Electro-mechanical operation testing under cold and icy conditions

Sirris uses its large climatic test chamber for research, test and validation projects of different electro-mechanical systems that need to work in harsh and extreme climatic environments. Next to testing under extremely low temperatures it is now possible to carry out tests in icy conditions, as ice build-up often forms a serious problem in cold climates. 

The facility was opened in 2012 and in the beginning it was mainly used by the Sirris OWI-Lab department to functionally test large multi-MW components for wind turbines (e.g. gearboxes, transformers, converters, hydraulic components, etc.).

In order to support other industries as well in their challenge to meet with cold climate and icing compliance testing, the lab has built up knowledge in these kind of tests too for industries such as solar power, energy transmission, off-highway, defence, shipping. It also invested in certain additional tools to foresee one-stop-shop tests in the field of cold climate, tropical climate, icing climate and desert climates in order to make sure that the product of the future is able to work in all regions of the world.

Sirris's large climatic test chamber and examples of temperature tests in the lab

Changed behaviour of systems in cold climates with ice build-up 

Cold and icy conditions may impact a system in several ways. Some are obvious and will not be overlooked. The impact of cold temperatures on a liquid cooling system for instance is clear and easy to tackle by lowering the freezing point of the coolant. However, secondary impact of low temperatures by ice and snow might be as destructive and harder to overcome. An example of this are the cooling circuit radiators that some wind turbines have on top of their nacelle. When these are covered with ice, they lose the ability to dissipate the heat, which causes serious problems. Other ice related problems can occur, because the ice will affect the aerodynamics, the natural frequency and weight distribution.

Left to right: an iced cooler on top of wind turbine nacelle in Scandinavia, an iced mining truck after a snow storm in Canada, freezing rain on a car window in Switzerland

Even if the effects are as simple as adding weight to the machine or structure, it is important to take this into account during the design phase and do the necessary validation tests as well to ensure reliable and safe operations. In the maritime world all ships are designed to cope with 35 mm of ice build-up before it effects the balance of the vessel. All equipment on the ship is put to the test in the same extreme conditions to verify their functionality. In the wind power market too, additional ice build-up on blades is taken into account.

Extreme cases of ice build-up on arctic ship and wind turbine in icing climate 

Simulating ice build-up in the lab

“A climatic test chamber is the ideal laboratory place to perform such validation tests under a precisely controlled environment ” says Bastiaan Reymer, test engineer at Sirris. “By cooling down the test object to extremely low temperatures we can speed up the ice formation. At this moment we have spray guns to manually make thin layers of ice. We are currently investigating an automated way of spraying so we can minimise the man-effort and create dense ice overnight for our customers.”

Example of ice test (35 mm) for VIKING Life Saving Equipment - Marine Evacuation system for VIKING Life Saving Equipment A/S

Large and heavy test specimens 

Pieter Jan Jordaens, business developer for the climatic test facility : “The large dimensions of our climate chamber in combination with the floor load capacity up to more than 150 tonnes and the ability to deep cool down to -60 °C at the lowest is a unique set-up in Europe. Exporting companies manufacturing products that need to operate in cold and artic climates can test if their add-on features are up to dealing with these environments before taking them into the field. As the climatic test chamber is located on a break-bulk terminal in the Antwerp Harbour, prototypes can arrive by truck, train or boat. Highly qualified personnel has a variety of lifting machines at their disposal to place the test specimens carefully and precisely into the chamber.

Marine Evacuation system for VIKING Life-Saving Equipment A/S and ZF Wind Power 80 ton wind turbine gearbox put to the test for cold climate compliance