Road Trip: Volvo’s Canadian dealers in Hagerstown

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Volvo’s Canadian dealers are celebrating.

Goran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North America, noted yesterday that the company’s retail share in Canada hit 16.3% in 2014. Employees responded to numbers like that chants of “all time high”. And today the Canadian teams represent the first wave of North American dealers to learn about several powertrain enhancements available to buyers in 2017.

Even the spectre of a slower market doesn’t seem to dampen their spirits. “I believe that we still will have one of the better years for North America, even if we had a slow start,” Nyberg told journalists.

During a reception for the Canadian delegation, many salespeople were pointing directly at options for the I-Shift automated manual transmission as something they believe will open new sales opportunities.

The version equipped with crawler gears will be available as an overdrive in VHD, VNX, VNM and VNL models with D11, D13 or D16 engines. Most important, these gears that fit in a five-inch package at the end of the transmission will introduce the option of automation to heavy haulers and even applications such as concrete mixers that need to pour curbs at extremely low speeds.

The new option will be available with 14 forward gears including a low crawler gear with a 19.38 gear ratio, and an ultra-low crawler gear with a 32.04 gear ratio, making it possible to run less than 1 km-h at 800 rpm with a 3.58 rear axle ratio. Another version will come in the form of 13 forward gears, including one low crawler gear (17.54 ratio).

It means power for the job site, and fuel savings when driving between locations.


Plant Tour: Volvo offers a peek at powertrain plant

Baltimore is known as a seafaring city by most measures. It’s been a vital port for more than 300 years. On top of that, it’s even home to one of the country’s first railroads. The B&O Railroad on your Monopoly board? That stands for Baltimore and Ohio.

But the region is also known for trucks. Just over 100 kilometres away is Volvo Trucks’ 1.5-million-square-foot powertrain facility in Hagerstown, Maryland. To put this size into perspective, it would cover about 34 football fields.

The football reference was difficult to forget as ink-stained wretches of the industry’s press corps were led between the painted lines on a green path, during a tour of the site.

This is where the company builds the D11 and D13 engine, “grooms” the D16 for North American use, and produces the I-Shift automated transmissions that are shipped to the New River Valley manufacturing facility in nearby Dublin, Virginia.

Of course, referring to the Hagerstown location as an assembly plant would shortchange its role in the Volvo production system. The $350 million invested in the engine plant since 2001 proves that. “This is the best centre we can have to drive innovation,” said Pierre Jenny, vice president – Volvo powertrain production.

There are eight engine test cells here, putting parts and blocks through their paces, and measuring everything from durability to emissions. The latter tests need to be more refined than ever, especially as soot levels become harder to detect. The precision scales used for this purpose even need to be isolated from vibrations in the floor, and sit on a pillar that runs right down to the bedrock. In another test area, exhaust gases are fed into a large white pipe where they are mixed with filtered air and checked with probes measuring carbon monoxide, NOx, soot, and hydrocarbons. (Fun fact: The device holding the filter to capture particles is known as a Sputnik.)

The tests even produce more than data. The running engines generate electricity for the building, adding to the energy produced by a 5,000-panel solar canopy that covers the north parking lot.

The equipment that lines the production line’s gleaming floors is not limited to regulatory testing alone, either. It’s used to refine the process of assembling engines and transmissions alike. A robotic arm, for example, is used to apply a bead of silicone to the timing cover and even inspect the thickness of the bead. Flashing lights on bins ensure that workers are picking the proper parts. Wireless torque wrenches ensure that fasteners are snug before any block moves to the next production cell. At a Slow Lube Under Rotated Pressure (SLURP) station, engines turn at 45 rpm while being filled with their first lubricant to ensure there is never a dry start.

And every block moves from station to station with the help of an automatic guided vehicle, rolling along like the droids from a Star Wars movie, gradually rotating the engine so production teams can easily reach the parts they work on.

When making a Volvo engine, it appears these are the droids they’re looking for.



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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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