects of heat on test objects, air bag systems and test dummies is a growing concern. Information that these complex systems provide can be compromised due to thermal stress, so new high-speed lighting systems also aim to reduce thermal stress, increasing the value of the test data.

In addition to Volvo's new Safety Center, ACTS Testing Labs Inc., IDIADA Automotive Technology and Mercedes-Benz also use high-technology lighting systems for optimal information enhancement.

The next time you step into your 5-Star safety rated minivan, remember that it's not the number of crash tests your vehicle has been run through, but instead the quality of information gathered from each test.