Vision and Practice at Volvo Group GTO: Industry 4.0 and PLM in Global Truck Manufacturing
Verdi Ogewell posted on March 28, 2019 |

Preamble

It is battling big league players such as Daimler Mercedes, Volkswagen Group (MAN/SCANIA), IVECO, DAF, PACCAR and others in an industry undergoing powerful transformation. We’re talking about heavy trucks and Volvo Group, one of the leading actors in this arena globally, just surpassed by Daimler Mercedes in size.

Trends like electrification, autonomous vehicles, IoT and other technologies have created immense pressure for change—not only when it comes to the trucks themselves, but equally to how they are developed and manufactured.

The Industry 4.0 concept has changed a lot already, but that change is just a light breeze compared to the storm that is now being prepared for in industry. But what does the road to Industry 4.0 factories look like? How are product development and manufacturing platforms affected when the fourth industrial revolution takes an increasingly firm grip on development? And what about the human role in automated environments that future shop floors seem to offer?

Volvo’s truck manufacturing operations have embarked on the Industry 4.0 journey, both in terms of vision and practice.

Meet Tomas Mörk, Group Trucks Operations (GTO) strategy director, and colleague Claus Biller, head of architecture, and others in the company who have already started working with such tools as big data, analytics and other production technologies related to IoT, automation, data lakes and mobile solutions.

“Nothing is simple in this,” is the message. "It gets worse before it gets better, but on the bottom line it gets really good," says Mörk.

With an extensive legacy in its backpack, Volvo GTO is, in no way, driving off road; the old and the new must travel in parallel, integrated step by step to eventually incorporation into a state-of-the-art, self-balancing production system.

Big Data on the Shop Floor: Volvo Group GTO's Tomas Mörk will discuss the significance of big data in Industry 4.0. At the plant in Tuve, Gothenburg, Sweden, the staff already know what this entails. Every time an operator uses an electrical torque wrench, the usage data is logged and stored. This data can be used to further increase the quality of the trucks. Each truck has thousands of screw joints. The operators usually use compressed air tools to tighten these joints to a predefined torque. The problem is that the clamping force is affected by the friction which can vary, for various reasons. With the introduction of electric torque wrenches, it’s possible to predefine the tightening torque as well as the screw's rotation angle when tightening. Here, Big Data is useful: all actions performed with electrically driven torque tools are logged, stored and complete torque and angle curves can be analyzed from each tool and tightening. This picture shows Anna Lundgren and Natasa Saovic, who work at the station where electric torque tighteners are used according to this new concept at the Tuvean plant. (Image courtesy of Sören Håkanlind.)
Big Data on the Shop Floor: Volvo Group GTO's Tomas Mörk will discuss the significance of big data in Industry 4.0. At the plant in Tuve, Gothenburg, Sweden, the staff already know what this entails. Every time an operator uses an electrical torque wrench, the usage data is logged and stored. This data can be used to further increase the quality of the trucks. Each truck has thousands of screw joints. The operators usually use compressed air tools to tighten these joints to a predefined torque. The problem is that the clamping force is affected by the friction which can vary, for various reasons. With the introduction of electric torque wrenches, it’s possible to predefine the tightening torque as well as the screw's rotation angle when tightening. Here, Big Data is useful: all actions performed with electrically driven torque tools are logged, stored and complete torque and angle curves can be analyzed from each tool and tightening. This picture shows Anna Lundgren and Natasa Saovic, who work at the station where electric torque tighteners are used according to this new concept at the Tuvean plant. (Image courtesy of Sören Håkanlind.)

A Glimpse of the Future

"Vera" is a transport and truck project that Volvo Group is developing related to autonomous and electricity-based transport system solutions for port areas, logistics centers, and shorter distances. It is an elegant, futuristically styled cab and driverless, "cloud-operated" vehicle that Tomas Mörk and Claus Biller show in a video as a prelude to the presentation of the company's Industry 4.0 venture.

“It’s a glimpse of the future,” says Mörk, “a future that we have already stepped into and which changes most of what we have become accustomed to in terms of product development, industrial production and other areas, such as operation, constant connection and feedback to ‘beyond PLM systems’. It is a huge change where electromobility, automation, cloud connection and the increasing importance of software are characteristic features.”

A huge change, yes, and the size of Volvo’s GTO doesn’t make the transition easier. GTO is responsible for global truck manufacturing, including cab and vehicle assembly, engine production, logistics design, distribution of parts and more.

Together, GTO represent approximately 35,000 employees in 70 units on 6 continents.

"A Glimpse of the Future". Vera is a transport and truck project that Volvo Group developed for autonomous, electricity-based transport system solutions for defined areas, port areas, logistics centers and shorter distances. (Image courtesy of Volvo Group.)

The Vision as a Driver of Transformation

The digitization and the fourth industrial revolution will transform all industries, the truck industry included, Volvo's strategy director explained. They affect the evolution of trucks, in terms of how they are developed, manufactured, and how their operation, support and entire lifecycle look. Industry 4.0 will play a significant role in the this new landscape.

"We have begun the journey and work toward a vision," Mörk said, emphasizing the importance of this point.“Technology is important, certainly, but the people in production, their attitude and knowledge are even more important. Without them, successful conversion cannot be achieved.”

In a way, these changes that are occurring can be perceived as threats from the perspective that few things will look like they once did over time. Certainly, machines, mobile production stations, robots and cobots (robots working together with people) will take over a lot of what was previously done by people on the shop floor. It is also true that with new technology, fewer people will be needed on the factory floor. However, the good news is that the leaders of Volvo expect that the company will probably still need more employees than before.

Mörk explains:“We both want to and must expand the workforce to implement Industry 4.0. Perhaps not primarily on the shop floor, but more with regard to our support strategy, where we will work with ‘support rooms’ in a way that is partly similar to the way engineers work with a product during the development process.”

3D models, virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), digital twins and threads will be factors that tie the processes together. The company’s PLM platform remains, but as part of a whole that clearly bears the mark of a larger Product Innovation Platform(PIP), as defined by analysts CIMdata and Gartner Group.

Tomas Mörk (left) and Claus Biller talked about Volvo Group and its Industry 4.0 roadmap.
Tomas Mörk (left) and Claus Biller talked about Volvo Group and its Industry 4.0 roadmap.

A Plethora of Sensors

In all of this, the vision is a driving force, according to Mörk. But what does the company see in a more detailed picture? How does it do all of this?

“As I said, the fourth industrial revolution is here and the technologies that are included will help us further improve how the solutions are developed and manufactured. Agility and flexibility are overarching points. We collect and analyze big data in order to continually sharpen our operational activities.”

This information is used to make Volvo’s products better and increase uptime; trucks that stand still cost money.

In order to better understand customer challenges and needs, the parameters that are crucial for each individual customer are optimized. This means that effective variation management is one of the most prioritized properties on new production lines.

Generally, each truck is the only one of its kind. In turn, detailed and very precise requirements on production line stations—which also goes for supply chains—are tough to deal with in the pursuit of shorter lead times on the Industry 4.0 journey.

Mörk stresses that technical enablers, such as "big data analytics", are key and will be used throughout the production chain.

“The production status must be clear and transparent for everyone involved and, of course, digitally based. Electronic boards, bulletin boards, become a part of this,” he added. Other elements are Robotic Process Automation (RPA), a plethora of sensors, which send data to BI solutions for analysis and action proposals, automated or performed by human intervention. In short, Volvo is performing general virtual production preparation and manufacturing.

Mobility: a Typical Feature of the New Production Environment

Mobility is another typical feature of the new image of the shop floor. Assembly stations will partly become mobile with advanced control systems that can allocate them to places where assembly jobs are performed.

The same applies for complex assembly and advanced adaptations. In the scene that Mörk paints, however, these latter mobile stations probably will be assisted by manned cross-functional teams. 

The Aim is Set on a Self-balancing System

"At the same time, we must have the flexibility to quickly scale up and down production in line with demand," explains Mörk. “We also need to have the capacity to handle such things as late changes and temporary disruptions. For this, we aim to develop a self-balancing system with highly automated, smart workstations, which will be "floating", in the sense of being able to be moved around the production lines to spots where they are currently needed. Other pictures we should get used to are seeing cobots, "cooperation robots", work together with people on the floor.”

A Self-Balancing Production System: Volvo aims to develop a self-balancing manufacturing system with highly automated, smart workstations that can “float”, meaning that they–managed by advanced software–can be moved around production lines to locations where they are scheduled/needed. (Image courtesy of Volvo Group.)
A Self-Balancing Production System: Volvo aims to develop a self-balancing manufacturing system with highly automated, smart workstations that can “float”, meaning that they–managed by advanced software–can be moved around production lines to locations where they are scheduled/needed. (Image courtesy of Volvo Group.)

A kind of "base assembly" of the vehicles is handled on the main production line, while special adaptations are handled at or by sub-assembly units. The point of a self-balancing system is that it "itself" helps to adjust the production rate in relation to the units that are active and involved in the production/assembly line.

Furthermore, visualization will play a growing and major role on the shop floor:

Technical solutions such as VR and AR will be used to visually support how parts should be assembled and provide experiences that concretize and increase insights about production at the individual stations.

To this point, Volvo GTO's strategy director said there will be "3D for all,” realized with digital work instructions.

Digital Twins and Cross-functional Teams

Naturally, logistics arrangements in the Industry 4.0 landscape will also be affected. Frequently used parts and components in various assemblies will be organized in "kits" at stations, strategically placed at assembly lines. While more specific components and larger parts will be located in other smart equipment stations.

Digital twins are important elements in Volvo’s planned smart factories Volvo. (Image courtesy of Volvo Group.)
Digital twins are important elements in Volvo’s planned smart factories Volvo. (Image courtesy of Volvo Group.)

All goods are distributed automatically and without paper. Cross-functional teams will complement the automated stations on production lines, explains Mörk. He adds that "everything is done in real-time connected systems, with monitoring and with automated quality control."

Other things that belongs to the Industry 4.0 shop floor arsenal are digital twins and additive technology. With digital twins, the intention is to be able to control and document the product life cycle of the individual vehicles. When it comes to additive manufacturing, 3D printers will be used on an industrial scale to manufacture both fixtures and specific parts for the vehicles where justified.

Industry 4.0 in Practice: Volvo’s cab factory, located in Umeå, Sweden, installed Industry 4.0 layouts with advanced automated processes where employees and robots work side by side to ensure quality and precision.“Working in a highly technical factory like the one in Umeå is rewarding for proactive engineers like me and my team. With all the Industry 4.0  technologies that are rapidly developing, we see a tremendous opportunity for further development in our already modern factory,” says Sandra Finér, responsible for Engineering and Maintenance at the Volvo Cab Competence Center. She has the main task of supporting the development of new product and process concepts for cabins, specifically with regard to stamping, body-in-white and surface treatment.
Industry 4.0 in Practice: Volvo’s cab factory, located in Umeå, Sweden, installed Industry 4.0 layouts with advanced automated processes where employees and robots work side by side to ensure quality and precision.“Working in a highly technical factory like the one in Umeå is rewarding for proactive engineers like me and my team. With all the Industry 4.0 technologies that are rapidly developing, we see a tremendous opportunity for further development in our already modern factory,” says Sandra Finér, responsible for Engineering and Maintenance at the Volvo Cab Competence Center. She has the main task of supporting the development of new product and process concepts for cabins, specifically with regard to stamping, body-in-white and surface treatment.

Today’s Software Status and What Will Be Needed for Industry 4.0

If you look into the vehicle factory of today, the landscape is characterized by certain aspects that are highly automated, while other pieces are not, but are in the process of becoming automated. The large number of robots is also a striking characteristic. Initially the aim will be to automate parts where repetition is frequent in the workflow.

How to solve software that can handle the Industry 4.0 concept remains to be seen.

Volvo's Claus Biller, director of architecture at GTO, describes a picture in which the current IT landscape gets "wrapped” with solutions for new capabilities that are linked to legacy bits. This sort of “cover” or “umbrella” contains an IoT platform, a platform for digital exploration, and a data lake solution based on Microsoft's Azure Data Lake. The latter is a storage location where data can be managed regardless of size, shape or speed requirements. An apt analogy that describes the data lake concept is the parable of James Dickson, (founder and CTO at Pentaho: if a traditional ’Data Warehouse’ is like bottled water, a data lake is more like a big puddle of natural water, where data flows in and where users can utilize any data in various forms.

The "wrap" that Biller discusses would include a number of different applications connected to a second line of software apps, including support for and operation of production functionalities. Of course, at the highest level, everything is seamlessly connected to underlying PLM and ERP systems.

A Culture Clash between Old and New

Uniting IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operational Technology) is critical for an Industry 4.0 setup. However, according to Biller, technology is not the biggest problem on the route to Industry 4.0. It is the culture clash between old and new that is the toughest challenge. “But we have worked well and presently we are advancing faster than planned,” Biller says.

In this context, he also points to the importance of getting the suppliers aboard the train.

“Cooperation with and within the supply chain and our relations with the actors in this are extremely important and things are happening here. The information sharing is growing rapidly.”

When it comes to the shop floor, Biller tells me that Volvo GTO is currently in an exploration phase.

A VOLVO TRUCK CAD MODEL. PTC’s CAD software Creo is the major tool in 3D modeling.
A CAD Model of a Volvo Truck: PTC’s CAD software, Creo, is the company's major tool for 3D modeling.

A Diversified Software Landscape with PTC’s loT in PLM

Presently, Volvo Group's PLM system is mainly based on PTC solutions. Creo is the CAD tool used for engine design. PTC's PDM Link (a part of PTC’s PLM suite, Windchill) is primarily used as a CAD vault, while Volvo’s proprietary KOLA solution is the "PDM system" and backbone for product configuration.

Furthermore, for smart manufacturing, the group also use PTC’s IIoT ThingWorx platform and even the AR/VR platform Vuforia has found its way onto Volvo’s factory floor, both in pilot programs and some instances of production.

This doesn’t mean that other vendors are excluded. To some extent, Volvo Group’s environment is diversified, and solutions from Dassault Systèmes (CATIA) are used when it comes to cab design. 

Other vendors represented in Volvo Group are Siemens PLM, with certain modules and specific program solutions; type Product Costing; CD-adapco for simulation; Mentor for electronics design and Teamcenter/Tecnomatix for line balancing. 

Also, Swedish PLM developer Eurostep's PLCS standards hub has been installed, based on the ShareAspace software for data exchange with partners in product development and manufacturing.

The company's way forward with regard to PLM has not been free from problems. Among other things, the investment in Dassault’s ENOVIA (cPDm backbone from Dassault) has cost a lot and the solution was later replaced by PTC's PDM Link. This type of problem is in itself not uncommon in the industry, but miscalculations of this caliber often cost big money; up to tens of millions of dollars. With such baggage, it is no surprise that Volvo acts with some caution when moving forward in support of Industry 4.0 investments.

That said, today PTC seems to be the number one PLM and beyond software supplier. ”Yes,” says PTC’s Nordic sales director, Filip Stål, ”PTC plays an active role to support the creation of a digital thread in Volvo; from the early product design phases through production to service and aftermarket in order to bridge the digital and physical worlds."

From Hub to Hub: Robert Laxing works at the Concept Vehicle Lab in Gothenburg, one of Volvo Group's research laboratories. He is responsible for a team of five who build, control and test future vehicles. Currently, the focus is on self-driving, autonomous vehicles. The team is mainly focused on trucks. An example of a truck project is a vehicle that runs from one hub to another in line with Volvo’s vision of two hubs in two cities, interconnected by a system of self-driving trucks. (Image courtesy of Volvo Group.)
From Hub to Hub: Robert Laxing works at the Concept Vehicle Lab in Gothenburg, one of Volvo Group's research laboratories. He is responsible for a team of five who build, control and test future vehicles. Currently, the focus is on self-driving, autonomous vehicles. The team is mainly focused on trucks. An example of a truck project is a vehicle that runs from one hub to another in line with Volvo’s vision of two hubs in two cities, interconnected by a system of self-driving trucks. (Image courtesy of Volvo Group.)

Volvo's Picture of the Future for Transportation Systems

It is clear today that the truck and transport industry will change radically in the coming years. Transport is a cornerstone of the world economy. The world's truck-based transport system is a fundamental social bloodstream, which is now undergoing comprehensive changes. In the near future, we will see autonomous, electric trucks, connected to cloud-based, synchronized operating centers.

They will be seen as a natural part of society. One could imagine that the whole system built up around different hubs, for example between two cities interconnected by a system of self-driving trucks. Perhaps there will be specific lanes for them; perhaps they will be operated as night transports, when traffic intensity in the surrounding environment is low. Maybe shipments are reloaded when coming closer to city centers; moved to smaller and quieter vehicles. Electric power and operation will be self-evident, as well as truck convoys made up of autonomous vehicles, perhaps led by a manned leader truck.

Thus, a new kind of ecosystem around truck transports, that are completely interconnected, will become a reality.

All of this fundamentally affects the product realization process and Tomas Mörk’s and Claus Biller’s Volvo Group GTO (have embarked on the journey that will keep them on a world-class level.

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