INNOVATION: Volvo Construction Equipment unveils futuristic concepts and innovations to drive sustainability and change
by Charlie Ebers
Excitement was in the air at Volvo Construction Equipment’s Xploration Forum, where hundreds of customers, members of the international press, government representatives, academics and employees gathered for an exclusive look at the company’s most exciting research and development projects. Highlights at the event included: unveiling the LX1 prototype hybrid wheel loader – a machine with the potential to improve fuel efficiency by up to 50%, demonstrations of a prototype autonomous wheel loader and articulated hauler working together, and an electric site solution that showcased the new concept HX1 autonomous, battery-electric, load carrier. All of the innovations shown at the Xploration Forum – which was held at Volvo CE’s Customer Center in Eskilstuna, Sweden, between September 9-14 – are ongoing research projects that aren’t commercially available at this stage.
At the Xploration Forum, Volvo CE presented its electric site project together with its customer Skanska Sweden.
The two companies are collaborating on the SEK 203 million (€21.2m/$23.75m) project along with the Swedish Energy Agency and two Swedish universities – Linköping University and Mälardalen University. The project aims to transform the quarry and aggregates industry and predicts up to a 95% reduction in carbon emissions and up to a 25% reduction in total cost of ownership. The objective is to electrify a transport stage in a quarry – from excavation to primary crushing and transport to secondary crushing.
This involves developing new machines, work methods and site management systems. As well as a fleet of HX1s, other prototype machines that make-up the electric site system include a hybrid wheel loader and a grid-connected excavator. New technology encompasses machine and fleet control systems and logistic solutions for electric machines
“By using electricity instead of diesel to power construction equipment in a quarry we have the potential to deliver significant reductions in fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, environmental impact and cost-per-tonne,” says Johan Sjöberg, technical specialist in site automation at Volvo CE. “The electrification of construction equipment will produce cleaner, quieter and more efficient machines – this represents the future of our industry.”
The electric site project is due to be completed in late 2018 when Skanska Sweden will incorporate the demonstration machines into its operations and test the electric site concept at a quarry in western Sweden for 10 weeks. “This research project is a step towards transforming the quarry and aggregates industry,” says Andreas Sunesson, fleet and technology manager at Skanska Sweden. “Volvo CE’s values are very much aligned with ours at Skanska Sweden – we both want to build for a better society and provide innovative, safe and sustainable solutions. This makes Volvo CE an ideal partner for us to collaborate with – and working together is essential when you’re developing disruptive technologies like this. The electric site project is an inspiring leap towards the future of our industry, it has the potential to transform our business and we are anticipating exciting results.”
Throughout the Xploration Forum, Volvo CE reinforced the fact that energy efficiency is at the top of the company’s agenda. This was particularly apparent on the electromobility station, where the LX1 prototype electric hybrid wheel loader was unveiled. The machine is a series hybrid that incorporates a driveline that consists of electric drive motors mounted at the wheels, electric hydraulics, an energy storage system, a significantly smaller diesel engine and new machine architecture. It’s this combination that enables up to a 50% improvement in fuel efficiency. On top of this, the LX1 also offers a significant reduction in emissions and noise pollution compared to its conventional counterparts. The prototype – which has 98% new parts and a fundamentally new machine design – is capable of doing the work of a wheel loader that’s one size larger.
“Although we believe that there will be a major shift towards electric hybrid technology in the future, our customers, quite rightly, want improved efficiency now,” says Scott Young, electromobility program manager at Volvo CE. “Today we are delivering this through more conventional technologies and soft offers. This is because we need to meet customers’ immediate expectations in terms of total cost of ownership (TCO). A large part of TCO is energy cost, but other significant expenses include purchase price and maintenance. These aspects help drive our hybrid development plans. Therefore, before we launch a machine like the LX1, you can expect to see elements of this design incorporated into our products. This supports short and mid-term developments and requirements while the market continues to accept the technology, technology improves and the cost of new technologies decreases.”
An exclusive demo of the prototype autonomous wheel loader filling the prototype autonomous articulated hauler, before dumping its load and repeating the cycle, wowed the crowds at the Xploration Forum. The demonstrator machines were programmed to work together and carry out a specific set of actions on a pre-defined route. They are standard Volvo products – an L120 wheel loader and an A25F articulated hauler – which have been upgraded with autonomous technology. The autonomous wheel loader can reach the equivalent of 70% of that of a skilled operator’s productivity levels when loading and unloading. This is not just theoretical, the machine has also done ‘real work’ for a Volvo CE customer at an asphalt plant in Sweden.
“Autonomous machines will increase safety in hazardous working environments and eliminate the possibility of accidents caused by human error,” says explains Jenny Elfsberg, director of emerging technologies at Volvo CE. “They will also perform repetitive tasks more efficiently and precisely than a human operator and, because machines will be operated in the most efficient way, customers will benefit from improved performance, productivity, fuel efficiency and durability. In the future you could potentially have one operator for three or four machines, increasing productivity and further decreasing costs. But it’s still early days for this technology. Currently these prototype machines don’t communicate with each other and machine-to-machine communication technology – where machines ‘talk’ to one another and to a central control point – is crucial when it comes to avoiding collisions and facilitating an efficient flow of equipment.”
The Xploration Forum, which builds on the Innovation Forum Volvo CE held in 2013, was designed to underscore the company’s position as the innovation pioneer of the construction equipment industry. “In line with the Volvo Group’s vision to be the most desired and successful transport solution provider in the world, Volvo CE is committed to contributing to sustainable development,” says Martin Weissburg, Member of the Volvo Group Executive Board and President of Volvo CE. “At Volvo CE, we’ve set ourselves four key technology challenges that we call Triple Zero and 10x: zero emissions, zero accidents, zero unplanned stops and 10x higher efficiency. We believe that our clear focus on electromobility, intelligent machines and total site solutions will help us achieve these ambitious goals and pave the way for a sustainable construction industry.”