Short version: 60 years of crash testing at Mercedes-Benz: On a collision course on behalf of safety

Sep 26, 2019

Stuttgart/Sindelfingen. For 60 years now, Mercedes-Benz has been really crunching them up: the first crash test in the history of the brand took place on 10 September 1959. A test car slammed head-on into a solid obstacle. This marked the beginning of a new era in safety research. From then on, this made it possible to study the behaviour of vehicles and occupants in car accidents more closely using test cars and crash test dummies. At present, the Technology Centre for Vehicle Safety (TFS) in Sindelfingen conducts about 900 crash tests plus around 1700 "sled tests" each year. A test mule (body shell or test assembly) is mounted on the test sled and subjected to the forces arising during a real vehicle crash. Mercedes-Benz consistently set new standards for crash test procedures and testing facilities that have been adopted across the industry and thereby resulted in improved vehicle safety in the interests of all road users on a lasting basis.

Mercedes-Benz has been conducting systematic crash testing since 1959. To date, more than 14,000 cars have been tested. In addition to passenger cars, Mercedes-Benz also conducts thorough crash testing of vans and heavy-duty commercial vehicles.

"As a safety pioneer, Mercedes-Benz has made a decisive contribution to the worldwide establishment of crash tests in the automotive industry", says Markus Schäfer, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, responsible for Group Research & Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. "They remain indispensable even in the age of computer simulations and ensure the high level of protection our vehicles provide for their occupants and other road users".

Mercedes-Benz designs all model series for the real accident scenarios. In crash testing, this means that around 40 different accident constellations are taken into account. The models of the brand also perform accordingly well in independent crash tests: just recently, in early September 2019, the EQC 400 4MATIC (weighted power consumption: 20.8 - 19.7 kWh/100 km; weighted CO2 emissions: 0 g/km)[1] and the new CLA passed crash tests according to the Euro NCAP[2] procedure with flying colours. They received five stars. The new B-Class and the new GLE likewise achieved this best possible rating in July 2019. Furthermore, the A-Class had been honoured by Euro NCAP in 2018 as the best vehicle tested that year and as best-in-class in the segment of "small family vehicles".

Mercedes-Benz conducts more crash tests than required by law or for ratings

Compared with evaluating a car damaged in an actual accident, the major benefit of a crash test lies in the ability to collect data during the collision. To this end, the vehicles are equipped with a number of sensors and high-speed cameras. Various types of dummies fitted with measuring equipment are available to provide reproducible data on the forces to which the human body would be subjected in a real car accident.

The company's crash tests exceed the number and complexity of the legally required tests: state-of-the-art simulation methods support the development process in this context. Up to 15,000 realistic crash simulations and about 150 vehicle crash tests may be required to make an entirely new vehicle ready for customer operations. In addition to the impact configurations mandated for the global type approval of a vehicle, this also includes rating tests and particularly demanding in-house crash tests. One example in this regard is the roof drop test, which the company conducts additionally.

Crash testing tomorrow: even more precise and efficient with X-ray vision and digital methods

Mercedes-Benz is working together with the Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics, the Ernst Mach Institute (EMI), on the dynamic X-ray crash. In future, this imaging process will enable the crash experts to see the deformation process of components also from the inside and analyse it. This will make it possible to determine the causes for a certain component behaviour more quickly. The data from the X-ray crash are merged with computer-based simulation models to create highly dynamic 3D simulations. The high-speed X-ray images would also make it possible to improve the already high simulation quality further.

Work on an innovative sled test is also ongoing: together with the TÜV Süd in Prague (Czech Republic) work is under way on the application for an active side crash sled. This system is to simulate the side impact during an early phase of development when no complete vehicle exists yet. At an early phase, alongside the door itself, the technical equipment, the geometry of the trim parts and the material could also be improved.

At the same time, Mercedes-Benz is stepping up the digitisation in the area of crash testing as well: Augmented reality (AR)[3] and virtual reality (VR)[4] allow making crash preparations even more efficient. Potential applications of digital technologies include the creation of a measuring point catalogue for measuring the vehicles in a virtual space and attaching up to 150 measuring points on the car with the aid of AR data goggles.

Crash testing today: wide-ranging possibilities in the Technology Centre for Vehicle Safety (TFS)

In November 2016, Mercedes-Benz opened the Technology Centre for Vehicle Safety (TFS), one of the world's most modern crash test centres. Its flexible crash track concept not only provides facilities for classic crash tests, but also creates the conditions for entirely new test set-ups: vehicle-to-vehicle (Car2Car) collisions from all angles, the evaluation of PRE-SAFE®, automated driving manoeuvres with a subsequent crash, crash tests with trucks.

The Technology Centre for Vehicle Safety has sufficient space for the requirements of tomorrow. The longest crash track is over 200 metres long. There are a total of five crash blocks that are impacted during crash testing. One of them can be moved freely in space and another can be rotated around the vertical axis. For efficient operation, these two crash blocks are preconfigured with a different barrier on each of the four sides. By virtue of a mobile partitioning system, the complex allows up to four crash tracks to be in operation at the same time.

Crash tests yesterday: safety pioneer Mercedes-Benz has been setting standards for 60 years

There were no less than two great moments of Mercedes-Benz in vehicle safety 60 years ago: on 11 August 1959, the brand presented the new luxury class vehicles of the W 111 model series to the media. They were the first production vehicles in the world to have a safety body shell with a rigid passenger compartment and crumple zones at the front and rear. On 10 September 1959, Mercedes-Benz began systematic crash testing, which became an integral part of vehicle development. This marked the start of a new era in safety research.

The first crash test at the Mercedes-Benz Sindelfingen plant saw a test car slam head-on into a solid obstacle. This was an important milestone, because from then on it was possible to study the behaviour of vehicles and occupants in car accidents in a realistic way based on the test cars and crash test dummies.

The new crash tests proved that the safety body shell devised by Daimler-Benz engineer Béla Barényi worked in practice: it dissipates a significant portion of the kinetic energy released in an accident. In concert with the seat belts, this can protect occupants against serious injuries. The compelling concept became the industry standard. In the decades that followed, Mercedes-Benz consistently set such international standards and in doing so improved vehicle safety in the interests of all road users on a lasting basis. Despite being little used in the early years, from the 1960s onwards crash testing increasingly established itself as a reliable tool for the optimisation and testing of vehicle safety.

[1] Power consumption and range have been determined on the basis of Regulation (EC) No. 692/2008. Power consumption and range depend on the vehicle configuration.

[2] Euro NCAP (European New Car Assessment Programme) is an organisation of European transport ministries, automobile clubs and insurance associations. The organisation carries out crash tests and assesses their safety based on the available safety systems.

[3] Augmented reality (AR) refers to the computer-based augmentation of the perception of reality.

[4] Virtual reality (VR) is the representation and simultaneous perception of reality and its physical characteristics in an interactive virtual environment generated by a computer in real time.