For over a decade, Ontario Tech’s ACE has provided a unique test environment for automotive and aerospace companies, and even high-performance athletes
This article is Sponsor Content presented by Invest Durham
Since 2003, when the idea was born to create a facility specializing in severe climatic and durability testing and research at Ontario Tech University, ACE has strived to be more than just a lab.
The facility, unique in North America, opened June 2011, under the title Automotive Centre of Excellence, with high aspirations for assisting developers in a variety of markets.
Today, the complex, now known as the ACE Core Research Facility, is living up to that goal. Centrally located in Durham Region’s city of Oshawa, ACE is a renowned, go-to solutions provider for companies and researchers in aerospace, automotive, architecture, media and film, and athletic performance and climate physiology.
“It’s a $125-million facility that is available to everyone,” says John Komar, executive director of ACE. “We’re a solutions provider, as opposed to just a lab.”
ACE now hosts up to 50 clients per year, including industry leaders like General Motors and Magna. It currently boasts five different testing chambers and a wide range of performance testing tools. It even offers some of its services to remote clients.
The value it delivers is undisputable. Since opening, ACE has generated $40 million in revenue via industry research and development in transportation and automotive technology. Without ACE, that R&D investment would have happened outside of Canada.
“Our expertise is available to startups, OEMs, and others around the world,” says Komar.
ACE’s presence and expertise is also a catalyst for investment in Durham Region. The example of agricultural machinery company Kubota is a case in point.
Ten years ago, ACE worked with the agricultural machinery company Kubota to test the cold-weather performance of many of its vehicles, including large tractors.
The success of that relationship made it an easier decision for Kubota to open its Canadian corporate headquarters in Durham, Komar says, adding that Kubota frequently hires engineering co-op students from Ontario Tech University.
“They saw the Canadian expertise,” he says. “Now they are not only engaged in the use of the facility, but also in terms of recruitment of engineers and technical people, which grows the region.”
A multi-purpose wind tunnel
The standout facility at ACE is a Climatic Aerodynamic Wind Tunnel that can test a product’s aerodynamics, thermal dynamics and acoustics in a variety of weather conditions.
The wind tunnel is used by clients in multiple industries, but the automotive sector leads the way.
ACE uses UV spectrum lamps to alter the weather conditions multiple times within a single day. Temperatures in the tunnel can go as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius and up to plus 60. “We can be in the hottest place on earth and coldest place on earth in an eight-hour shift,” Komar says.
The ACE team can also target vehicles and other products with winds blowing from different angles at more than 280 kilometres per hour in the tunnel.
In recent years, Komar says, that ability has allowed ACE to pinpoint vehicle problems before they become an issue when a product is launched. With one client, specifically, ACE identified how a fuel line was susceptible to high wind and frigid temperature.
Additionally, ACE developed a 350 kilowatt DC fast charger that can be placed in the wind tunnel and test whether an EV can be charged in extreme heat and cold.
“We are the only place that can bring a vehicle in at minus 30 degrees and see how long it takes to charge,” Komar says.
Although automotive projects make up over half of ACE’s clients, Komar says, ACE also uses its climatic testing capabilities as a training tool for clients ranging from high-performance athletes to architectural firms looking to build climate-resilient buildings.
“We started out as an automotive [company resource],” Komar says. “Now, we provide solutions for a wide-ranging group of people.”
ACE is also working with the National Research Council and construction groups to develop buildings that are able to adapt to climate change.
“We do architectural civil work — ice shedding on New York City skyscrapers, extreme wind conditions [and advising] new regulations for Florida buildings and structures,” Komar says.
The ACE facility is a key offering at Ontario Tech and in the Durham Region at large.
It anchors the Region at the nexus of future energy and advanced mobility technologies and has an eye to the needs of the future.
Down the road, ACE has ambitions to produce its own green hydrogen on site and become a larger player in the hydrogen fuel cell sector — especially as the team is planning to open a new hydrogen commercialization and demonstration centre.
Komar says ACE will continue to simulate real-world conditions in its wind tunnel and work with automotive companies to enhance a vehicle’s aerodynamics, thermodynamics, acoustics, and structural durability.
However, he added that the research team is integrating more lightweight and advanced manufacturing, such as 3-D printing, to test those core four factors in a variety of weather conditions.
“The technology of advanced manufacturing, developing, and light weighting, and the aerodynamic events in acoustics — that’s all the things we do here at this core research facility.”
And, as the mobility and energy industry’s needs develop and change in the coming decades, it’s clear the ACE facility and Durham Region will continue to evolve to be their research partner of choice.