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In­dian R&D cen­tre plays a vi­tal role in the global struc­ture and sup­port our US, Europe, South Amer­ica and Ja­pan: Holm­strom

Tor­b­jorn Holm­strom, Chief Tech­nol­ogy Of­fi­cer, Volvo Group and Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent, Volvo Group Trucks Tech­nol­ogy

Q: From a tech­no­log­i­cal view point, where does In­dia fig­ure in Volvo’s scheme of things?

Holm­strom: We came to In­dia in 1996. I was at Ban­ga­lore look­ing for a site. We saw and talked to the gov­ern­ment. It was plan­ning to un­der­take an ex­er­cise in good and ef­fi­cient roads. We saw that we could help to im­prove the trans­port ef­fi­ciency, lower fuel consumption, lower CO2 and re­duce ac­ci­dents. We could play a role in the de­vel­op­ment. We es­tab­lished a fac­tory in 1997. We trusted the In­dian gov­ern­ment, and bet on the fact that it will lead to some­thing good. We knew that it would take time. In Brazil from 1977, we know that it takes a while. So, we spent 6 to 7 years to sup­port the fac­tory. We also found out that this is a place for good tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment due to good ed­u­ca­tion. We also saw the spirit of the coun­try. From 2005 to 2015, our R&D in In­dia has grown 100 times. We started with 10, and now have roughly 1000 (peo­ple) in Ban­ga­lore. In­dia played an ab­so­lutely vi­tal role. The tech­nol­ogy cen­tre in Ban­ga­lore is a very im­por­tant site in our global struc­ture. It is the third big­gest site, and in terms of tech­nol­ogy, it is not just con­tribut­ing to the de­vel­op­ment of ve­hi­cles but also to all the tech­nolo­gies that we have in our group. The In­dian cen­tre sup­ports US, Europe, South Amer­ica and Ja­pan. At an ab­so­lute high­est tech­ni­cal or tech­no­log­i­cal level, it is do­ing both, be­ing close to the mar­ket and un­der­stand­ing the depth, and us­ing the right tech­nol­ogy. It is nec­es­sary to understand that we have all the tech­nol­ogy, and to be able there upon put the money to push the tech­no­log­i­cal lim­its. In­dia in­deed is a very im­por­tant part of the setup.

Q: Is In­dia the third largest setup for Volvo?

Holm­strom: Yes, In­dia is the third largest in terms of the head count (R&D Set up). In­dia also con­trib­utes to global pro­grammes across group syn­er­gies. The In­dia tech­nol­ogy site also takes care of the bus part.

Q: How are you em­ploy­ing tech­nol­ogy to op­ti­mise pub­lic trans­port; to op­ti­mise truck­ing?

Holm­strom: We are try­ing to op­ti­mise trans­port so­lu­tions in a way that they will be sus­tain­able, which is very much about not de­stroy­ing the en­vi­ron­ment. Right now, it is very much fo­cussed on CO2. Ear­lier it was par­tic­u­lates and NOx which we re­duced to zero al­most. We are in US10 and Euro 6 ex­e­cu­tion. When you have the size and the pos­si­bil­ity to put money on R&D, you also have the tech­nol­ogy in the com­pany. When a re­gion or a coun­try is ready, we have a quick way of in­tro­duc­ing tech­nol­ogy. If In­dia de­cides to move up to Euro 5 or Euro 6, we are ready. We are push­ing the tech­nol­ogy to the lim­its, and the fo­cus cur­rently is on CO2.

Q: What is your view on au­to­ma­tion; about driver­less com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles?

Holm­strom: Right now the tech­nol­ogy is a lit­tle bit ahead of the leg­is­la­tion, and we are work­ing on it. There is how­ever an is­sue with driver­less trucks or cars. Who is re­spon­si­ble if some­thing hap­pens? Is it the one who has pro­grammed it, or is it the con­nec­tiv­ity provider or some­thing else. We have test ve­hi­cles that have done rounds with­out a driver. We are right now test­ing them in con­fined ar­eas. We have done tests where 4 to 5 ve­hi­cles travel one af­ter the other, and the first ve­hi­cle is driv­ing the rest. So, au­to­ma­tion is pos­si­ble; tech­nol­ogy is there, and we are de­vel­op­ing it. What we see is a step-by-step evo­lu­tion, ac­com­pa­nied by var­i­ous safety en­hance­ments. It could come as lane keep­ing sup­port warn­ing sys­tems, col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion, au­to­mated queue as­sis­tance, in­tel­li­gent co­op­er­a­tive sys­tems, sen­sors for all-round vi­sion among oth­ers. It will take a few years, 5 to 10 years be­fore we have driver­less trucks. There’s also

Tor­b­jorn Holm­strom, Chief Tech­nol­ogy Of­fi­cer, Volvo Group and Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent, Volvo Group Trucks Tech­nol­ogy spoke to Bhushan Mhapralkar on the fu­ture tech­nolo­gies and their plans to bring global tech­nolo­gies to the In­dian mar­ket. Edited ex­cerpts:

the leg­is­la­tion and in­fra­struc­ture. In case of leg­isla­tive bod­ies, they can some­times be quick or take a long time to de­cide. Tech­nol­ogy how­ever will be there in the next 5 to 10 years.

Q: How do the var­i­ous tech­no­log­i­cal cen­ter that you have work to­wards a tech­no­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion?

Holm­strom: We have a head­quar­ter. It does not sit on all the in­tel­li­gence. Con­sid­er­ing that we want to de­velop a new soft­ware for one part of au­to­ma­tion, it is pos­si­ble that the Ban­ga­lore cen­ter knows about it the best. We as­sign that cen­ter with the task as a gen­eral de­vel­op­ment. We then plug and play in the brands across the group. We work very much with com­mon ar­chi­tec­ture and shared tech­nol­ogy. Shar­ing tech­nol­ogy be­tween sites makes us one big global com­mu­nity; a tech­nol­ogy com­mu­nity.

Q: How does tech­nol­ogy reach out to brands across the group af­ter it is de­vel­oped as a com­mon ref­er­ence?

Holm­strom: Let’s say that there is a de­mand for a spe­cific au­to­ma­tion fea­ture where Volvo and Re­nault are sell­ing their ve­hi­cles. The fea­ture was de­vel­oped by the In­dian site. The soft­ware pack­age is used for Re­nault and Volvo. The back­bone for the elec­tronic ar­chi­tec­ture is the same. The other way round, when we do some­thing at Ban­ga­lore, it is pos­si­ble that the tech­nol­ogy can be sub­jected to plug and play across brands and plat­forms. An en­gine or an in­stru­ment clus­ter for ex­am­ple. They are done in such a way that they can be mod­u­larised; can be sub­jected to plug and play in other ve­hi­cles and con­fig­u­ra­tions.

Q: Com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle mar­kets dif­fer from that of cars. How does tech­nol­ogy work to­wards sat­is­fy­ing the lo­cal needs and reg­u­la­tions?

Holm­strom: Let us con­sider an en­gine. The base en­gine it­self is done in one way, and it is pos­si­ble to run that en­gine at dif­fer­ent emis­sion lev­els. It could be Euro 3, Euro 4, Euro 5 or Euro 6. The base en­gine is the same. There are com­po­nents in them that you al­ter, but not the whole en­gine. You change the turbo; you change the soft­ware, and tai­lor make the en­gine for that spe­cific mar­ket. If In­dia goes for Euro 3, we have an ex­e­cu­tion of that en­gine for Euro 3. At the same time, the base en­gine could be also used for Euro 6. Tech­nol­ogy is thus used in the sys­tem. You have then en­gi­neered a cer­tain sys­tem that you can up­grade or down­grade to a cer­tain level.

Q: Any CV tech­nolo­gies that Volvo is work­ing upon?

Holm­strom: There are a lot of things we are do­ing. It in­volves CO2 emis­sion re­duc­tion, waste heat re­cov­ery. We started work on waste heat re­cov­ery many years back to take heat out of the ex­haust in a smart way. We started way back in 1955 to have turbo in the ex­haust, which is one step in waste heat re­cov­ery. It boosts in­let pres­sure. Step wise, it could be turbo com­pound­ing; waste heat re­cov­ery with a rank­ing process. You put steam or heat a steam an­tenna and take the power down to the wheels. Th­ese are the type of tech­nolo­gies we are work­ing on. We co-op­er­ate with uni­ver­si­ties the world over. We have a pro­gram that con­nects with uni­ver­si­ties not just in In­dia, but in the US, Swe­den, France, China and so on. Go­ing for­ward, it is in this man­ner that the tech­nol­ogy need will ex­pand al­most ex­po­nen­tially. From au­to­ma­tion to com­bus­tion tech­nol­ogy, we have to be con­nected to the whole world. We are present in 192 coun­tries. We sell prod­ucts in th­ese coun­tries, and have the same con­nec­tions.

Q: Any spe­cific tech­nolo­gies that you are look­ing at, from In­dia?

Holm­strom: In­dia is at Euro 3 right now. We have had Euro 5 for many years. We tested hun­dreds and thou­sands of ve­hi­cles out there. We now have Euro 6 for al­most 3 years now. We have ma­tured the tech­nol­ogy al­ready some­where else in the world. If In­dia would like to go to Euro 5 or Euro 6, we will in­tro­duce it. We know the tech­nol­ogy; we know the mar­kets since we have been work­ing there. When it comes to In­dia as a source of tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion, it is very much around soft­ware, and about the knowl­edge to fru­gally en­gi­neer. That is very im­por­tant for a com­pany like ours.

Q: What in­cre­men­tal changes in tech­nol­ogy do you fore­see?

Holm­strom: We will start to see con­nec­tiv- ity much more. Al­most all the ve­hi­cles in Europe and US are con­nected to­day. From tech­nol­ogy point of view, what that could bring is im­por­tant. Like pre­dic­tive main­te­nance that in­cludes proac­tively propos­ing the na­ture of ser­vices re­quired by mon­i­tor­ing the ve­hi­cle. It will help to tell the owner or the driver to change the nec­es­sary parts so that there is no un­planned stop. We thus see tech­nol­ogy en­hanc­ing ef­fi­ciency in the trans­port sys­tem. Stress would be on cre­at­ing sys­tems around con­nec­tiv­ity. It is im­por­tant for a com­pany like us to mon­i­tor the state of the ve­hi­cle over time. This would help in the de­vel­op­ment of bet­ter ve­hi­cles. We have lane keep­ing sup­port; it warns if the driver falls asleep. Oth­ers in­clude cruise con­trol, lane keep­ing sup­port warn­ing sys­tems, col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion, au­to­mated queue as­sis­tance, in­tel­li­gent co­op­er­a­tive sys­tems, sen­sors for all-round vi­sion and pro­tect­ing the road users. Many things are com­ing, which would con­trib­ute to bet­ter fuel ef­fi­ciency and safety.

Q: Where do you see In­dia from the emo­bil­ity per­spec­tive?

Holm­strom: Hy­bridi­s­a­tion for long haul, is com­ing. If you take pure hy­brid where you re­cu­per­ate brak­ing en­ergy, it is best for stop and go op­er­a­tion and can help get fan­tas­tic re­sults in buses. We have yielded fan­tas­tic re­sults at places like Lon­don. Next step is the plug-in type where you charge so as to be able to run a longer dis­tance on elec­tric­ity. Third step is full elec­tric. In In­dia, there is in­ter­est now to go for hy­bridi­s­a­tion. In case of plug-in, in­fra­struc­ture, like a charg­ing sta­tion, is needed. There must be good col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the re­gion, city or com­mu­nity to sup­port charg­ing. For which, we are not into set­ting up of an elec­tri­cal grid.

Q: Is it pos­si­ble to have a full-elec­tric ve­hi­cle in In­dia?

Holm­strom: Full elec­tric has to have an in­fra­struc­ture where you can charge on the road. I think it is many years ahead. What I think will come in trucks will be light hy­brid, em­ploy­ing brake re­cu­per­a­tion that re­duces fuel consumption. We don’t yet see it com­ing in Europe, but there are pos­si­bil­i­ties to do things like that.

Q: Trends that you see are emerg­ing in In­dia?

Holm­strom: One trend I see is au­to­mated gear shift­ing. If you could com­bine this with the knowl­edge about en­gine, it is pos­si­ble to op­ti­mise fuel consumption. Now that the Golden Quadri­lat­eral has been built, you could take a step in trans­port ef­fi­ciency. You could com­bine that with au­to­mated trans­mis­sion for good ef­fi­ciency. This will mark a sig­nif­i­cant step in cut­ting fuel consumption. We have had great suc­cess in Europe and US when it comes to Au­to­mated Man­ual Trans­mis­sions (AMT ). It is not just that you don’t need to shift, it is in com­bi­na­tion with the knowl­edge of how a ve­hi­cle is func­tion­ing and how the en­gine is func­tion­ing, which is the ad­van­tage Volvo Group has. We have the en­gine tech­nol­ogy, trans­mis­sion tech­nol­ogy and ve­hi­cles tech­nol­ogy. Com­bin­ing the 3 is a real good thing, and el­e­vates safety and lower fuel consumption. The driver does not need to con­cen­trate on shift­ing; does not get fa­tigued. ABS is im­por­tant too. ABS reg­u­la­tion is the first step. Con­sider au­to­matic cruise con­trol for ex­am­ple. You have a radar that checks the ve­hi­cle in front; uses the brake and ac­cel­er­a­tor in com­bi­na­tion with the AMT. It will be very safe. You will never ever crash into the ve­hi­cle in front. It will come to In­dia with bet­ter roads and higher av­er­age speeds, and when there will be more pow­er­ful ve­hi­cles.

Q: How do you bal­ance tech­nol­ogy in prod­ucts ver­sus re­gional de­mands of cus­tomers and reg­u­la­tions?

Holm­strom: We are al­ways there to ful­fill the reg­u­la­tions. If In­dia de­cides to go for Euro 6, we will pre­pare our­selves. We try to find the most cost op­ti­mised so­lu­tion for the cus­tomers. We look into the cus­tomer’s bal­ance sheet to of­fer some­thing that is very good for them; the best pos­si­ble tech­nol­ogy that we can of­fer, and not that we want to en­gi­neer. We try to en­gi­neer to the de­mand.

Q: What is the fu­ture of IC en­gine?

Holm­strom: If you talk about the diesel process, it in it­self is a great in­ven­tion to con­vert chem­i­cal en­ergy to me­chan­i­cal en­ergy. The diesel process could be run with dif­fer­ent fu­els. It could be done with DME (Dimethyl Ether), made from car­bon diox­ide neu­tral crops. An en­gine can be run on that in a very ef­fi­cient way. If you talk about CO2 emis­sions, there is definitely a fu­ture for diesel – the process. In the case of elec­tri­cal, the ad­van­tage is bet­ter ef­fi­ciency. You should how­ever pro­duce elec­tric­ity in a CO2 neu­tral way. In Swe­den, 1 kWh is pro­duced at roughly 15 to 15 grams of CO2. If you do that with brown coal or some­thing sim­i­lar, it is some­thing com­pletely else. In an in­ves­ti­ga­tion a Swiss com­pany did - about what is the best way to re­duce CO2 than to run a pas­sen­ger car, they con­cluded that if you took elec­tric­ity from the grid in Ger­many, it is bet­ter still to run it on diesel. There is a need to see from the well to the wheel. We will have the diesel process for an­other 10 to 15 years. It will be very hard to beat it. Even if you look at CO2 emis­sions, you could run the diesel process on CO2 neu­tral fu­els.

Q: What other tech­nolo­gies are you work­ing on?

Holm­strom: You know about our Su­per truck. With good in­fra­struc­ture, aero­dy­namic drag could be cut down. More aero­dy­namic friendly ve­hi­cles will come; more aero­dy­namic friendly trail­ers will come. It is a great op­por­tu­nity to in­crease trans­port ef­fi­ciency and lower CO2 foot print. There are ben­e­fits in run­ning a longer and heav­ier ve­hi­cle too. So, aero­dy­namic friendly ve­hi­cles will come, and also as au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles with safety ad­vance­ments in the next 5 to 7 years. Couple of years ago we took 7 ve­hi­cles with dif­fer­ent fu­els – ethanol, methane, DME, bio-gas, etc., and showed that we could run them in our en­gine plat­forms. And, all of them could be car­bon neu­tral fu­els. When we cal­cu­lated car­bon foot­print from well to wheel, what we found out was that DME made from car­bon neu­tral feed­stock was the best and the most ef­fi­cient fuel. We also looked at methane, but DME, we found out, has high en­ergy con­tent; is easy to use. It is easy to pro­duce as well.

Q: But aren’t reg­u­la­tions lim­it­ing the scope of aero­dy­nam­ics in com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles?

Holm­strom: We see move­ment in Europe. They are look­ing into the is­sue; giv­ing more free­dom when it comes to aero­dy­nam­ics, both at the rear end of the trailer and at the front of the ve­hi­cle. Com­ing within 5 to 10 years, we see a change in reg­u­la­tions. We will then need to cap­ture that and of­fer the aero­dy­namic ben­e­fits to our cus­tomers. There is a move­ment in the US also, re­gard­ing reg­u­la­tions. Al­most all coun­tries have started reg­u­lat­ing CO2 emis­sions. What we are ad­vo­cat­ing is that aero­dy­nam­ics is one big part when it comes to re­duc­ing the CO2 foot­print. Also, the length and weight of the ve­hi­cle com­bi­na­tion is very im­por­tant to be more en­vi­ron­ment friendly.

Q: In terms of weight, what ex­per­i­ments have you car­ried out?

Holm­strom: Over the years we have worked a lot with re­duc­ing weight. If you lose 1 kilo­gram, you could carry 1 kilo­gram more on the ve­hi­cle. It is good for the en­vi­ron­ment. Bal­anc­ing be­tween so­phis­ti­cated things and what we can sell, it could get too costly. There is a need there­fore to bal­ance. Things like high strength steel in cabs for safety and weight. If you talk about new ma­te­rial or new ways of pro­duc­ing, we see 3D print­ing com­ing. It is not there yet for mass pro­duc­tion, but opens up new de­sign pos­si­bil­i­ties. We are de­sign­ing in a cer­tain way when it comes to forg­ings, cast­ings, etc., and we have lim­i­ta­tions. In 3D print­ing, you open up an­other di­men­sion, which could re­sult in in­ter­est­ing things. You stretch it fur­ther, and you could re­duce stocks. You could pro­duce the part just across the as­sem­bly line. 3D print­ing how­ever is for the fu­ture. It is very hard to say when it will ma­te­ri­alise for prac­ti­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing. Right now, the speed and cost is not where we could make prac­ti­cal use of it. We do use 3D print­ing in our pro­to­types a lot; to pro­duce small pieces, and to test them. In full man­u­fac­tur­ing, it will take some years yet.

Q: Which is the most chal­leng­ing in case of en­vi­ron­ment, qual­ity and safety?

Holm­strom: En­vi­ron­ment is chal­leng­ing in case of sus­tain­able trans­port so­lu­tion. That is where we put the most money. We do that be­cause it goes straight down to the bot­tom­line. It is very much about fuel consumption. Sec­ond comes safety. We have had a very good record for safety. Qual­ity has been there from many, many years. The chal­lenge in tech­no­log­i­cal terms lies in en­vi­ron­men­tal norms.

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