Volvo introduces innovations at Xploration Forum

By |  November 11, 2016

Volvo Construction Equipment’s customers, along with government and education officials, were given an exclusive look at a host of groundbreaking technologies. The Xploration Forum, held in Eskilstuna, Sweden, included the unveiling the LX1 prototype hybrid wheel loader – a machine with the potential to improve fuel efficiency by up to 50 percent, according to the company.

The event also involved demonstrations of a prototype autonomous wheel loader and articulated hauler working together, and an electric site solution that showcased the new concept HX1 autonomous, battery-electric, load carrier.

The electric site project aims to transform the aggregate industry by reducing carbon emissions by up to 95 percent and total cost of ownership by up to 25 percent. All of the innovations shown at the Xploration Forum are ongoing research projects that aren’t commercially available at this stage.

“At Volvo CE we are developing technologies connected to electromobility, intelligent machines and total site solutions that will benefit our customers and the environment by contributing to increased machine performance, productivity, efficiency, safety and sustainability,” says Martin Weissburg, president of Volvo CE. “Our future products and services will play an important part in building a sustainable society.”

Triple Zero

Photo courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment

Volvo Construction Equipment demonstrated its prototype autonomous wheel loader and articulated hauler working together. Photos courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment

The Xploration Forum, which builds on the Innovation Forum Volvo CE held in 2013, was designed to underscore the company’s position as a innovation pioneer.

“We’ve set ourselves four key technology challenges that we call Triple Zero and 10x: zero emissions, zero accidents, zero unplanned stops and 10x higher efficiency,” Weissburg says.

“We believe that our clear focus on electromobility, intelligent machines and total site solutions will help us achieve these ambitious goals and pave the way for a sustainable construction industry.”

The company defines the terms as:

■ Zero emissions: Zero-emission machines to help make customers’ operations more environmentally sustainable.
■ Zero accidents: With pioneering safety innovations, machines could instinctively avoid accidents – generating a safer working environment.
■ Zero unplanned stops: A world without machine breakdowns, where machines predict and plan their own maintenance – making unplanned stops a thing of the past.
■ 10x higher efficiency: The electrification of heavy equipment and site optimization will dramatically reduce energy consumption.

Reduction in carbon emissions

Volvo CE’s concept HX1 autonomous, battery electric, load carrier is one element of an electric site research project that predicts up to a 95 percent reduction in carbon emissions and up to a 25 percent reduction in total cost of ownership.

The project aims to electrify a transport stage in a quarry – from excavation to primary crushing and transport to secondary crushing. It involves developing new machines, work methods and site-management systems.

As well as a fleet of HX1s, other prototype machines that make-up the electric site system include a hybrid wheel loader and a grid-connected excavator. New technology encompasses machine and fleet control systems and logistic solutions for electric machines in quarries.

“This research project is a step towards transforming the quarry and aggregates industry,” says Johan Sjöberg, technical specialist in site automation at Volvo CE. “By using electricity instead of diesel to power construction equipment in a quarry, we have the potential to deliver significant reductions in fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, environmental impact and cost-per-ton,” he says.

“The electrification of construction equipment will produce cleaner, quieter and more efficient machines – this represents the future of our industry.”

Autonomous machines

An exclusive demonstration of Volvo CE’s prototype autonomous wheel loader and articulated hauler working together impressed the crowds at the Xploration Forum. The prototype wheel loader filled the prototype articulated hauler – before dumping its load and repeating the cycle.

In a one-hour comparison, it was found that the autonomous wheel loader could reach the equivalent of 70 percent of that of a skilled operator’s productivity levels when loading and unloading. This is not just theoretical, the machine has also done real work for a Volvo CE customer at an asphalt plant in Sweden.

“The demonstration machines were programmed to work together and carry out a specific set of actions on a pre-defined route,” says Jenny Elfsberg, director of emerging technologies at Volvo CE. “The machines can perform the same task over and over again, along a fixed route, for a relatively long period of time. But it’s still early days for this technology,” she says.

“Currently these prototype machines don’t communicate with each other and machine-to-machine communication technology – where machines ‘talk’ to one another and to a central control point – is crucial when it comes to avoiding collisions and facilitating an efficient flow of equipment.”

Elfsberg says autonomous machines will increase safety in hazardous working environments and eliminate the possibility of accidents caused by human error.

“Customers will benefit from improved performance, productivity, fuel efficiency and durability. In the future you could also potentially have one operator for three or four machines,” she says, “increasing productivity and further decreasing costs.

“Looking ahead, I imagine that autonomous machines will be smaller and more robust. There will be no need for a cab or suspension – much like the HX1 concept.”

‘Future of industry’

Volvo CE reinforced the idea that energy efficiency is at the top of the company’s agenda when it unveiled its prototype hybrid wheel loader – known as the LX1 – at the event. The company says the electric hybrid machine can deliver up to a 50-percent improvement in fuel efficiency. In addition, the LX1 offers a significant reduction in emissions and noise pollution compared to its conventional counterparts.

The LX1 is a series hybrid that incorporates a driveline that consists of electric drive motors mounted at the wheels, electric hydraulics, an energy storage system, a significantly smaller diesel engine and new machine architecture. It’s this combination that enables the substantial gain in fuel efficiency.

The prototype – which has 98 percent new parts and a fundamentally new machine design – is capable of doing the work of a wheel loader that’s one size larger. At this stage, the LX1 is part of a research project and it is not commercially available.

Short and long-term outlook

The Volvo Group defines electromobility as commercial vehicles and machines that can utilize an electrical motor to propel or to perform the main purpose of the machine. A hybrid is classified as a machine that uses more than one power source and captures and reuses energy that would otherwise be wasted. It is a prerequisite that the machine has the capability for energy storage to count as a true hybrid.

Volvo CE started its journey with electromobility and hybrid technology in 1998. The company has long-term plans to develop products and services for electromobility, including electric hybrids and electric sites.

“Although we believe that there will be a major shift towards electric hybrid technology in the future, our customers, quite rightly, want improved efficiency now. We are delivering this through more conventional technologies and soft offers,” says Scott Young, electromobility program manager at Volvo CE.

“This is because we need to meet customers’ immediate expectations in terms of total cost of ownership (TCO). A large part of TCO is energy cost, but other significant expenses include purchase price and maintenance. These aspects help drive our hybrid development plans.

“Therefore,” he says, “before we launch a machine like the LX1, you can expect to see elements of this design incorporated into our products. This supports short and mid-term developments and requirements while the market continues to accept the technology, technology improves and the cost of new technologies decreases.”

Information for this story courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment.

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