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NFGL Local Network Gävle visits the Volvo Car Factory in Gothenburg

NFGL Local Network Gävle visits the Volvo Car Factory in Gothenburg
Photo: Gasper Choonya and members of NFGL Local Network Gävle
On 23rd April 2017, the NFGL Local Network from the University of Gävle went to the Volvo Car Factory in Gothenburg to gain insights of the car making process and the company’s view on sustainability. Gasper Choonya, MSc in Energy Systems at the University of Gävle, shares his reflections on the trip.

The tour started with a morning visit to the Volvo Museum where the history of the company was revealed. The museum had an exhibition of car models made since the start of the Volvo company in 1927.

At the entrance to the museum, the enthusiastic visitors were cordially welcomed by the company’s pioneers. The elegant and the imposing statues of Assar Gabrielsson and Gustav Larson stood on the immediate right after the entrance door to explain how their innovation and ingenuity gave birth to what the whole building contained. The history of each car model – safety features included – and the rich variety of models left the visitors with great amazement and admiration.

The tour's finale came in the afternoon. The visitors embarked on a guided tour of the Volvo Car Factory in Torslanda, about 6km northwest of the Volvo Museum in Gothenburg City.

Before the V60, XC90, S60, S80 and other numerous Volvo models can be permitted on American, Chinese, Swedish and EU highways, they must be fashioned in a four-stage manufacturing process.

What’s more, the magnificent factory sits on an area equivalent to the space occupied by Monaco and Vatican City put together. Also, on a day-to-day basis, the company produces around 1200 already purchased cars and has 4000 employees who are mostly from Sweden.

Each car is made up of 12000 parts which are formed and put together in a highly automated, yet flexible four-stage production process: press, body, assembly and paint shop. With over 1400 ABB-supplied robots, the production process is reliably expedited to meet the various delivery deadlines.

The process begins in the press shop where the robots, under the supervision of over 300 people per shift, press and form car parts from metal sheets of varying dimensions and materials. Then, the formed parts are taken to the body shop where the car body parts such as doors, side walls, chassis and roofs, are made.

From the body shops, the manufactured parts are passed to the assembly shop. Here, the latter are put together to form the different models. This is done on the same assembly line. This is enhanced using a highly computerized temporary part storage systems keeping the parts separated to avoid mixing up during the assembly. The notably female-dominated assembly section has more than 3000 staff which fit all the intricacies in each car.

Finally, the complete car must be driven out of the factory after being aesthetically endowed in the paint shop. The sealing process, preventing moisture ingress, and noise reduction are also taking place in the paint shop. The parts that had to be covered or removed before painting are re-installed; the majestic Volvo car is nearly ready to take off.

As a final part of the production, the inspection of the suspension system is done by a systematic drive over strategically laid rubble stones.  

A successful day at the factory is made upon the production of one car every 38 minutes, 60 cars per hour and 1200 cars per day.

Besides, the company is renowned for its high safety and greater performance vehicles. Its secret has been the proficient application of Material Science engineering. The combination of science and engineering has enabled the production of high strength boron steel, which the company infuses in the body of the cars during the manufacturing process. The reinforced part offers better protection to the occupants during a possible impact.

Moreover, can a car be called Volvo if it cannot meet Volvo's acceptable quality? Nej! The company has invested handsomely in Quality Control and Quality Assurance systems.

Quality control starts as early in the production process as the press shop. The phrase “right for me” has become the anthem of the factory. It is used by each worker at each stage of production to ensure quality. The component cannot proceed to the next stage if it’s not “right for me” at this stage. Also, various exhaust emissions control techniques and specific noise dampening mechanisms are embedded in the Volvo car.

The tour guide reiterated the company’s core philosophy at the closure of the visit. The company encourages innovation, pursues quality, safety and environment conservation while upholding people-centred philosophy.

A peep at the company’s sustainability agenda revealed that it envisages the factory to be fully run by renewable energy sources in the near future. The certainty is evidenced by the energy systems currently used: about 85 percent of the district heating system and 15 percent of natural gas system meet heating demands. The district heating system is an environmentally-friendly and sustainable energy source. Even though natural gas is a fossil fuel, its effects on the environment are less compared with those of coal and oil.

It would not be exaggerated to state that the trip was very educational, and the lessons learnt were too numerous to be able to mention all of them. However, it’s worth pointing out that the Volvo Car Factory stands as a beacon of the industry’s role in averting environmental degradation by improving energy efficiency and using appropriate energy carriers.