GERMANY: Hamelin is not only famous for its legendary pied piper – it is also well known for engineering prowess at Volvo CE, one of the company’s main manufacturing centers
by Nigel Griffiths
The Volvo plant located in the picturesque medieval townof Hamelin in northern Germany is just 45 minutes fromthe regional capital of Hanover. German engineering skills and technical competence are renowned worldwide,
and the Hamelin factory has been producing top-quality road-surfacing machinery for more than 65 years. Formerly ABG (Allgemeine Baumaschinen-Gesellschaft mbH) and acquired by Volvo CE in 2007, the factory is a global centre of excellence for the design and manufacture of asphalt pavers and compactors.
The plant has been considerably transformed, with the addition of 83,000m2 of new capacity and extension of the customer-training center to 120,000m2. New IT systems were introduced to bring the factory into line with the global Volvo network.
The highly experienced workforce also learned new Volvo production and quality control methods. Adjustment to the Volvo way of working was a challenge for the 500-strong workforce at the plant but the transition has taken the facility to a new level.
The factory has a stable workforce drawn from the local community.
“The special strength of the Hamelin factory is the people,” says general manager Dirk Heusing. “Engineering and high manufacturing and purchasing standards are in the blood. We have very highly motivated and highly skilled people. In addition to formal training, skills and experience are passed on to young employees from their older colleagues. Our people identify very closely with the company as well as with the products, which is also a great strength.
“Quality, reliability and safety are a way of life,” adds Heusing. “Everyone is conscious of the standards required– for the people who work here, it is just the normal way of doing things.”
Volvo Hamelin ensures the quality of its key components by manufacturing them in-house. Indeed, more than 18,000 active parts are needed to produce all variations of our products. This includes screeds, the core component of pavers which are held in high regard by paving contractors worldwide.
For many years, product development has focused on continuously improving the reliability of equipment, driver comfort and the associated environmental aspects.
Environmental care is key and progress has been achieved in reducing fuel consumption, noise levels and emissions.
A well-established quality management system, SAP-assisted (Systems, Applications and Products) production planning, strict manufacturing process control, and fully functional final testing all underscore Volvo’s quality standards.
“We produce exactly to our customers’ requirements,” says Heusing. “In this way, our assembly lines for pavers and compactors are used to optimum capacity.”
The factory delivers all over the world, and production is geared towards high flexibility and low volume. Road surfacing is a seasonal activity and up to 70% of the factory’s production takes place in the first half of the year.
“We require great flexibility of our workforce during the other months and we work with time credits to compensate for the busy periods,” Heusing explains. “We use the quiet periods for extra training and updating skills. We place great value on the training and development of our employees and have a well-developed apprenticeship system.”
Heusing is particularly proud of the apprenticeship progam, having entered the factory as a trainee himself and worked his way to the top. “Our training programs ensure that the workers of tomorrow will be fully prepared to contribute to future success and growth,” he says.
The Hamelin plant’s modern customer service and training center offers a comprehensive range of product training courses and technical advice. It trains service trainers and technicians, machine operators and paving specialists from all over Europe and beyond.
The training programmes also keep Hamelin engineers in constant contact with road construction crews, providing valuable feedback for product design.
Customisation is an important part of the work at Hamelin and the plant has developed many customised machines for special application, ranging from sloping surfaces to demanding road-finishing and high performance projects.
Every region has different road-surfacing requirements – complex applications, difficult environments or special features. The factory puts together cross-functional teams to develop solutions, and customers, dealers and suppliers are all invited to participate. “We frequently have to provide non-standard solutions,” Heusing adds. “We form a link between engineering technology and the world of road surfacing. Our people are trained to adapt the technology to customer needs. We take the general idea and customise it.”
In 2014, Volvo Hamelin was called in to help resurface the Formula One Grand Prix racetrack in Singapore.
The Singapore Grand Prix is run on a street circuit around Marina Bay. Two weeks before the race it had to be resurfaced with a high-performance asphalt mix. The surface had to be perfectly flat for the 320kph F1 racing cars.
The local contractor allocated two Volvo pavers to accomplish the job and the Volvo Hamelin plant prepared two ABG6820 tracked pavers (up to 8m in width) with VB 78 ETC screed.
The resurfacing of the Marina Bay circuit was successfully completed in just one week, with crews and Volvo machines working between midnight and 5am, creating the ideal surface for the September Grand Prix where Britain’s Lewis Hamilton pipped Germany’s Sebastian Vettel to the checkered flag.
Another headline-grabbing resurfacing project involved the runway at Gatwick Airport in the UK – the world’s busiest single-runway commercial airport. This work is carried out every 11 years and at night to avoid closing the airport.
Between March and December 2012, Volvo machines working under floodlights removed the old runway surface and replaced it with new high-quality asphalt, with no disruption to flights.