INSIDE TRACK: This Volvo CE engineer has his sights set firmly on the future
by Brian O’Sullivan
Not many people land their perfect job at the first attempt, but control systems engineer Albin Nilsson has netted one of the most interesting jobs in the construction equipment industry. With a Master’s degree in engineering physics from Sweden’s oldest university in his pocket, the 31-year-old has been hired to work on Volvo CE’s Electric Site Project.
While most of his fellow ex-students find themselves constrained in their freedom to do things differently, Nilsson is positively encouraged to challenge the status quo, think ‘blue sky’ thoughts and ask how things can be improved.
“It’s a dream job,” laughs Nilsson. “I can’t imagine being less constrained – this work is at the forefront of Volvo CE and the whole industry. I’m extremely motivated by the mental challenge of the tasks themselves, but also from learning and working with an amazing team of truly innovative people.”
The Electric Site Project aims to electrify one of the transport stages in a quarry – from excavation to primary crushing, transport and secondary crushing. Not only does it aim to reduce fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, environmental impact, cost per tonne and total cost of ownership, but it will also improve productivity.
“It is a research project, so everything we do looks at how things are done and questions how they can be done better,” says Nilsson. “You need a constantly enquiring mind and
a healthy curiosity about how things are done. Even when you come up with a new solution – then you must measure, compare, compute and correct to see if even
that can be improved.”
Initially working with Volvo as part of his thesis, Nilsson was hired full time by Volvo CE a year ago. Having never worked on any of the current range of Volvo machines, Nilsson’s task is to help develop experimental hauler 2 – or HX2 as it is known, an improved version of the autonomous, battery-electric load carrier HX1 that was unveiled to such fanfare at last year’s Xploration Forum.
“I’m just a junior member of the team,” he says. “Sometimes that’s an advantage in that my ideas are not constrained by experience. But I’ve learned that not only young people are capable of having new ideas – one of our team has almost 30 years’ experience and is the most innovative person I’ve ever met!”
As if his day job dreaming about the future 10 years from now was not enough, Nilsson recently won a Volvo CE/LEGO® competition that asked employees to imagine how construction equipment would look 100 years from now. Not a bad artist, biking-mad Nilsson has also taught himself how to create amazing graphics using open source 3D modeling software.
“I like explaining complicated things in simple ways,” the part-time mathematics tutor explains, simply. “I was asked to do some renderings to show how the electric site would work, and this gave me confidence to submit my entry to the competition to describe how construction equipment might look in 2116.”
JUST THE JOB
The results are typically innovative. In a century from now he has us living on Mars and under the ocean. Given his day job, it is no surprise that all machines are now powered by clean electric energy, and are largely autonomous. Built using advanced materials and 3D printing, the machines are task-specific (rather than versatile, as they are today), with each robot expert at a particular job. Surprisingly, it is the space age future that Nilsson thinks the most likely to become reality.
“Other planets and asteroids are rich in minerals and mining them could make economic sense,” he says. “It’s harder to see the economic benefits of living under the ocean. It’s more a fun lifestyle choice – but if someone wanted it enough it could easily happen in less than 100 years.”
Some of Nilsson’s 3D images are extremely realistic, but he took more of a cartoon approach to the competition.
“I wanted it to look fun, not too serious or intimidating – and to have an appealing comic-strip feel,” he says. “I wanted people to know it was just a dream, and didn’t want it to
give the impression that it was likely to become a reality any time soon.”
With competition wins, compliments from colleagues and one of the most interesting jobs in the industry, Nilsson is making the most of the opportunities he has been given.
“The cool thing is that these crazy ideas can all work, given enough time and research,” he says. “We are helping drive the industry forwards, coming up with ideas, even if the computational power or materials don’t yet exist to make them a reality. We are only at the beginning, and I’m sure new technology will catch us up as we go along. I’m part of a team that is driving towards a common goal of making the industry cleaner, safer and more productive – that’s so cool.”