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Bengt Fransson regularly travels across the globe. He is the Liaison Officer for Volvo Car Engine, which means that he has the responsibility for coordinating operations in Skövde and Zhangjiakou, almost 200 kilometres north west of Beijing.  This is where Volvo Cars has chosen to build its first Chinese engine factory.

“Zhangjiakou is quite a new city from a western point of view. As late as 1997, it was open for new start-ups, which now characterize the city. It is still not as developed as the cities around Shanghai but it is moving forward at a fast pace,” says Bengt Fransson.

Building a new plant involves special challenges.

“The construction went well; it took about six months to get everything in place. It was ready in autumn 2012 and during 2013 we installed the first stage. There were, however, certain cultural differences connected to the strong growth phase the Chinese are going through.”

He laughs and says that this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, as a mix of cultures brings a lot of benefits.

MORE FOCUS ON THE AREA

Through a partnership with the University of Skövde, Volvo Cars supports the skills needed in the initial stages. The pace will, no doubt, increase rapidly and the area become more interesting, now that Beijing together with Zhangjiakou have been commissioned to arrange the Winter Olympics in 2022.

“A lot will happen before the Olympics. They have initiated a large investment project in infrastructure with a high-speed railway between cities,” says Bengt Fransson.

In addition, work is in progress establishing a friendship agreement between Skövde and Zhangjiakou.

 ADVANTAGE OF USING THE SAME EQUIPMENT

The test benches that are going to China will be built in Skövde and then approved by Volvo Car Engine before they are flown to China for     commissioning. The engine plant uses this End-of-Line equipment for leak tests, so that they can inspect sounds and leakages when temperatures change.

“In the US, certain specific functions in the engine must be tested and this equipment facilitates the process,” says Hans Krantz, Manufacturing Manager for final assembly and testing at Volvo Car Engine.

“We knew we had good performance in the Skövde plant and it was therefore very attractive to be able to establish the same conditions in Zhangjiakou. Now we can test new programs in the Skövde plant and then transfer them to China when we are satisfied with the functions. Using the same equipment in both engine plants is a great advantage.”

Hans Krantz also says that it is vital for them that the equipment is flexible, so that it can be adapted to future production changes.

ENORMOUS POTENTIAL

The first delivery consisted of three test benches followed by another delivery with just as many.

“In the next shipment, we would like four more benches, but we don’t know yet what the total need will be,” says Bengt Fransson.

When asked how big he thought the Chinese market would be, he didn’t dare predict.

“The potential is enormous. At some time during 2014, China took over the lead from the US and is an extremely important market. It is therefore logical to have an engine plant on site even if wages are increasing and price differences compared to the western world are diminishing. Above all, it means simplified logistics and savings from customs duties and similar costs.

“The turbulence in the Chinese economy this year has partly influenced Volvo,” says Bengt Fransson.

­“It has affected sales, but we have not seen any reason to change our strategy. At the moment we foresee considerable success with the XC90 and all the new models in the pipeline.

Rickard Lundquist, project manager at Jernbro

You have a certain responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the test benches in China – how do you manage that?

“We can monitor and analyse the Chinese benches here in Skövde. We can look into the engine control simulator and see everything that happens. We can’t control the machines remotely, but we can instruct the staff on site when we see what needs to be done.

Do you update software remotely too?

“To a certain extent, but the changes must, of course, first be anchored with the operating staff. We recently updated all PLC programs. The software for the operator panel where all stages are visible is also on a server, not locally in the bench, so that we can easily make improvements and post them on on screens when suitable.”

Have you had to adapt the benches to China?

“Only slightly. The main idea was that they should have the same functionality as in Skövde. We have, however, changed some components so that it is easier to find spare parts in China.”

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