Volvo Group Opens Its Doors to Manufacturing Day

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For those of you that drive automobiles (which I would guess to be the majority of this blog’s readers), you may have fond memories of your experiences learning to drive, stressful memories of hair-raising episodes, or both. You probably also remember what kind of vehicle you learned to drive in. My memories were largely good ones – save the occasional jumped curb – and my “driver’s education” featured the assistance of a 1975 Volvo 244, not to mention a great deal of coaching and patience from the owner of that Volvo – my Dad. The family Volvo boasted a four-speed manual transmission (with an electric overdrive) that allowed me to learn to drive “stick,” a preference that I maintain to this very day, as both of my current vehicles utilize manual transmissions. The Volvo was powered by 2.1 liter 97 HP engine that was plenty for me to handle at the time. It wasn’t a speed demon by any means, but in retrospect, that was for the best.

What I especially appreciated about our Volvo, in addition to the heated seats that came in handy on those occasional chilly winter days in Georgia, was the feeling of safety that I had when driving it, particularly as someone that had just recently been cast upon the highways and byways of the Peach State. I felt almost as safe as if I were in a Mack Truck. Now, thanks to the first annual Manufacturing Day, held October 5 and designed to highlight and expand knowledge about manufacturing careers and manufacturing’s value to the U.S. Economy, I recently had the opportunity to tour a Hagerstown, Maryland manufacturing plant where nearly 1500 employees are helping Volvo and Mack to make advanced powertrains for slightly (ok, much) larger vehicles than the Volvo that I drove, including Mack trucks, Volvo trucks and buses, and Prevost motorcoaches.

For over 50 years, the 1.5 million square-foot facility on this 280-acre site, known as Volvo Group, has manufactured, assembled, and tested engines and transmissions. These particular engines are a little more powerful than the one in my family’s old 244 – the diesel Mack MP7/Volvo D11 (11 liter) and Mack MP8/Volvo D13 (13 liter) range between 325-505 HP. The facility also grooms the Mack MP10/Volvo D16 (16 liter) Engine, which can produce up to 605 HP, for North American applications.

While I was happy to use our Volvo’s four-speed with overdrive back in the day, the Mack T300 series of transmissions being produced in Hagerstown offer up to 18 speeds. They also assemble and test manual I-Shift transmissions (AMT), a 12-speed, two-pedal system used in Volvo trucks and buses in the U.S., as well as a Mack version of the AMT known as mDrive. The transmission continuously monitors changes in grade, vehicle speed, acceleration, torque demand, weight and air resistance, and automatically selects the best gear for the engine. This optimizes fuel efficiency, extends transmission life, and reduces maintenance.

One of the opportunities that Manufacturing Day tours offer is to help correct misperceptions about what it’s like to work in modern manufacturing. I’d encourage anyone with errant old notions of a production floor as dark, dirty, and cluttered to tour the Hagerstown facility, which is bright thanks to energy efficient and natural lighting as well as clean and tidy thanks to the use of Lean Manufacturing principles such as Total Productive Maintenance and 5S. In fact, their Lean system, known as the Volvo Production System, also means that the facility’s workforce is encouraged and rewarded for submitting Kaizen ideas (the Japanese/Lean term for “improvement”), which has resulted in roughly 30 Kaizen ideas generated per employee to-date this year. It’s also worth noting that about a third of the employees there focus on product development, and we were able to visit the six-year-old Engine Development Lab, where diesel engine research and development takes place.

It was interesting to see the commitment to sustainability at the Hagerstown facility too. Volvo Group was credited in 2010 as the first diesel engine manufacturer to be certified compliant with 2010 EPA and California Air Resource Board (CARB) regulations, and the near-zero emission engines produced there are among the cleanest in the world. In fact, the diesel engines from the facility are so clean that, in many cases, the exhaust leaving a truck powered by one of these engines is actually cleaner than the air going in. Volvo Group has also received the award for Outstanding Pollution Prevention at a Large Facility presented by Maryland “Businesses for the Bay.”

So, thanks to Volvo Group for taking part in National Manufacturing Day, and to over two hundred other manufacturers across America that opened their doors to tours! Do you have an example of a manufacturer that took part in Manufacturing Day?  If so, drop me a line…

About Author

Ben Vickery

Ben Vickery is Senior Technical Advisor with NIST MEP, and works in its Partnership and Program Development Office. Ben is leading NIST MEP’s efforts to create regional Technology Collaboratives, which serve to develop and sustain regional innovation ecosystems that are positioned and prepared to identify, assess, and adopt technologies resulting from federal R&D investments.

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