Power equipment can only be as good as the sum of its parts. That’s why AriensCo has invested in a new Product Verification Center (PVC), a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art testing facility in the heart of Brillion. The goal is to rigorously scrutinize the components that go into the company’s lawn and garden equipment, ensuring they meet the highest standards in the industry.
At the company’s PVC, engineers can accurately recreate real-world conditions to systematically test the performance of machine components through the equivalent of their full lifecycles. That gives the AriensCo team insight into the anticipated performance of Ariens and Gravely products in the field. These processes also speed up product development, reduce warranty claims and job site stoppages due to mechanical failure, and enable the direct comparison of parts from multiple suppliers in order to build better machines.
“As engineers, our goal is to do everything we can to put our best foot forward and design great new products,” said Josh Wilson, senior director of engineering at AriensCo. “We do the mathematical calculations, we do the computer simulations and we aim to deliver great industrial design — but if you don’t have staff that can build those first prototypes and start a rigorous testing process, then we won’t have a product.”
The PVC will test component designs earlier in the product development process than previously possible. That means parts suppliers can be vetted before their components are placed in AriensCo’s lawn mowers, snow blowers, JSVs and other equipment. This head start enables AriensCo to discover any potential issues with parts at an earlier stage and then work closely with suppliers to come up with solutions long before any equipment reaches the field.
“We think of our labs as critical feedback sources for our suppliers, so in the PVC we will test their components in accordance with our new, industry-leading standards and then pass that information back to them so they can improve their processes and products,” Wilson said.
AriensCo’s new PVC facility opened in March 2020 and the company has plans to continually expand and upgrade its testing capabilities for years to come. Additionally, it has developed a proprietary verification-management system that organizes, prioritizes, summarizes, compares and archives the center's test results, providing detailed feedback to AriensCo teams across the company. This in turn will lead to improved product quality and reliability across the Ariens and Gravely brands.
The building that houses AriensCo’s PVC is located in the former Brillion Iron Works site, which was once owned by the Ariens family then lost during the Great Depression, only to be recently repurchased by the current generation of the Ariens family. It dates from the 1940s and has been completely gutted for its new purpose, though it maintains the spirit of its original exterior. The new facility will employ dozens of managers, technicians and engineers, as well as a number of testing capabilities and technologies the industry has never utilized before.
“It’s just a much better environment overall. We have a dedicated ANSI [American National Standards Institute] certification test room, in which we can perform all kinds of stress screening tests,” Wilson said. “Some of those tests are violent. For example, we’ll do things such as inject a one-inch iron stake to the bottom of a lawn mower deck while it’s operating at full power. This room is a really secure lab, so when we’re running tests there are automatic door locks so no one can enter the room, and the operators are in a bullet-proof enclosure so there’s no safety concerns. The tests are precise — very precise. It’s really great from a safety standpoint.”
In the coming months, the PVC’s capabilities will continue to expand. Among the new additions, the center will get a comprehensive environmental testing capability that includes hot and cold extreme temperature and corrosion testing chambers.
“The center already has great capabilities and it’s going to get a lot more,” Wilson said. “An example is our hot test room, where we can run up to four machines, simultaneously loaded, in temperatures in excess of 105°F. What that is doing is looking at the temperatures of our belts, drive trains, engines, exhaust systems and more. It stress-tests the components of our mowers. At the other end of the temperature scale, we’re adding a -40°F chamber for our snow products. Because of the products we build, we have to play at both ends.”
Other site capabilities include acoustical and vibration testing, as well as proprietary equipment that measures airflow through the machines. The PVC also has the ability to put components through their paces 24 hours a day, seven days a week, unmanned.
As you might expect, the latest technology features heavily within the PVC. Ariens has installed a 4-post multi-axle ride simulator that allows lab workers to test a zero-turn lawn mower through “time compression.” This means engineers can virtually test the frame and chassis systems quicker than is possible in the field, with multi-thousand-hour tests “compressed” into less than 21 days.
Technologies such as time compression and ride simulation let engineers fully test designs before they move to field testing. That ensures that when technicians get to the field-testing phase, it’s less likely they’ll find any outstanding issues. Discovering problems before equipment is in the field-testing phase cuts considerable time in the product development process.
“The charter of the PVC is to prove what we predict the product should do,” Wilson said. “As engineers, everything we design is going to have to hold true in real life. We are challenging ourselves to prove if those decisions meet our customers’ needs or if we need to find a better solution. That is the overall premise.”
The company expects the testing facilities to be fully operational by the end of 2020.