Higher learning

By |  July 11, 2015

Volvo Construction Equipment is teaming up with academia to prepare for paradigm shifts in the construction/mining industries.

The construction and mining industries are constantly evolving, always changing and adapting with the world.

“You can’t ask someone else to tell you what the future will look like, you need to create it yourself,” says Jenny Elfsberg, director of emerging technologies at Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE).

While the company has always had a long-standing tradition of partnering with outside sources, in 2009 Volvo CE intensified its dedication to academia by creating an organization solely responsible for university collaboration and the development of emerging technologies.

Currently, Volvo CE is working on 30 partnership projects with university students and professors. While many of them are based in Sweden, there are also ongoing projects in Germany, Korea and the United States.

The university partnerships help Volvo CE embrace three paradigm shifts taking place within the construction and mining industries and provide quality equipment for the future.

“With the constant innovations in technology, we need new engineering skills within a variety of areas,” Elfsberg said. “By partnering with academia, we get new ideas from open-minded students and highly competent professors who are studying the newest and most promising research in these areas.”

Looking ahead

While Volvo CE specialists are familiar with machine systems and are knowledgeable in maximizing efficiency, the open-mindedness and fresh insight of engineering students will help the company as the industry places more emphasis on loss prevention with decoupling systems and moves toward electric-powered machines.

The company has already embraced the shift toward smart technology by integrating intelligent guidance into machines to minimize workload and increase safety, but working with universities allows it to directly interact with people studying the latest innovations. This also means access to talent that could help integrate these innovations into valuable assets for the machines.

The industry business model is undergoing a revolution – going beyond selling standalone equipment, and offering complete packages from equipment and aftermarket supplies to service. Programs like Carnegie Mellon’s Integrated Innovation Institute, which combines engineering, design and business backgrounds into product development, help develop product engineers who understand this new world and could help create new business models with customers’ needs in mind.

While Volvo CE has different projects going on at universities all over the world, the collaborations with University of Oklahoma, Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University are very unique to the company. Below is a description of each partnership project.

Real-time density mapping

Volvo CE’s new Density Direct intelligent compaction system, which offers the industry’s first real-time density mapping technology, is the result of a decade-long partnership with the University of Oklahoma’s School of Electrical Engineering.

“Volvo has been a fantastic partner; not only have they provided insight into the market and equipment, but they’ve also helped us with filing patents,” says Dr. Sesh Commuri, professor at the University of Oklahoma’s School of Electrical Engineering. “Thanks to the partnership, we were able to develop, test and make commercial products that require a lot more capability than what the university has.”

The technology, which was unveiled in February at the AGG1/World of Asphalt, is an intelligent compaction analyzer that estimates the density of asphalt pavement in real time. Within the Density Direct system is a calibration screen, where the user sets the asphalt mix information for the project. Once fully calibrated with data specific to the application, the system produces a density calculation that is accurate to within 1.5 percent of core sampling.

Beyond the horizon

While the partnership with the University of Oklahoma resulted in an actual product, the two research projects with Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University are future-focused, exploring emerging possibilities that aren’t focused on within Volvo CE.

“Normally we at least know the approximate product we are looking for, and have some answers to the technical questions,” Elfsberg says. “With the Stanford and Carnegie Mellon students, we have asked more questions than we have given information.”

Solutions for an
urban population

Photo: iStock.com/PeterJSeager

Photo: iStock.com/PeterJSeager

For the past three years, Volvo CE has partnered with Stanford University’s Mechanical Engineering Global course. Together, graduate students in Dr. Larry Leifer’s class work alongside students from a similar course at Sweden’s Blekinge Institute of Technology, to help Volvo CE develop solutions in the area of urban mining – a term used to describe a sustainable approach to construction and deconstruction in city landscapes.

“Student engagement with companies is absolutely vital to the delivery of top-quality learning experiences,” Leifer says. “While faculty deliver the theory, companies are able to deliver the practice. Stanford’s ME310-Global is the Formula-1 version of the ‘product-based-learning model.’”

The partnership resulted in the students designing a compact concrete planer that could address potential urbanization problems for the construction industry. The concept design takes into account the construction laborers’ strenuous daily activities and the environmental impact of urban deconstruction.

The compact concrete planer breaks up the concrete in sizes that are best suited for recycling, and can be hooked up to a vacuum to eliminate dust particles from getting into the air. In addition, the compact concrete planer is remotely controlled to minimize heavy work, and also has the ability to eventually be made completely autonomous.

These students are pursuing master’s degrees in sustainable product-service system innovation, so this project allows them to get a lot of real-life experience in solving actual problems.

Emerging trends for
worksite safety

Volvo CE has been working with a team of Carnegie Mellon University students to explore the idea of smart technology and integrating human intelligence into equipment to improve operator safety.

The students are a part of the university’s Integrated Innovation Institute capstone course, which ties together the engineering, design and business aspects of product development. The students also focused on product and service innovation, covering functional performance, human interface and economic value.

“Working with Volvo CE gave us the opportunity to interface with a well-known global company, which was an excellent educational experience for us,” says Stephen Krotseng, a student team member from Carnegie Mellon University. After 16 weeks of research and conceptualizing, the students developed a prototype system that tracks all people and equipment on a worksite. The system would allow operators to better understand safety issues and better avoid accidents.

Construction Climate Challenge

Last year, Volvo CE initiated the Construction Climate Challenge (CCC), an initiative that works with industry leaders and other stakeholders to promote sustainability across the entire construction industry value chain.

The initiative is not restricted to the manufacture and operation of construction equipment, but rather stretches the length of the construction industry’s value chain, from extraction and production of building materials to demolition and recycling. CCC aims to create a dialogue with industry representatives, academics and politicians, as well as provide funding for new research and the sharing of knowledge and resources to help the industry make a difference for generations to come.

Volvo CE has long been committed to reducing harmful emissions from its products and facilities, the company says, but reducing carbon dioxide emissions requires a coordinated action from companies across the entire construction and mining industry supply chain.

“We’ve been working on reducing emissions through our own internal initiatives for many years – and to considerable success,” says Volvo CE President Martin Weissburg. “In December 2013, for example, we achieved carbon neutrality at our articulated hauler production facility in Braås, Sweden. However, we cannot address climate issues by ourselves. We joined the Volvo Group’s commitment to the World Wildlife Fund Climate Savers program in 2012, becoming the first construction equipment manufacturer to do so – but still that’s not enough.”

Four proposals selected

Since July 2014, research teams have had the opportunity to submit research proposals in four key areas the CCC outlined: circular business models, emerging sustainable technologies, energy efficiency and enablers for change and innovation.

In October 2014, four research proposals were selected and received a total of $277,000 in funding. The four pre-study teams have nine months to conduct research. The pre-studies are part of the CCC initiative to facilitate the sharing of environment-related knowledge and resources.

“It’s great to see the interest that the CCC has gathered from researchers from around the world and it was a difficult process to select just four research projects,” says Peter Wallin, technology research manager for Volvo CE, who was involved in the selection process.

Below are the selected research groups and a short summary of their pre-study proposals:

■ Circular business models – working toward a zero carbon footprint
Johan M. Sanne, Håkan Stripple, Anders Björk, Bo Sahlberg
IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute

The objective of this pre-study is to implement circular business models that include the correct lifecycle costs from construction machinery, promoting the procurement of machinery with a low carbon footprint, and promoting carbon-effective ways to use them. The study aims to outline the research needed to implement such business models and ensure carbon footprint and energy calculations are considered. Developing knowledge and incentives for procurement of low carbon machinery, and for efficient use of the machinery, will also play a part in this.

■ Exploring future energy storage systems for construction applications
Aleksandar Matic, Helena Berg, Patrik Johansson, Bengt Steen
Chalmers University of Technology

Exploring future technologies is a fundamental part of CCC’s commitment to promote innovation in sustainability. This pre-study will explore the potential of future energy storage systems for applications at construction sites, with the objective of providing a road map for future research and development in this field.

■ Sustainable construction operations for reduced emissions
Jiali Fu, Xiaoliang Ma, Hui Chen, Haris N. Koutsopoulos
KTH Royal Institute of Technology

The initiative aims to assess emission impacts from construction processes and emphasize the mitigation of these impacts as an important aspect of operation design and planning. Emissions will be evaluated through detailed construction environment analysis, and researchers will explore policy tools that may reduce emission impacts.

■ Developing innovation for change – enablers for sustainability
Åsa Ericson, Johan Holmqvist, Johan Wenngren Luleå
University of Technology

There are three main pillars for sustainability: ecological, economical and social. The challenge is to integrate them into product development and to identify how more sustainable paths can be identified, assessed and decided upon. The study will propose solutions for demonstrating value in innovative engineering projects and, as a result, should present an approach to identify customer values, as well as visualizing how they support (or do not support) the development process for sustainability.

Take note

Research teams have had the opportunity to submit research proposals in areas such as emerging sustainable technologies and energy efficiency.


Mackenzie Gorham is an account executive at SE10, an international business-to-business public relations agency that specializes in the industrial sector.

Allison Kral

About the Author:

Allison Kral is the former senior digital media manager for North Coast Media (NCM). She completed her undergraduate degree at Ohio University where she received a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She works across a number of digital platforms, which include creating e-newsletters, writing articles and posting across social media sites. She also creates content for NCM's Portable Plants magazine, GPS World magazine and Geospatial Solutions. Her understanding of the ever-changing digital media world allows her to quickly grasp what a target audience desires and create content that is appealing and relevant for any client across any platform.

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