Q&A: How Automotive Manufacturers Can Reduce Costly Downtime by Investing in Horizontal Impact Testing

In this Q&A, learn from Smithers Pira Technical Director Michael Kuebler how to avoid costly slowdowns with simple testing that recreates the rigors of the automotive distribution supply chain.

What is the Horizontal Impact Test System (HITS)?

The HITS consists of three main parts: a large sled with a bulkhead, or vertical surface, that runs on a track, a seismic base into which the sled impacts, and adjustable programmers that allow the user to control the duration of the impact (i.e. a programmable cushion). The packaged-product under test is placed on the sled flush against the bulkhead, and the sled is then programmed to collide with the seismic base. By controlling the programmers, the user can subject the sample to a specific shock profile to replicate different types of impacts and demonstrate how the product will respond to them as it travels through the supply chain.

What types of impacts can the HITS replicate?

Our HITS replicates horizontal impacts that commonly occur in the supply chain. This includes short-duration impact events, such as a truck backing into a dock or a pallet being marshalled by a forklift, and long-duration impact events, such as railcar coupling or emergency braking in a truck. Both these types of events are commonplace throughout the automotive industry’s manufacturing and assembly supply chain.

Is the HITS the best choice for this type of testing?

Essentially, yes. There’s really no other way to replicate the effect of long duration, high velocity impacts, such as railcar coupling, other than a programmable horizontal impact sled. And since the HITS can be programmed to replicate both short- and long-duration impacts, conducting both tests at the same lab can save time and money.

What types of products and packaging can be tested via HITS?

Many different types of packaging are used in the automotive space. Here are a few common examples:

  • Metal racks filled with stamped parts, such as doors and door parts, hoods, roofs, and bumpers, which are commonly en route from the stamping facility to the assembly plant.
  • Returnable containers, usually plastic bins, pallets, or trays, which are custom designed and thermoformed to snugly fit specific parts.
  • Expendable containers, which are similar to the above, but made of corrugated cardboard and intended for one-time use.

Why is it important to test these automotive packaging systems using the HITS?

You’re testing to see whether the packaging can prevent the product(s) from being displaced in the event of an impact. When a truck containing a rack of car parts arrives at an automotive assembly plant, it’s often a robot, rather than a person, who then picks the part out of the rack as a part of the assembly process. If the part has been knocked out of place, the robot cannot do its job, and the entire system screeches to a halt.

Downtime is one of the most expensive issues in the automotive industry. Even one hour spent repacking parts that have popped out of their containers in transit can be incredibly costly. Investing in horizontal impact testing up front reduces downtime by ensuring that your packaged-product can withstand every step of the supply chain and keeps the process running smoothly, saving both time and money.

What can the HITS do for other industries?

Horizontal impacts are not unique to automotive distribution, so the HITS can be used to conduct testing for any industry. Sustainability and cost avoidance measures have led to lighter packaging, which sometimes leads to lessened sidewall rigidity. Inadequate sidewall rigidity is a common culprit behind instability in unit loads, but it’s difficult to assess using standard testing. The HITS is a much more effective way to test the stability of loads which makes it extremely useful for the food and consumer goods industries. To recycle the examples above, if a pallet full of water bottles is jostled by a forklift or a truck backing into a loading dock, it will sway in response to the impact. The shock input itself is inevitable, but the pallet’s ability to absorb the momentum caused by the shock is determined by sidewall rigidity. If sidewall rigidity is insufficient, the pallet will be unable to resist the swaying motion and could topple over, taking other pallets with it. This can lead to costly product loss and major slowdowns, not to mention a mess. Testing the pallet’s response to horizontal impact on the HITS beforehand can save a lot of time and money.

Smithers experts have significant experience designing and conducting testing protocols for a variety of packaging types and applications. Our North America lab is located in Lansing, Michigan, making Smithers a fantastic option for the automotive industry. To learn more about horizontal impact testing and other offerings, get in touch at 517-322-2400 or mkuebler@smithers.com.