The engineers behind the system
The devil is in the detail, as the saying goes, especially when it comes to emotions and technology. In the new Volvo Dynamic Steering (VDS) system, an angle-reference generator is the key to the epic success the VDS is enjoying. “It’s the brain behind everything,” says Jan-Inge Svensson, a software engineer at the Chassis Department within the Volvo Group Trucks Technology.
Three happy, proud engineers describe the development work behind the VDS unit standing in the middle of the desk. Together with technical specialist, Sten Ragnhult, and project leader, Gustav Neander, Jan-Inge has spent a large number of engineering hours developing and precision-adjusting all the details in what they describe as “the most important thing that has happened since power steering made its appearance in the 1950s”.
Volvo Dynamic Steering has a relatively straightforward design. It consists of an electric motor that is positioned above the hydraulic steering gear. The motor is made up of a rotor with magnets, which is part of the steering column. Around it, there is a stator (a stationary part of the electric motor) with copper wire windings that creates a twisting torque with the assistance of power from the steering unit that is integrated with the motor. The VDS unit also contains a sensor.
By reading different signals, such as vehicle speed, engine angle and the torque imposed by the driver, the software calculates all the variables to obtain the optimal steering. At low speeds, this means that the electric motor does most of the steering work, thereby sparing the driver’s back, arms and shoulders. At higher speeds, driving is more relaxed as a result of improved directional stability. The system improves both safety and working environment.
There have been many challenges along the way – like the installation space in the truck, the precision and service life requirements and the sophisticated software.
“We have adapted the software to suit everyone – you could call it the perfect happy medium. Once you test driving a truck with Volvo Dynamic Steering, it’s difficult to imagine anything else,” says Jan-Inge Svensson.
The intensity of the development work has varied for the past eight years. Jan-Inge and Sten have been involved the whole time and recognised the potential at an early stage, not least since a winter test in Arjeplog in northern Sweden produced good results. Gustav joined as project leader in 2008. At a kick-off the same year, the engineers were tasked with writing a fictional article for Trailer magazine, explaining what the system would offer drivers.
“We never imagined for a moment that this was going to be such an enormous success,” says Sten Ragnhult, who has been working for Volvo for 33 years and describes this project as the most enjoyable thing he has ever been involved in.
“VDS is a platform for the future and its importance is only going to grow. It’s the foundation for other things we are going to be able to develop,” says Gustav. He stresses the important role his small team and their close proximity to one another and suppliers have played in the success of VDS.
The team members also say that the company has been generous, as the development team have been involved the whole time leading up to the launch.
“It has felt like playing for the A team. We have all had to raise the bar and learn new things and this has then generated even more job satisfaction,” they say.
When this interview was conducted in December 2013, the team were able to look back on an absolutely hysterical and enjoyable autumn, with global success in conjunction with the marketing for the Volvo FH, FM and FMX. Both Jan-Inge and Sten were involved in the video films starring Charlie the hamster and the film star, Jean Claude Van Damme.
The last of these films, The Epic Split, has received more than 60 million hits on YouTube, has been shared more than six million times on social networks and has amassed more than 10 million hits on Google.com. How was this achieved?
“Everything was carefully planned and prepared, even the timing of the sunrise. A couple of different takes of the splits were made, but the first one was perfect and went on to become the film. Impressive! There were two people in each truck and everyone was unbelievably focused when the trucks reversed at 25 km an hour. It was absolutely perfect!” says Jan-Inge Svensson.