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CyberMetrix creates weather conditions for testing engines

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A Columbus company is changing standard operating procedure for engine testing.

Instead of taking an engine to a location where weather conditions provide the required test parameters, the company brings the weather parameters to the engine.

CyberMetrix has developed two cold chambers that are capable of cold-start temperatures of minus 40 degrees and continual running under load at minus 20 degrees at 4,000 horsepower.

That means clients can start and run engines or vehicles in a controlled environment for an extended time period at temperatures that replicate conditions in which they might be used.

The company invested $11 million in the project, which included the purchase of an existing structure on South Mapleton Street for $730,000.

CyberMetrix President Pete Palladino said the facility provides a service that previously did not exist in North America.

“These cells are the largest of their kind for the specific purpose of engine-testing capability,” Palladino said. “We are already bringing in work to the community; and it’s important to note that this is new work, not simply the shifting of work from other local providers to CyberMetrix.”

CyberMetrix, which has another testing facility and its company offices on National Road, provides testing services for engines, engine components and emissions systems. It also provides design and construction management services for testing facilities.

Its clients, which include Cummins Inc., have recognized the value of cold testing in a controlled environment for some time and have attempted it in smaller test cells.

It is the size of this facility and its ability to test continuously under extreme conditions for extended periods that make it attractive.

The value for clients is that they do not have to ship personnel, test equipment and vehicles or components to a remote location where the actual conditions exist. They also can control the temperature at which products are tested.

Economical solution

Bryce Berchen, a Cummins technician performing engine tests at the Mapleton facility, said the cost saving varies but easily runs into the tens of thousands of dollars when compared to location testing.

“A lot of times, the real problem is waiting for the right conditions and finding a suitable place to set up,” Berchen said.

CyberMetrix chief mechanical engineer Tim Kirch said it was Cummins that approached the company in January of last year to discuss what it would take to build a center of this type.

“Cummins was contemplating building it themselves, but in March (2013), they asked if we would be interested in building a center,” Kirch said. “We told them we were absolutely interested because we knew we were capable of it.”

From March through September 2013, CyberMetrix envisioned the space, determined the cost and entered into a client agreement with Cummins.

A team of about a dozen employees worked on the design, and construction began in mid-December.

Palladino said that, in spite of the difficult winter, the climate center was completed in late May, on budget and ahead of schedule, using primarily local and exclusively Indiana tradesmen.

“What’s important to us is the fact that we have this in-house talent right here in Columbus, who conceived, designed and managed this whole project,” Palladino said.

CyberMetrix also signed an agreement with one of the world’s largest surface transportation companies to perform vehicle and systems testing at the Mapleton Street facility.

Palladino said the company, which he declined to name, is located in the United Kingdom and builds tens of thousands of school buses and other major transit transportation vehicles used in the United States.

Staying in Columbus

Last year, the Columbus City Council approved a 10-year tax-abatement for the CyberMetrix expansion project.

“We’re very pleased we were able to work together to bring this to Columbus because there were other cities we were contemplating putting this project in,” Palladino said. “We’ve added at least seven high-paying engineer and tech positions because of the expansion.”

The building was 40,000 square feet at purchase, and CyberMetrix expanded it by another 10,000 square feet to add the test cells and two independent monitoring stations. The stations allow multiple clients to confidentially analyze and transmit test results and information.

The facility is called a climate center because it is also capable of simulating conditions to test products in extreme heat up to 120 degrees.

Its two test cells are each 28 feet high and measure 40 feet by 60 feet. Each is capable of holding two full-sized buses or several trucks.

Brad Stamper, manager for mechanical engineering at CyberMetrix, said the goal of the test cells was to take up a small footprint but maximize modularity and allow for multiple units to be tested simultaneously.

“We have two independently functioning systems, and nothing is anchored on the floor so we are not tied in to fixed locations for testing,” Stamper said. “The common wall section is movable, which allows us to thermally join the two spaces together and utilize the tooling in both rooms at the same time.”

Each cell has 12 refrigeration units, six on the floor and six near the ceiling, and the air the engine breathes has its own refrigeration system.

The compressors were placed on the roof, and bridge cranes are located overhead. Lifting equipment is available on site to unload and transport products to be tested.

“Because of the size of the project and the products to be tested here, we identified exactly what we would need to serve our clients,” Stamper said. “It’s all about flexibility and customization, so that whatever the client needs, we’ve got the space and equipment to accommodate it.”

Company’s evolution

Christine Mullholland, a former Cummins employee, founded CyberMetrix in 1992 with a small product called Road Runner. The mobile data-acquisition system located under the seat of a truck allowed the driver to do analysis while operating a vehicle and also collected and stored information.

“I just loved the test cell side of the business,” Mulholland said. “We expanded slowly and eventually delivered our first modular test cell and started doing more turn-key type solutions. We really pride ourselves in knowing everything about testing, from components and engines to vehicles.”

Palladino said his company’s goal is to identify unaddressed needs in the industry and fill them.

“If you have the same thing as everybody else, the only way you have to secure business is by doing a great job on service and competing on price, but then nobody makes any money,” Palladino said. “We are looking for those niche markets and opportunities where we can really add value to the community and CyberMetrix.”

The company has room to grow at the South Mapleton site and has identified projects for 2015 and beyond that are anticipated to require additional expansion at the facility.

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