Yamaha Test Centers
Foundation building and creativity at Shibetsu
Answering market needs at Minocqua
At the Shibetsu Test Center, tests are conducted on the snow from December through April. Besides snowmobile, snow throwers and, in summer, ATVs are also tested here. The year-round test work involves an extended R&D staff of over 2,000 people in and outside the center
The close-loop course shown in the photo is used for test work concerning primarily snowmobile handling performance. Engine tests and running performance tests are also conducted on this multipurpose course. There is also a course for long-distance endurance testing
Besides its facilities at Yamaha Motor's headquarters in Iwata, Shizuoka Pref., the company also has the Shibetsu Test Center on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido and the Minocqua Test Center in the North Central US state of Wisconsin as development centers where snowmobiles are tested on the snow.
Development work began at Shibetsu in 1969, two years after the launch of Yamaha's first snowmobile model, the SL350. At that time tests were run here along the banks of the Kenbuchi River outside the city of Shibetsu. The test center facility was built at its current location in 1989 and in 1994 the present test course was designed and constructed to handle a variety of tests.
As for the Minocqua Test Center, its roots go back to the R&D center originally based in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, where some of the Yamaha snowmobile development work was shifted from Japan in 1999. In 2001 the center was moved from Minnesota to a site in Minocqua, Wisconsin that had been used for running tests.
Clearly, from the timing of these events, Yamaha's snowmobile development was originally conducted at Shibetsu and the products then taken to the different regions of the world to be refined to meet the local conditions and market needs. With snowmobile development work originally being conducted only in Japan, so far from the main markets, it wasn't possible to grasp market needs in real time and work swiftly and efficiently to answer those emerging trends. That disadvantage led to the establishment of the Minocqua Test Center in the heart of the large North American market. Once established, this center gave Yamaha the capability to develop snowmobiles finely tuned to the real conditions of the market environments.
At the Shibetsu Test Center development work is conducted in fully equipped facilities with a large base of data and know-how garnered over 40 years of Yamaha snowmobile development. The Shibetsu center is charged mainly with what could be called the "creative development" processes of examining the viability of new model concepts, evaluating prototypes in the early stages of development and helping bring next-generation technologies like the EXUP and EPS systems introduced on new models and the current Apex series to the final stage of practical use.
The Minocqua Test Center lies in the midst of the elaborate snowmobile trail network in the heartland of the North American snowmobile 'mid-west' market. This location makes it possible to test Yamaha snowmobiles in the actual conditions in which the majority of customers will use them and to keep abreast of the changes in the market and shifts in user riding trends as they happen in real time. The staff at the Minocqua Test Center includes people who have grown up with snowmobiles in the American market and have the same perceptions and sensitivities as the customers there. Their perceptions and the environment of the local market are vital for the primary goals of evaluating settings of the un-sprung parts and durability testing in actual use conditions which is the main developmental work conducted at Minocqua.
•Shibetsu Test Center
|Preliminary||New technology, model development|
|Production model||Basic, initial stage development|
|Function evaluation||Regulation compliance, evaluations|
•Minocqua Test Center
|Drive system||CVT settings|
|Suspension systems||Suspension settings
|Running test analysis||Running test evaluation for durability, reliability|
|Accessories||Developing user-oriented options|
Development testing is done primarily at the Shibetsu and Minocqua test centers, but tests are also conducted today in other areas as well. This photo is from testing performed in New Zealand
Because snowmobiles are often used in extremely cold conditions, durability in use at low temperatures is critical. This photo shows an EXUP test in freezing conditions. This is just one of the many test processes key components are subjected to
This is the philosophy of development that has been carried on for more than 40 years of Yamaha snowmobile construction and now lives on at the Shibetsu and Minocqua test centers. And there is another important aspect of this philosophy that Yamaha engineers call habadori. To the engineers, habadori (maintaining breadth) means setting evaluation conditions for product testing that have an extended range that ensures robustness in the strength and performance of the final product. In other words, it is a philosophy of snowmobile development aimed at achieving maximum durability that will ensure consistent levels of performance in various kinds of environmental and mechanical conditions.
Even for trail models, the environmental conditions such as snow quality, depth of snow accumulation, temperature, etc., will differ in the varied riding areas of North America, Europe and other regions as well as with the seasons and time of day (morning, evening, mid-day). Also the use infrastructure will differ greatly between areas that have groomed trail systems and those that don't.
Although it is difficult to build models that cover all the possible use conditions 100%, Yamaha does not build models that will suffer performance loss due to differences in riding areas or the riding styles of the users. Yamaha always sets targets and strives to achieve robust product creation that will ensure full riding enjoyment regardless of changes in environment and riding style.
On the other hand, any snowmobile will suffer wear and deterioration over time with sustained use. That is why Yamaha sets stringent standards for durability that will slow wear and deterioration and always tries to design and engineer its models so they maintain their performance even as wear proceeds. Features like Yamaha's hybrid frames and rear-position exhaust system are design advancements that bring greater riding enjoyment, but the hybrid frames are also designed with highly precise strength/rigidity balance while the rear-position exhaust system uses the latest heat treatment (tempering) techniques. This makes them features that also help ensure that the enjoyment lasts and lasts.
Developing machine ergonomics
Clay models are created by experienced technicians to develop an optimum shape for a throttle lever. The aim was to create a lever that is not only easy to use but also reduces fatigue
Repeated revisions were made in the windshield shape beginning from the clay model stage to ensure not only good wind protection but also visibility and ease of motion in the steering process
Differences in use environment and changes in machine performance are not the only concerns in Yamaha snowmobile development. There are also differences in rider preferences, habits and physiques, and just as the machine suffers wear over time, the rider suffers fatigue in strenuous or longer rides. Snowmobiles are considered 'rider active' machines that respond to the physical input and movement of the rider. For example, when shifting weight to the "in" side going through a turn, some riders press down hard on the in-side footrest. There are also riders who push down hard on the handlebar on the in side of the turn and rest their weight on the inward edge of the seat in a turn. In other words, different riders move in different ways.
That is why Yamaha's test riders take a neutral approach to the snowmobile and work to get effective specs and performance that will accommodate a variety of riding styles in a variety of features they help develop, such as the shape of the handlebars, the firmness of the seat cushioning, the hold characteristics of the seat cover and the step (footrest) area. One of the representative results of the test rider input is the 'rider-forward' riding position adopted on the FXNytro series models. This is a riding position determined by the design and positioning of the handlebars, seat and steps that puts the rider forward on the machine with a slight forward bend at the hips that makes for natural body movement when riding over bumpy snow surfaces. Also, the windshield is designed with a shape that both provides good wind protection for the rider and aerodynamic function to boost running performance, and the shapes of the various levers are designed to help reduce rider stress and fatigue. These are just some of the many detailed design features Yamaha engineers and test riders focus on in the development process.
At Yamaha, these kinds of design and engineering efforts are called rider ergonomic development. In other words, biological and psychological factors are taken into full consideration in order to design products from the standpoint of ease of use for the rider by finding ways to minimize the stress factors involved in machine operation.
Sharing the same ideal of what a snowmobile should and can be, the designers, engineers and test riders at the Yamaha Motor headquarters in Iwata plus the Shibetsu and Minocqua test centers work in a comprehensive and finely integrated product development process. And, having this process carried out in two very different environments in Japan and the USA brings in a wider range of perceptions and sensitivities that in the end produce snowmobiles that will satisfy the needs and expectations of many different kinds of riders and use environments.