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Safety first

By Matthew Treanor

Volvo Trucks begins roll-out of safety features in the GCC

The Volvo brand has championed safety for decades. While the truck and heavy vehicle operation has long been separated from its passenger car sister company (which was sold first to Ford in 1999 and then later to China’s Geely in 2010), its latest generation of vehicles continue the tradition of placing driver safety at the centre of its development.

Senior executives from the company held a special briefing in Dubai last month on the famous Swedish marque’s advances in protecting both the driver and other users on the road. At the event it was revealed that the company is rolling out five new features – starting with Saudi Arabia – across their FH, FMX and FM ranges designed to improve uptime and lower costs of industry truck operators working in the challenging climate and terrains of Middle East countries.

Volvo Trucks’ president Claes Nilsson told those present that the company delivered more than 102,800 vehicles last year and that it, “provides complete transport solutions for professional and demanding customers, offering a full range of medium to heavy duty trucks.”

Relatively speaking the Middle East may be one of the smaller markets in which Volvo Trucks operates, but it has proven to be highly receptive of the company’s most recent range launches and adoption rates, in the UAE especially, of technologies such as its I-Shift transmission have been strong.

Nilsson revealed that the company exported 1,277 vehicles to Saudi Arabia last year making it Volvo Trucks’ 25th largest export market (the US ranks first with a 18,379). Given its success in the Kingdom and its well-established route to market via Zahid Tractor, the company has agreed to offer its best safety features as standard on the long-haul FH from 2018.

Beyond the sales numbers, this was really an opportunity to get an insight into how one of the world’s leading manufacturers believes that the region can benefit from leading edge technology that it may have eschewed in the past.

Pioneering technology sits at the very heart of Volvo Trucks’ design and engineering and, through the years, it has produced the world-class safety standards and drive comfort that the Swedish manufacturer is renowned for. Several decades ago, Volvo engineers were the first to develop the three-point safety belt and today it is at the vanguard of utilising IT systems on its trucks. It continues to set new standards with the range of technological advances, treading new ground and setting the benchmark for the rest of the industry.

Claes described Volvo’s Trucks as “a driving force in the development of electro-mobility, automation and connectivity”, all technologies that are very much on the cutting edge of truck design. He added that any progress it is making remains thoroughly rooted in “the core values of quality, safety and environmental care.”

As an example of its position at the forefront of vehicle technology, Volvo Trucks recently tested the world’s first fully autonomous truck deep underground in the dangerous environment of the Kristineberg Mine in northern Sweden. The truck was part of a development project that is on a mission to transform technical breakthroughs into practical customer benefits. With safety a top priority, the self-driving truck uses various sensors to continuously monitor its surroundings and avoids both fixed and moving obstacles. At the same time, an on-board transport system gathers data to optimise and coordinate the route and fuel consumption.

More importantly perhaps for the construction industry is the I-Shift which saw an optional crawler gear launch last year. The I-Shift reduces the risk of accidents by removing the possibility of common driver mistakes such as not engaging the engine brake when going downhill, not engaging the correct gear, or driving at a very high RPM. With I-Shift, all of these driving mistakes are avoided and the truck driver can focus on the road, become more fuel efficient and reduce the wear and tear of his clutch, gearbox and brake pads.

Volvo also offers a specially optimised I-Shift for severe duty applications. This rugged version of the I-Shift automated manual transmission is engineered for a wide range of construction and oil field applications. The gears and the hardware in the severe-duty I-Shift have been hardened to withstand frequent shifting in rugged operational environments like the varied landscapes and topography found throughout the Middle East. The enhanced I-Shift gearbox now offers more efficiency for the Middle East.

“The varied landscapes and topographies of the Middle East are some of the world’s most challenging when it comes to transport operations,” said Giovanni Bruno, VP, MEENA. “However, this is where Volvo Trucks excels, via our pioneering design and technology, we have a long and proud legacy in supporting our customers handle heavy loads even in challenging off-road terrain and harsh climate only found in the Middle East.”

The new crawler gear technology was tested to its limits in the Port of Gothenberg in 2016 with a FH16 production model, the most powerful in the FH series, completing an astonishing challenge, pulling a 750t 40-trailer land train from standstill over 100 metres to demonstrate the remarkable capabilities of the gearbox. The enhanced option for the I-Shift automatic gearbox can drive as slowly as 0.5-2 km/h and can start off from standstill while safely hauling 325t, a unique achievement for series-produced trucks with an automated gearbox.

Embodying this commitment to innovation is the technology that has gone into developing the FH series not only making them robust and durable to withstand the variable road conditions and extreme climate of the Middle East, but also one of the safest, most comfortable and easiest models to drive, claims Volvo.

Developed for tough environments, Volvo Automatic Traction Control, which is already used on Volvo’s articulated haulers, is now standard on the Volvo FMX front-wheel-drive trucks; 4×4, 6×6, 8×6, 10×6. The system offers drivers improved manoeuvrability and fleet owners the ?added benefits of lower fuel consumption and decreased wear and tear. The system ensures that the ?optimal drive combination is always enabled, removing the decision from the driver.

The system also consists of software connected to the wheels’ speed sensors, which detect and control wheel drive. When a rear wheel starts to slip, power is transferred automatically to the front wheels without the truck losing torque or speed. A coupling clutch activates the front-wheel drive in just half a second.

Volvo Trucks’ introduction of dual front axles for heavy-duty models increase the maximum technical capacity from 18t to 20t. According to the Swedish truck-maker, the extra load capacity translates directly into “increased income-earning potential, something that is particularly valuable when transporting heavy materials in construction operations.”

Higher load capacity above the front axles also permits a greater variety of crane configurations and allows other applications with considerable weight on the front axles.

Another feature, Volvo Dynamic Steering combines conventional hydraulic power steering with an electronically regulated electric motor fitted to the steering gear. The result is precise steering that gives the truck driver a safer, more comfortable and more enjoyable working environment. Designed and engineered with drivers in mind, the system can reduce wear-and-tear injuries on drivers, keeping them on the road which in turn benefits business productivity.

Bruno believes that Volvo Trucks product offering is stronger than ever: “We have a wide range of trucks that cover the needs of most applications and the service and support provided by our local dealer network and service facilities are second to none. Altogether, our trucks, products and services offer the best solution for every need. We are also continuously improving, expanding and developing our products to meet new and specific customer needs.”



The view from the EU


More vehicles on the roads, a faster traffic flow and a distracting stream of information all impose considerable demands on both commercial vehicle drivers and car drivers. On the other hand, there has never been more opportunities for the person behind the wheel to drive more safely than there is today. The active safety systems found in many modern cars and trucks within the EU make it far easier to avoid incidents and accidents.


As of November 2015 there is an EU-wide legal requirement for new two- and three-axle heavy trucks to be equipped with the function automatic emergency brake. The aim is to reduce accidents in which a truck drives into the back of a vehicle in front of the truck, an accident scenario that accounts for about one-fifth of all road accidents involving trucks. At present, legislation requires that the emergency braking system must reduce the truck´s speed by 10 km/h. Next year, this will be tightened to 20 km/h.


“It’s great that the legislation is becoming stricter but I still feel the legal requirements are too low. If you are driving at 80 km/h when the emergency braking system is deployed, you need to cut your speed by far more than just 20 km/h to avoid a massive collision if the vehicle in front has come to a standstill,” says Carl Johan Almqvist, traffic & product safety director at Volvo Trucks.


Volvo Trucks has developed a system that goes well beyond both current and future legal requirements. The system, which was introduced in 2012, focuses primarily on alerting the driver to the risk of a collision.


“In many cases this is enough for the driver to quickly assess the situation and avoid an accident,” explains Almqvist.


The emergency brake is only used if it is absolutely necessary, and it is deployed extremely quickly. The braking speed – or retardation to use the correct technical term – is about 7 m/sec2, which is on par with what many passenger cars can manage. In practice this means that the truck’s speed can be cut from 80 to 0 km/h in about 40 metres.


The system monitors the vehicles in front with the help of camera and radar technology and functions irrespective of whether it is sunshine, mist, fog or darkness. If there is a risk of collision, the driver is alerted via gradually escalating light and acoustic signals. If the system does not detect a response from the driver, the truck automatically starts braking gently. If the driver still does not respond, the emergency brake is deployed until the vehicle comes to a complete standstill. After a further five seconds without any movement of the steering wheel or other reaction, the handbrake is automatically engaged, a safety measure to prevent the truck from rolling if the driver is in shock or is unconscious.

When the emergency brake is deployed, the brake lights start flashing to warn vehicles to the rear, and when the truck’s speed drops to 5 km/h the flashing emergency warning lights are also activated. Volvo’s system also functions on curvy roads and can differentiate between roadside guard rails and genuine obstacles such as vehicles including motorbikes. In order to gain the full benefit of the system, it is essential to ensure that all functions, such as the ABS brakes, are activated on both truck and trailer.


Considering the short period that has passed since the introduction of emergency brake legislation, it will take some time before its positive effects are reflected in accident statistics. However, Volvo Trucks is convinced of the benefits of the emergency braking system and other active safety devices.


“Our active safety systems are part of a holistic solution that clearly helps reduce risks in traffic, but it is important to bear in mind that technology alone cannot do the job. A safe traffic environment requires active interaction between all road users. An experienced, attentive driver who handles his or her vehicle responsibly is still the best form of accident prevention,” says Almqvist.

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