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Smithers Winter Test Centre Celebrates 50 Years

Founded in 1925 and headquartered in Akron, Ohio, Smithers is a multinational provider of testing, consulting, information, and compliance services. The company has laboratories and operations in North America, Europe, and Asia, the company is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Smithers Winter Test Center in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP). The site supports the automotive, tire, and consumer products industries, with over 800 acres of test surfaces and engineering services designed to assist with technology validation in harsh winter conditions.

Smithers’ winter testing operations began in Raco, Michigan, located in the state’s Upper Peninsula, in 1973 after Smithers acquired Compliance Testing Inc., or CTI. Smithers Winter Test Center occupies an airfield initially built by the United States government in 1940, with a large triangle of runways, each measuring roughly a mile long and 300 feet wide. The United States Air Force took over the site during the Cold War. In 1972, ownership of the site was transferred to the United States Forest Service, and it became part of the Hiawatha National Forest.

“The start of our relationship with the Forest Service was a real turning point in Smithers history,” said Sean Connolly, Director of Test Track Operations, Smithers. “Taking over the site meant we could dramatically increase our testing capabilities and provide many more services to our valued clients.”

Over the past fifty years, Smithers has made significant investments to the Smithers Winter Test Center based on industry changes and client needs. The three original runways have been outfitted for specialized surface testing, including split mu, alternating ice and asphalt, and packed snow handling. In addition, Smithers added handling courses, several ice and snow circles, ice pads, hills of varying grades, and facilities to support testing.

“We’re constantly striving to add modern amenities based on changes to the automotive industry and what our clients need,” said Connolly. “Providing our clients with what they need is the most important factor in every decision we make regarding site expansion.”

Recent investments include:

  • Two test freezers for on-site cold soak testing of vehicles and components

  • A ChargePoint Express 250 DC Fast Charging Station, plus on-site power upgrades

  • A state-of-the-art event center with space for 110 people

  • A new off-road vehicle course including articulations, twists, ditches, slopes, and off-camber sections

  • Upgrades to the site’s existing courses and hills

“The automotive industry is changing every year. Our clients’ technologies are pushing the envelope, and meeting their needs has always been the primary driver of growth and expansion at the Smithers Winter Test Center and all our other testing facilities around the globe,” said Jim Popio, PhD, Vice President, Smithers Materials Science and Engineering Division. “I’m eager to see what the next fifty years will bring, for us and for our clients.”

The 50th Anniversary celebration will include special events for clients during the winter testing season.

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