Powering up

June 1, 2006
FOLLOWING a $150 million investment, AB Volvo's US engine plant in Hagerstown, Maryland, is entering the final stages of a program to reorganize production

FOLLOWING a $150 million investment, AB Volvo's US engine plant in Hagerstown, Maryland, is entering the final stages of a program to reorganize production capabilities and expand testing facilities. The upgrades are part of an overall effort to get ready for the rollout of the engines designed to meet the 2007 emission requirements.

The plant has been manufacturing Mack engines since 1961, and Volvo has announced that it will also build the 2007 heavy-duty Volvo diesel engines for Volvo Trucks North America. The upgrades will give the plant the ability to produce in excess of 60,000 engines a year in 2006 and beyond.

“With this investment, Volvo has demonstrated its confidence in the future of the North American market for Volvo and Mack products,” Sten-Ake Aronsson, senior vice-president of Volvo Powertrain North America, said during a recent press tour of the Hagerstown plant. “We are definitely looking to the future. Volvo powertrains go into 60% of the Volvo trucks we build now for North America, and all of our 2007 engines will be built at Hagerstown. This will cut six to eight weeks off the lead time for Volvo trucks with Volvo engines. We've been importing the Volvo engines from Sweden.”

Kevin Flaherty, Mack senior vice-president of sales, added that Mack customers should be very pleased with the quality of the engines coming out of the upgraded plant. “Our customers have always had a strong preference for Mack trucks with Mack engines, and the plant upgrade will help ensure that we provide our customers with the best possible product,” he said.

Flaherty expressed optimism for the 2007 truck market. “We believe the shift to the 2007 engines will go smoother than some have suggested,” Flaherty said. “We think vocational customers, in particular, will continue to buy new trucks on schedule next year, and there is no reason why they shouldn't. These new engines will perform well.”

New engines

On the Mack side, the Hagerstown plant will manufacture the new family of 2007 engines — MP7 (11-liter), MP8 (13-liter), and MP10 (16-liter). The new Volvo 2007 engines include the D-11, D-13, and D-16. The plant also has been selected to build a new line of proprietary transmissions for the North American market.

While the Mack and Volvo engines use many common parts (engine blocks, crankshaft, and pistons) and systems (including cooled exhaust gas recirculation and particulate filtration), the powerplants are tailored to each truck make.

“The differences are more than just green paint for the Volvo engines and red paint for the Mack engines,” Aronsson said. “The engines will be configured to meet the performance expectations of Volvo and Mack customers. Diagnostic tools will be specific to the Mack and Volvo engines.”

The Mack and Volvo engines will be built in a 1.5-million-square-foot plant that has been upgraded with reconfigured production lines and greater use of robotics. “We've retooled 75% of the production machines in the plant,” Aronsson said.

Volvo also added a $14-million expansion to the test center at the plant. Improvements include eight test cells that are larger than the 35 that are currently in use. In addition to expanding engine test capabilities at Hagerstown, Volvo has linked the North American operations to its test centers in Goteborg, Sweden, and Lyon, France.

“We can run simultaneous tests on any engines at any of these facilities,” Aronsson said. “It gives us tremendous flexibility. We were looking ahead 40 years as we designed these test capabilities.”

The plant upgrade was accomplished on schedule during one of the biggest truck markets ever for North America. Volvo officials estimate total 2006 Class 8 truck sales of 340,000 to 350,000. Mack officials are slightly less bullish with an estimate of 287,000 for 2006.

“Production lines are full, and most manufacturers closed their order books for the year at the end of April,” Flaherty said. “Some of the demand is due to a pre-buy in advance of the 2007 engine rollout, but we think a strong US economy has been a major factor in the strong truck market.”