Volvo Invests in Engine Development

by Ingrid Phaneuf

GOTHENBURG, Sweden – A recent press trip to Sweden gave Volvo the opportunity to showcase some of its most recent engine development tools, including new testing and research labs at the company’s Powertrain headquarters in Lundby, Gothenburg.

A new 9,000 square metre engine lab, commissioned by Volvo in 2002 and completed in the spring of 2003,and costing upwards of $33 million Euros ($51.5 million CAD), is entirely devoted to developing and certifying future generations of heavy-duty engines.

The facility is designed to meet the certification requirements of the most demanding Euro 4, Euro 5 and US ’07 emissions classes. All applicable test cycles can be operated in the new laboratory.

The new laboratory houses test rigs, workshops for test vehicles and maintenance procedures, as well as centralized systems for fuel handling and recovery of energy from exhausts and coolant. The purpose is to streamline the testing procedure and use the test rigs as efficiently as possible.

“When an engine has been fitted with the correct connections in our preparation workshop, it generally takes no more than about half an hour to install it in the rig. The result is a high utilization rate for the rigs,” explained lab manager Magnus Hamp.

The laboratory will eventually house 10 test rigs with sufficient capacity to test engines producing up to 800 horsepower, Hamp said.

Some of the rigs are configured to test engines running on alternative fuels such as natural gas and various alcohols.

Once fitted in the rig, the engine is connected to a dynamometer that simulates various driving cycles including highway and city traffic, flat roads, uphill gradients and downhill slopes.

In this way, it is possible to replicate the very same conditions that will be encountered when the engine is installed in a truck.

During the test procedure, considerable amounts of energy are produced in the dynamometer, and this is harnessed to supply the building with electricity.

When electricity production exceeds needs, the surplus is fed into the local municipal power grid. Heat energy from the engines’ exhaust gases and coolant is also harnessed and converted into a source for heating the plant.

Each test rig has a separate chamber with all the equipment needed to measure emissions.

This is essential to meet the emissions requirements that are currently in force or on the way for Europe, Japan and the U.S. The exhaust gases can be measured either concentrated or in diluted form in a Constant Volume Sampling (CVS)unit.

The CVS unit mixes the test engine’s exhaust volume with pure air across the engine’s entire operating range. Emissions measurements are increasingly carried out in transient operating cycles that correspond to actual driving and operating conditions.

The laboratory’s central fuel distribution system provides access to about 10 different grades of diesel fuel.

And there are also stocks and distribution channels for a variety of alternative fuels.

Noise, Vibration and Harshness Laboratory

Also located at the Volvo Powertrain headquarters is a Noise, Vibration and Harshness Laboratory (also known as the NVH lab) which measures the acoustical performance of Volvo engines and componentry.

Several different rigs are used for engine, driveline and other component tests.

The challenge is to give the engines the best possible noise and vibration reduction properties and still maintain their powerfulness.

The goal is to develop a good in-cab environment for the driver. Noise and vibration are factors which also have an impact on traffic safety. Studies have shown that both high frequency and low frequency noise tend to induce drowsiness.

But noise also gives the driver valuable input on the truck and on the condition of the engine, so it’s important that the driver is able to register warning signals from the instrument panel.

The lab’s goal is to discover and develop the most optimum noise and vibration profile in the truck, said officials.

Vehicle feature library

Also showcased during the Gothenburg tour was Volvo Powertrain’s new Vehicle Feature Laboratory (VFL) – which encloses a climate wind tunnel with a four-wheel-driven chassis dynamometer. The latter makes the tunnel extremely versatile, allowing it to be used for a wide variety of tests and trials.

Many of the tests that will be carried out at the VFL consist of verification and measurement of fuel consumption, cooling capacity and powertrain testing.

“We can generate wind speeds of up to 90 km/h and temperatures of between 10 and 55 Celsius, thus creating realistic preconditions in our testing operations,” said Jan Melin, manager Feature and Competitor Analyses for Volvo Trucks.

A climate model nicknamed “Mr. Lastman” is equipped with sensors that measure the climate inside the cab, supplying Volvo Trucks technicians with vital information about driver comfort, which also has a major impact on traffic safety.

The other mechanical member of staff is a – hitherto nameless – driver robot replacing the human test engineer in high-speed braking performance tests and other risky operations.

Also showcased during the press trip to Sweden was the Volvo truck and bus engine manufacturing plant and foundry in Skvde, about three hours north east of Gothenburg.

The plant, established in 1868, is where Volvo engines are poured and cast and almost completely assembled for worldwide distribution.

Volvo Powertrain’s foundry in Skvde is the largest one in northern Europe. Half of all gray cast iron in Sweden is cast in this facility, whose products primarily include cylinder blocks and cylinder heads, brake discs and flywheels. The foundry also serves as a competence centre for the Volvo Group’s engine developers, and is an active member in Svenska Gjuterifreningen (Swedish Foundry Association), which in turn is a member of WFO, World Foundrymen Organization.

The foundry won the WFO’s Environmental Award in 2002, for its development of a new casting process that reduces the environmental impact of production as well as from completed truck engines. In the new casting method, the hardening process of the molten metal is accelerated by placing the casting mould in a water-cooled steel container called a “chill mould.”

Approximately half of the energy used in the casting process can thereby be recycled. At the same time, the use of moulding sand is reduced, since the moulds can be made smaller.

“The FPC method enables us to save moulding sand, in some cases up to 70 per cent, depending on the casting. The new method also gives us the technical capacity to eventually reduce the risk of odours in the area around the foundry,” said Christer Davidsson, head of Volvo Powertrain’s foundry in Skvde, and the man who has been part of the work in implementing this patented process. Casting with the FPC method (Future Process for Casting) makes it possible to raise the quality of the castings, while reducing the weight of the cast components.

“This, in turn, results in lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions, which naturally also strengthens Volvo’s competitiveness,” added Davidsson.

The FPC method is currently being used to cast the cylinder heads for Volvo’s 9-litre engines and for some of the 12-litre engines.

Also of interest is the fact that 97 per cent of the raw material used in the casting process consists of scrap iron. Casting sand is also used at least 10 times before it is disposed of. (In traditional casting, approximately 0.5-kg raw sand is consumed per kilo of casting, compared with 0.15-kg in the FPC method.)

A considerable amount of energy is conserved by using the new method. The recycled energy from casting one single cylinder head is sufficient, for example, to heat 400 litres of water from the freezing point to the boiling point.

The conservationist technology was brought in at the Skvde foundry in late 1999.

Capacity is currently 6,000 tonnes per year, but officials said it will increase.

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