An item commonly found on an infant’s changing table is helping General Motors’ engineers simulate snow year round, ensuring heating systems in cars like the 2015 Chevrolet Cruze can quickly and efficiently warm its interior.
Packed snow can prevent air from entering the inlet panel at the bottom of the windshield, obstructing the flow of air into the heating system and reducing the amount of air it can push out. This can lead to less efficient warming of the car’s interior and windshield defrosting.
“The last thing anyone wants to do when it’s freezing cold out is scrape their windshield,” said Nicholas Jahn, GM Vehicle Thermal Systems engineer. “The testing we perform on the Chevrolet Cruze with the diaper material allows us to maximize the car’s heating capabilities.”
Ironically, Jahn stumbled upon his diaper-based testing method in the middle of summer. During a swim with his daughter, he noticed her diaper multiplied in size when it came into contact with water. After some research, he found that sodium polyacrylate – the absorbent material found in diapers – starts as a powder but turns into a snow-like substance when saturated.
In Jahn’s test, he sprinkled the reusable snow onto the air inlet vents along the bottom of the Cruze’s windshield, then started the car and let it idle. After a few minutes, Jahn removed the inlet panel and inspected how much snow was sucked into the system and how much of the intake vents remained blocked.
Before discovering the material, Jahn had to either rely on Mother Nature to provide snow, or find a schedule opening at one of GM’s state-of-the-art climatic wind tunnels. Sodium polyacrylate, however, can be used anywhere, at any time, and in any season. Better yet, when the material dries, it can easily be reused.
“Diaper material is perfect for testing for snow intrusion and packing properties, Jahn said.
A more efficient heating system especially benefits those who use the OnStar Remote Key Fob services, which allows drivers to remotely start their car from anywhere with a cellular connection. As part of the OnStar Basic Plan, Remote Key Fob services – remote start, lock, unlock and activate horn and lights – is free for five years on all new, properly equipped GM vehicles.