Chris Landry 2013-07-18 07:25:07
Historical morsels spice up a visit to the Swedish company’s 3,000-employee Skövde plant Volvo Penta at its global press event showcased the engines and technology we’ll see in the near future, such as the Glass Cockpit, the new V8-430 gas sterndrive, the IPS950 and the improved D11 diesel. During this five-day sojourn to Sweden, the engine manufacturer also gave journalists who attended an opportunity to connect with Volvo Penta’s past. Our guides from Volvo Penta of the Americas — Julia Zelenock and Marcia Kull — arranged a day trip to a Volvo factory in Skövde where Volvo Penta trucks, commercial engines and marine engines are manufactured and assembled. The factory is about 100 miles northeast of the manufacturer’s test facility in Krossholmen, where we had spent the previous day. We took a Volvo Ocean Race bus — the vehicle used to shuttle VIP guests during the around-the-world race’s Gothenburg stopover — through the countryside to the plant. During the bus ride, we learned a bit of history from Ann-Charlotte Emegard, Volvo Penta public relations manager. Skövde was the site where in 1907 the founders of Volvo Penta built their first marine engine, the B1, a singlecylinder, 3-hp carbureted model. Five men attended the meeting at which the first drawings were presented, so the engine was called Penta, the Greek word for five. The story goes that Fritz Egnell and Edvard Hubendick were on a boat trip in the archipelago of Stockholm, Sweden, when the engine conked out. Drifting toward rocks, they finally got the engine running, but the experience prompted their creation of a Swedish marine engine. Egnell was an industry man and entrepreneur, and Hubendick was a combustion engine expert. Hubendick designed the B1, and Egnell took care of business development. “They made a perfect team,” Emegard says. “Each man had certain strengths to make it happen.” The B1 was manufactured by Skofde Gjuteri, who operated a mechanical shop and foundry in Skövde that produced cast-iron equipment, such as boilers, plows and sawmill components. Egnell bought Gjuteri’s company, and in 1919 the Penta company was renamed AB Pentaverken, offering 2-, 3- and 4-cylinder versions of the B1. The engines — 3,268 of them — were sold to boat owners, firefighting services, the army and homeowners. In 1922, the U2 outboard — a 2-stroke, 2-cylinder engine — was introduced, and 343 units were sold in the first year. Later versions, the U21 and U22, were offered, and the outboards were produced until 1935, with nearly 35,000 units sold. The company in 1927 manufactured the 4-cylinder, 28-hp side-valve Type DA engine for Volvo’s first passenger automobile, the OV4. Volvo acquired Penta in 1935, and Volvo Penta has been a segment of the Volvo Group since. Today, the Skövde diesel engine factory employs 3,000 workers, and its operations include the metal casting, machining and assembly of engines for trucks, buses, construction equipment and Volvo Penta’s marine and industrial engines. In Vara, Sweden, the D4 and D6 diesels are manufactured. Volvo Penta’s Lexington, Tenn., plant assembles the company’s entire range of gasoline engines and manufactures all gasoline sterndrives. Twenty to 25 percent of the engines in Skövde consist of Volvo Penta products, with the main manufacturing function being cylinder blocks, heads, crankshafts and camshafts. The plant produces castings for a half-dozen engines, including the D11, D13 and D16; the latter two are also assembled in Skövde. The plant in 2012 produced 177,076 sets of components for 9-, 11-, 13- and 16-liter engines, and assembled more than 73,000 engines — 13- and 16-liter models, says Rickard Lundberg, our tour guide and the plant manager. Marine engines account for a small fraction of that number — a combined 812 of the 13- and 16-liter engines. The site includes eight manufacturing buildings, two warehouses and a few administrative buildings. Volvo also is preparing for future volume increases by continuous improvements and investments in its facilities, Lundberg told us as we stood outside a fenced-off plot of land that could be the home of a new foundry. Later, wearing goggles and bright orange vests, we visited the foundry and the assembly buildings. Talk about an organized, safe and efficient operation. For a factory, it was relatively quiet, with only the sound of machinery buzzing. In the foundry, huge bright orange robotic arms placed castings on platforms. Fifteen employees per shift oversee the operation. On the second level of the foundry, I could feel the heat from two furnaces. We stopped to scan a row of molds that form the cylinder heads. In assembly, we walked amid boxes of pistons and gears before spying the 13- and 16-liter engines. Nearly completed engines were stacked on a three-story rack, and robotic carrying pads (similar to forklifts) carted them to their next stop in production or to the engine test area. Cameras weren’t allowed in the plant, and I can understand why. Volvo has a valuable operation here, with high-tech machinery, tools and manufacturing methods. At least we were able to take a photo of the group standing behind one of the engines — a close-up, of course.
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