For much of the winter I've been observing the progress of a major construction project at the Mercury Marine campus in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, one of several marine engine test centers in the country (see Outboard Expert: Mercury, Yamaha Test Centers for information on other facilities). A portion of the new construction is visible to anyone driving along state highway 41, just 20 miles from my home. That element, slated to be completed in December, is a $16 million addition to the Plant 12 Product Development and Engineering (PD&E) facility that will incorporate updates to what may already be the most-capable research and development shop in the industry.

mercury outboard

The new Mercury engine testing facility will be used for both outboard and stern drive engines.

Mercury told me recently that the new area, which covers a total of 27,700 square feet on two levels, will incorporate indoor test tanks larger than those it currently has in operation, each with a water capacity of 10,000 gallons.

Several years ago I had a chance to tour the current PD&E shop and see indoor test cells like these in action. Each is completely enclosed, and Mercury can adjust water temperature, air temperature, and humidity inside the cell to simulate environmental conditions ranging from a rain forest to the arctic. The duty cycles of the engines in the cell are computer-controlled and can go on 24 hours a day, with data collected non-stop and available to engineers at their desks.The new cells will be able to handle more-powerful engines, and feature the latest advances in computer simulation.

It’s all part of an investment Mercury is making in its future as it anticipates the economy beginning to rebound. In the past 12 months Mercury has also hired 70 new engineers. Some of those new hires have manufacturing expertise and are filling out staff as the company completes the transition of its MerCruiser sterndrive operations from Stillwater, Oklahoma, to Fond du Lac. A second, 24,200 square foot construction project is underway to accommodate MerCruiser production.

I’ve been promised a tour of the PD&E area when it’s complete, after which I hope to deliver a report on what’s inside. Check back on the blog for updates, or visit Mercury Marine for more information.