Here’s what 50 million hours of computational testing gets you

Running 200,000 simulations produced this...

Credit: Cadillac

One of the amazing realizations when it comes to high-end computational testing is that you can simulate products so thoroughly that there are few surprises when the real thing is sitting in front of you. At a recent event, I stood in front of the result of 50 million hours of engineering testing: The 2016 Cadillac CT6. It’s about to go into full production and hits dealers next year.

The 2016 CT6 is a vehicular marvel. It has 34 speakers, a front and rear-facing camera that can spot impediments, and a 400-horsepower twin-turbo engine. But the really interesting part to me is that the materials used to build the car were bonded in a way that has never been done before (that’s why they had to do all of that testing). Because of this, the car uses mostly aluminum parts on the exterior but still relies on steel for the interior components.

I haven’t driven one yet, but up close, you can see the streamlining. There’s an angle that runs from the trunk straight up to the front fender. In between, I noticed fine touches in how the door handles integrated into the body and how the flow of the b-pillars (the steel pieces between the doors) flow like they were engineered to look like they fit the styling and are not purely functional.

Cadillac ran about 200,000 simulations for this car which led to 21 patents in the structural design. A spokesperson mentioned how Cadillacs are all built entirely on a computer and tested in so many conditions that there are few surprises when those same engineers hop behind the wheel. There are 13 aluminum components in the lower body that were designed to reduce the weight of the vehicle so that it’s about 218 pounds lighter than competing models like the Audi A8.

Travis Hester, the chief engineer on the CT6, explained to me that the simulations cover everything from crash testing for all regions, aerodynamics, thermal testing, and what he called NVH (or noise, vibration and harshness).

"This is a significant area that looks at structural transfer of NVH throughout the vehicle, airborne noise attenuation and also the combination of resonate frequencies of different components and subsystems in the vehicle to ensure they do not negatively align to each other," he says. "For example if the steering system has a resonate frequency the same as a particular road input coming through the BIW (or body in white, a stage in automotive manufacturing) it may cause the customer to experience steering wheel vibration, shake and instability. The analysis looks at all of these variables to ensure this does not occur so the quality feel of the CT6 is built into the structure from the very foundation​."

There are three main reasons why Cadillac took the time to do the simulations. One, of course, is for safety. The simulations are intended to show what happens when the car is driving on, say, a slippery road in Minnesota and swerves suddenly around a tight corner. The second reason is that all of the bonding that occurs is intended to help smooth the ride. The CT6 won’t feel clunky on the road like a drivable yacht with wheels. The components are designed to make the drive feel more like a smaller, sportier vehicle and not so boxy and rigid.

Lastly, the car will likely fall into that odd category of large and spacious weekend car that’s big enough for your entire family yet with an MPG that won’t send you back to the bump constantly. I’m guessing it comes in close to the 2016 Cadillac CTS at around 31 MPG. Let's hope so -- I can't wait to drive one.

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