Volvo adopts IoT to monitor autonomous vehicles on the production line

Carro Volvo
Sheila Zabeu -

March 31, 2023

Reducing operating costs and improving maintenance services were the Volvo Group’s main objectives when it implemented an Internet of Things (IoT) project at its factory in Lyon, France, specifically involving autonomous vehicles used on the production line.

Volvo produces engines for trucks, boats and industrial propulsion systems, among other models, and uses a manufacturing process that relies on so-called Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs). AGVs give more flexibility to the production chain, but also create challenges mainly with regard to the batteries used to power them. When the battery voltage drops below 22V, the AGVs stop working and interrupt the production chain, failing to manufacture approximately two engines per week.

To proactively monitor the integrity of the AGVs and prevent downtime, the Volvo Group Digital & IT IoT team supporting the Lyon plant designed a wireless system that would initially use WiFi technology. However, the 2.4 GHz band was already being used in other critical processes on the production line. It was then that the group started looking into adopting LoRaWAN, which would be ideal because of its long range, good resistance to interference and flexible, secure network architecture.

Each AVG received a LoRaWAN sensor to transmit periodic data on charge levels or even battery faults. With this new system, it is possible, for example, to pre-route AVGs to charging points before they stop working and bring the production line to a halt.

“Implementing a radio infrastructure in our factory was a challenge. We wanted to have a LoRaWAN network connected directly to our secure Ethernet network to avoid dependencies on cloud services. We selected an industry-focused LoRa Gateway Multitech with some edge computing and robust cybersecurity features to successfully qualify it for IT audit processes,” explains Julien Bertolini, principal IoT solution architect at Volvo Group Digital & IT.

In addition to the LoRaWaN sensors installed in each AVG, other elements that make up the Group’s complete predictive maintenance system are the private LoRaWAN network, the PTC Thingworx maintenance platform with its own application and some screens spread around the plant to display the real-time status of the AVGs.

This IoT project using LoRaWAN has already opened up new opportunities for the group in Lyon. More sensors have been deployed for other purposes, such as temperature and humidity monitoring to improve the quality of the painting process and pressure monitoring to identify clogged filters.

Expanding market

Many manufacturers still face challenges in generating value from the adoption of IIoT technologies (Industrial Internet of Things) at scale. However, there is ample evidence of the benefits delivered by digitising manufacturing environments to the point of justifying investments in digital innovation, especially if an integrated approach is applied to drive end-to-end transformation involving business, organisational and technological areas.

Key benefits of IIoT include significant improvements in productivity, performance, sustainability, agility, time-to-market and customisation capabilities). In addition, manufacturers that invest in Industry 4.0 become more resilient and therefore able to react more quickly to crises, such as the one that happened in the period of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is worth remembering that results will not come from the deployment of a single IIoT solution. The benefits will show themselves gradually, over the course of implementing multiple use cases and expanding them over time. Don’t worry about picking an ideal use case.

According to a McKinsey study, the IIoT will drive growth in a market valued at $500 billion by 2025. Lower costs for sensor, device, data storage and connectivity technologies will contribute to the development of new use cases and advance demand.

IIoT Mckinsey

The report presents a seven-step facilitative process to help industries drive a sustainable transformation based on IIoT:

1. Ensure CEO support to drive digitisation and make it a priority.

2. Set a bold goal for a new way of working and clearly communicate the value expected from the change.

3. Identify and prove the value that will be generated by eight to 10 high-impact use cases.

4. Strategically define the use cases to exploit significant part of the IIoT potential and self-finance the transformation.

5. Develop flexible IT architecture and an ecosystem of technology providers to extend use cases rapidly.

6. Recognise the need for non-traditional talent, recruit or develop skills.

7. Recognise that less than a third of overall success can be attributed to technology and that the remaining two thirds depend on processes, organisation and transformation capabilities.