Fighting headwinds in the lab

March 24, 2014 //By Julien Happich
Fighting headwinds in the lab
In May last year, bicycle manufacturer Specialized publicly announced an industry’s first for the cycling industry, an in-house wind-tunnel specifically designed and equipped to test bike aerodynamics and measure wind flows around new profiles.

Opened at the company’s Morgan Hills, California facility, the 100 feet long wind tunnel provides enough air flow to simulate 30-mph speeds that only top riders achieve, its test section is wide and long enough to do real research, claims Specialized who plans to submit all its bikes and top athletes to closely controlled headwinds.

Before this wind tunnel was built, the company relied on third-party installations, often very powerful facilities designed for aerospace and automotive research, but too powerful and with airflows at lower speeds never quite clean enough for bike testing. Renting wind tunnel time could cost engineers up to USD10,000 per day, yet the force data they could collect around the bikes under test was barely above the noise floor of such places.

Now the engineers at Specialized can accommodate dynamic biking scenarios like changing wind conditions, fit teams of up to nine riders and still gather cleaner, more granular data than they got used to, without having to pay by the hour.

Since the facility was built from scratch, Specialized's manager of performance road, triathlon and aerodynamics R&D engineer Mark Cote was looking for a flexible and open test platform that would allow fast reconfiguration and new test builds on the go. Specialized partnered with National Instrument to develop an entirely new measurement and control system based on NI’s LabVIEW system design software, NI’s PXI hardware and the NI vision development module integrated with commercial off-the-shelf components such as cameras.


“This is a typical case of a domain-specific company turning to NI because it couldn’t find agile-enough dedicated instruments for its needs”, explained Rahman Jamal, Technology & Marketing Director Europe at National Instruments.  

“Often, test and measurement is seen as a cost issue, here Specialized publicized its wind tunnel as a competitive advantage”, Jamal said.


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