Volvo Trucks Showcases Continuous Improvement, Employee Engagement and Environmental Performance on Manufacturing Day

By Eli Levine and Bruce Lung, U.S. Department of Energy on Oct 18, 2016

Manufacturing Day is a celebration of modern manufacturing meant to inspire the next generation of creators and inventors. Opening the doors to their facilities, companies can dispel notions of manufacturing being ‘dumb, dirty, dangerous, and disappearing’, and showcase how innovation and advanced manufacturing, as well as a commitment to energy efficiency, has made many companies more competitive than ever.

This year, Volvo Trucks (Volvo) hosted a group of 250 students for Manufacturing Day at their New River Valley (NRV) truck assembly plant in Dublin, Virginia. On Friday, Eli Levine and Bruce Lung, from DOE’s Better Plants program, had the opportunity to participate with the group from Blacksburg High School. The event began with a briefing by the NRV Vice President and General Manager, Franky Marchand, who welcomed the visitors and spoke about Volvo’s commitment to excellence in manufacturing before sending them in teams to tour the plant. Volvo’s NRV, the largest of Volvo’s plants, assembles all Volvo VN series tractors and VHD trucks. The plant employs approximately 2,000 workers who assemble 92 trucks a day.

The briefing began with an overview of the company and the plant’s production areas. It also covered Volvo’s corporate culture and the company’s commitment to high-quality production, employee engagement and education, energy efficiency and environmental stewardship. Volvo is a Better Plants Challenge Partner and has been a leader within the program. Mr. Marchand discussed the plant’s operational efficiency and lack of production defects. He then emphasized employee education and the way that Volvo encourages its employees to continuously seek to acquire new knowledge bases that can help them achieve more within the company and in their careers. He also stressed that “there is no trade-off between manufacturing and environmental stewardship. Responsible manufacturing exists and we have it right here [at the NRV].”

This commitment to environmental performance is evidenced by the fact that the NRV is certified to ISO 14001 and Superior Energy Performance (SEP), which includes conformance to the ISO 50001 Energy Management Standard. The plant undertakes many projects to manage energy – in addition to SEP certification, the company met the Better Plants program’s 25% energy intensity reduction goal in just three years and then recommitted to a further 25% improvement in energy intensity starting in 2015. The NRV plan also generates clean energy, having installed numerous photovoltaic panels and several windmills that provide 100,000 kWh annually.

During the tour, the plant’s quality commitment was seen by the employees who checked and double-checked their work at each station of the truck assembly line. The tour also brought visitors to the plant’s “Kaizen Center” where employees can submit process improvement ideas. When an employee generates an idea he or she can work with the plant’s Six Sigma engineers to develop and test the process improvement before integrating it on the production line. Over 35,000 ideas were submitted and implemented by employees over the last year.  The plant’s philosophy is to engage each team member’s hands and mind.  In one case, process improvements in a paint inspection deck area led to annual production cost savings of approximately $99,000. Another example of an employee idea being implemented was to reuse unneeded PVC piping by building frames for shelves and wagons that are used to deliver parts to all the stations along the assembly line. By reusing resources this way and recycling many materials, the NRV plant is able to eliminate waste. As a result, the NRV plant is able to operate without having to send trash to a landfill.

Volvo is not resting on its laurels, and continues to strive to improve. One example is the integration of additive manufacturing in its production process. The plant has two additive manufacturing machines in its Volvo Innovation Products (VIP) laboratory. Because Volvo’s trucks are built to its customers’ requirements, 3D printing could be an important way to create the components that will meet its customers’ needs. The 3D printers in the VIP lab are also more efficient that conventional machining processes – the Selective Laser Sintering machine in the VIP lab can make parts in 1/3 the time required by equivalent computer numerically controlled machining, which supports the plant’s “just in time” production. The 3D printing machine can also reuse excess materials, which supports the company’s environment policy.

For more details on Volvo Trucks’ energy efficiency achievements, please click here.