R&D Pushes Northward DC to test paint, lights, crashworthiness in Canada DaimlerChrysler AG is investing C$500 million ($331 million) over five years to expand its Canadian research center, including a 45,000-sq.-ft. (4,450-sq.-m) paint facility to develop better ways to coat future products.

The full-scale coating laboratory, housed in the four-year-old Daimler-Chrysler Canada/University of Windsor Automotive Research and Development Centre in Windsor, Ont., "is the most sophisticated lab in the world, and it is dedicated solely to R&D," says engineering director John Mann. "It will never coat a vehicle for sale."

It will test materials, processes and equipment - including spray guns and ovens - with an eye to reducing the huge infrastructure and energy costs of a paint shop. Until now, DC used factory shops to pilot new technology, sometimes delaying manufacturing. The only testing facility has been the Big Three USCAR collaboration on low emissions clear coating at the Ford Motor Co. Wixom, MI, plant

The new Automotive Coatings Research Facility will focus on powder coating, which addresses environmental and quality issues, but has higher energy costs. One solution is eliminating the need for an infrared dehydration oven to remove water and solvents from the base coat before continuing on to the convection oven. Eliminating the first oven saves 260,000 watts of energy if researchers can find a way to filter out dirt before the body bakes in the second oven.

Another project centers on the electrostatic application of powder coats. It is used for anti-chip coatings (primer), but carmakers want to expand its use to base and clear coats.

The largest R&D investment in Canadian history doubles the engineering workforce to 400. Windsor was chosen because of its proximity to Detroit, and Canadian incentives that cut the after-tax investment cost in half.

In addition to the coatings lab, construction begins this winter on a safety lab complete with crash barrier to begin impact testing in February 2001. It can be expanded in the future to help DC meet regulatory requirements that demand more testing than its Chelsea, MI, facility can handle.

A 21,000-sq.-ft. (1,950 sq.-m) expansion of Windsor's Road Simulation Lab also has begun. It adds three light-truck simulators to the two passenger-car cells that shake vehicles to test durability. An additional pair of fixed chassis allows interchangeability of specific components to test wear and tear.

A 3,000-sq.-ft. (279 sq.-m) recycling lab addresses the 15% portion of a vehicle that cannot be recycled in relation to the roughly 25% that is not.

The complex includes a new Lighting Research Facility. It is a two-lane dark highway for testing the design and performance of lighting systems under controlled and repeatable conditions. Different headlamps can be mounted on a rotating spindle for comparison testing.

DC plans to add the ability to simulate various weather conditions and add overhead signs to the roadway. A digital database is being created as a benchmark against which future headlamps can be gauged.