Cranfield goes off-road

Cranfield University has launched its £1.5 million Off-Road Dynamics Facility (ORD) at its Silsoe site in Bedfordshire.


CranfieldUniversity has launched its Off-Road Dynamics Facility (ORD) at its Silsoe site in Bedfordshire. The facility – the only one of its type in the UK – studies the relationship between machines and the soil environment in controlled conditions. The facility was officially opened by Richard Parry-Jones CBE, Vice President and Chief Technical Officer at the Ford Motor Company.


The National Soil Resources Institute (NSRI), part of the School of Applied Sciences at Cranfield, developed the £1.5 million facility to expand capability in the area of machine and soil interaction. The ORD will provide important research information to a number of diverse industries, including motorsport, aviation, agriculture, defence, telecommunications and sports surfaces.



Backed by Land Rover, Claas, Case New Holland (CNH) and Deutz, the ORD facility is based around four unique pieces of equipment developed at Cranfield.



They include a “whole vehicle” controlled moisture soil lane – the first in the UK. The soil lane consists of a large open top tank built into the structure of the building to provide a 45 metre long, 5 metre wide trough into which soil can be placed in a highly controlled and repeatable manner. The significant width and depth of the soil volume allows the testing of complete off-road vehicles, components or equipment without significant variation. The water level in this vast bin can be controlled to simulate a range of conditions from the saturated sea-bed encountered in sub-sea cable laying, through to hard compact dirt roads and airstrips



The facility also includes a mobile single wheel test apparatus capable of the precise control of wheel torque, vertical load and wheel speed in a wide range of off-road and on-road test environments



This equipment, together with related infrastructure, enables the study of off-road vehicle dynamics and soil dynamics, the effect of vehicular movement on the environment and the soil mechanisms associated with soil engaging machinery such as the measurement of tyre performance off-road.



‘Simulating extreme off-road environments will help to evaluate any machine that interacts with soil, from rally cars and agricultural machines, to tillage trains and aircraft tyres,’ explained Professor Dick Godwin, Head of the Engineering Group, NSRI. ‘The lab is designed to help industry build vehicles and equipment that optimise their performance.’


The Off-Road Dynamics Facility’s designer and project manager, Dr James Brighton, commented: ‘Our long-term research aim is to create a precise simulation or indeed a virtual environment for the evaluation of any machine or vehicle configuration in a controlled manner. This will improve the accuracy, repeatability and cost-effectiveness of tyre and vehicle dynamics research for off-road vehicles and equipment.’