The Volvo stamp of approval
The new Volvo FH has been subjected to some gruelling quality tests. It has been cooled and heated, shaken and thrown around, driven for kilometre after kilometre in extreme environments. It has taken the punishment – and come out on top!
Developing an entirely new truck generation put huge demands on quality tests. Hayder Wokil, quality director at Volvo Trucks, explains: “Knowing and understanding the way customers are going to use the truck, the operational environments in which they are going to drive, the segments in which they operate and their current and future requirements, is absolutely essential when we set the quality standards for our products.”
Wokil reveals that it’s all a matter of creating maximum uptime. “Customers need to know that their trucks will do the job as expected, regardless of road and climate conditions or operating environment.”
Kenneth Abrahamsson, project manager for verification and validation of the FH, says the test demands are comprehensive. “Simply finalising the verification and validation plan that defined the various truck characteristics to be tested took more than a year.”
He continues: “Despite the sophistication of the plan, the actual test method is easy to understand. It’s a question of testing, measuring and improving – and then repeating the test process over and over again until the product meets or exceeds the requirements. Every error report is followed up and corrective measures implemented.”
The tests focused on areas such as the truck’s reliability, durability and fuel consumption. Initially, individual components such as the chassis, cab and electrical system were tested separately. Once they were approved, it was time for the complete truck to be tested. This was done at Volvo Trucks’ own laboratories and proving grounds as well as in regular commercial traffic with the field test haulier.
One of the many proving grounds that Volvo Trucks uses is located in Kiruna, northern Sweden. During the winter of 2011/12, the lowest temperature recorded was -44°C and this ice-cold climate was perfect for testing how the FH would behave in such extremities.
Hans Johanzon, one of the test engineers, made sure that all the drivers knew what was expected of them. “These tests are customer operation-related. In other words, the test drivers use these vehicles in exactly the same way as they use their own trucks. They drive them, sometimes carry passengers, sleep in them and check them to make sure that they start in the morning – even after a freezing cold night.”
During the test period, every truck was driven for at least 20 000 km in the freezing cold, where one of the biggest problems was that all the components in the truck – from the hardest material to the electrical system – became brittle. The challenge was to develop components that withstand these ice-cold conditions without failing.
Tests of a different kind were then conducted at the proving ground in Gothenburg, Sweden. A large number of test drivers worked intensely to perform a series of demanding, accelerated endurance tests. This test regime corresponds to 10 years and 1 250 000 km out on the road and includes driving on hills with gradients between 10 and 20 percent and driving over a range of severe obstacles such as potholes, washboards, dips and water channels.
One of the most rigorous parts of the accelerated test was conducted at the Volvo Trucks shake rig laboratory, where the truck is shaken around the clock for between six and eight weeks. For a customer, this corresponds to driving more than one million kilometres.
In order to validate the product from the end-customer perspective, Volvo Trucks has also performed field tests. Abrahamsson explains: “This requires testing the FH Series in commercial traffic. We have had almost 50 trucks placed with customers in Europe, Australia and Brazil. In this way, we are able to cover different operating conditions, types of transport, climates and driver behaviour.”
Next testing grounds: South Africa?