inside
The employee magazine
of the Volkswagen brand

Employees

The Mannequin Make-up Artist

Dummies in shorts and 
with painted faces play an important role 
in crash tests at the new Safety Competence Center 
in Wolfsburg. 
Björn Westphal prepares 
the test 
dummies.


The seat belts quietly click into the buckles on the hall level of the Safety Competence Center in Wolfsburg. A dummy sits behind the wheel in a chassis, strapped in. The light brown crash test dummy wears shorts and a bright green T-shirt. Its face shines in various colors. Roughly 142 meters later, the chassis meets with a gray, concrete wall. The airbag unfurls, and the dummy’s face leaves colorful traces behind. This is because the dummy is wearing a special kind of makeup made of chalk.

 

"This way, we can see exactly where 
the dummy’s face meets the airbag during impact," Björn Westphal explains. For 15 years, the trained communications electronics technician has worked in vehicle safety. There, he sees to the preparation and evaluation of crash tests. This also includes gussying up the test dummies. The 44-year-old would never have guessed this would number among his responsibilities when he
 began his training in 1990. After completing his technician training the in 
the field of data processing technology, he first worked in framing and transmission testing before switching to vehicle safety in 2002.

"This way, we can see exactly where the dummy’s face meets the airbag during impact."

The test sled is modeled after a passenger compartment, and simulates the forces at work in a real crash. The kicker? Nothing breaks on impact with the concrete wall. The sled can then be used for other tests. The head of the dummy behind the wheel is colored yellow.

With a fine brush, he paints red eyebrows, blue lips, and a green nose on the dummy. He coats the 
shins in strips of various colors. The choice of colors isn’t haphazard. "There’s an EU regulation foreach color, just like for the calibration 
of the dummies. It’s all regulated, 
 down to the smallest detail," Westphal explains.

The colorful imprint on the airbag is provided by a chalk paint that is always freshly mixed. Like a makeup artist at the theater, Westphal holds a small paint box and applies the paint. The result is always different – depending on whether a European or an American is at the wheel during the sled test. "For an American test, we paint the dummy’s entire head in yellow, not just parts of the face. That’s because seatbelts aren’t mandatory everywhere in the US. For that reason, we also examine where 
the back side of the head hits and how the head rolls."

Nothing breaks during the sled test, despite the force of the impact. Instead of a whole car, a simulated passenger compartment with no doors, wheels, or windows drives on the so-called sled. This sled simulates the forces at work in a real crash. Close to reality. Shortly before the collision, the emergency brake function is activated and changes the seating position of the driver and front passenger. This moment is especially important for Westphal and his team. They check whether everything in the restraint systems, such as seat belts and airbags, is in order or needs to be improved. In addition to the makeup, Westphal also applies the measuring technology, prepares the dummies, 
and sets up the cameras to document the whole thing. A camera even rides along in the passenger compartment.
 All the others are aligned around the point of impact. "No two tests are the same," Westphal says, smiling. "Each one pushes us forward, so it always 
stays exciting."

"There’s an EU regulation foreach color, just like for the calibration 
of the dummies. It’s all regulated, 
down to the smallest detail"