The human touch: Inside Volvo’s hometown factory
Visiting the Volvo Cars factory in the company’s hometown of Gothenburg gives real insight into quality, care, teamwork, training – and the pride taken in a job well done. We strolled around the production line, explored the Volvo way of working, and found out how the car you love took shape on the conveyor belts.
Volvo Cars’ Gothenburg factory is an impressive testament to the power of meticulous planning and large-scale engineering. Spending a day walking around it gives a very clear impression of how your car takes shape from a roll of sheet metal and a collection of parts. But it also tells us a lot about teamwork, training, expertise, and a work culture that has helped energise the city, giving it one more thing to be proud of.
In among the vast buildings housing the lines and workshops, you’ll find restaurants, cafés, shops and offices. And, most of all, groups of people. The human touch is extremely important when making the perfect car. As well as operating machinery and doing the detailed work, the people who work there are on hand to check and observe the quality of the work and the cars.
The press shop is the noisiest, most industrial-feeling part of the factory. Here, gigantic rolls of razor-sharp sheet metal, weighing up to 20 tonnes, are unspooled, cut and stamped into shape. As well as simply making sure that the process runs smoothly, there’s always a team of people to check the panels, smooth out any inconsistencies, and finish the meticulous work that the machines aren’t capable of doing themselves.
Here’s where we start to notice a Volvo way of working known as “Right from me” – where each worker only hands over a part or leaves a task when they’re sure that it’s completed, in its best condition, and ready. The parts then move on to the body shop with a checkmark of personal quality control.
Robot welders, automated guided vehicles and mechanical arms bring the parts together into completed car bodies. The people who work here carry out detailed tasks like spot welding and quality control, but the heavy lifting is done by machine. In this part of the factory each car gets its personality, in the form of the Radio Frequency Identity card that dictates what colour the car will be and how it will be kitted out. It’s where the made-to-order feeling that characterises the rest of the production line is born.
Paint in black
The atmosphere inside the paint shop is clean and, in some areas, quieter than you’d expect from a factory. Here, the chassis is submerged in a long chemical bath that looks like a cross between a car wash and a rollercoaster. When it’s dried, the car comes into a large and brightly lit warehouse for seals to be added manually. Finally, it’s painted: both by fabric-clad airbrush robots and by human hand.
The painted chassis makes its way to the assembly line and – in one of the factory’s most impressive-looking sections – is mechanically joined onto the base of the car at the so-called marriage point. From here, it’s in the hands of the employees on the line.
As the car is ferried through the factory, everything from its wheels to its wing mirrors is bolted on. Again, robots do some of the heavy work. There’s something uniquely satisfying about watching a graceful mechanical arm slot a dashboard and windows into place in seconds. However, it’s when you see the crowds of people who dip in and out of this process, checking that everything is secure and perfect, that you understand the sheer amount of care and attention that goes into making each car.
Watching the final checks – where a team of people sit in the seats, run their hands along the lines, check the rear-view mirror and test the seatbelts – is enough to give a feeling of real anticipation and excitement. But more than anything else, it gives you the lasting impression that, despite the thousands of robots and machines that help with the heavy lifting and extreme efficiency, these cars really are made by people.