When the new plant opened fifty years ago, it quickly gained a special position in the region – both because of its size and also because the cars made there were symbols of progress and development. Back then the new Torslanda plant cost 240 million SEK to build. It was necessary because demand for Volvos had increased immensely and production capacity could no longer keep pace with demand in the existing premises. The Torslanda plant was one of the world’s most modern factories.
50 years after the opening of the Torslanda plant, Volvo Cars is now inaugurating the new TA3 body plant. This is part of Volvo Cars’ focus on SPA (Scalable Product Architecture) which sees investments totalling more than 70 billion SEK. With SPA Volvo Cars acquires production capacity and products that put the company in an excellent position for the future.
For the Gothenburg region the Torslanda plant has been something of a unique workplace. The total number of employees over the years is difficult to calculate but the figure is certainly in the hundreds of thousands. When the plant had its greatest need for manpower, more than 11,000 people worked in the Torslanda facility every single day. In 1945, 5000 cars were produced. In 1974, ten years after Volvo Car Torslanda became operational, that figure had risen to 270,000.
For many women in the 1960s and ’70s, the plant offered an opportunity to enter the labour force and develop in managerial positions. Today women constitute just over 20 percent of the total workforce.
From the very outset, the Torslanda plant set the standard in production technology, quality enhancement and working environment. Employee dedication and participation in the development of the plant was a crucial success factor back then, just as it is today.
Close cooperation with the unions was invaluable in creating a secure, safe and stimulating workplace. The union representatives also served an important social function by making recent immigrants welcome in the company. Large groups from Finland and what was then Yugoslavia, for instance, could speak with their local union representatives in their mother-tongue.
The production line in the three plant facilities was high-tech by the standards of the day, although many crucial operations were performed manually. About 90 sheet-metal parts arrived for the body assembly process and were joined together to create a safety body using about 10,000 welds. Each employee was more or less a specialist in his or her own area and did virtually the same job every day. The development of automated production and industrial robots was still about a decade or more away.
Today about 780 cars leave the assembly line at Volvo Car Torslanda every day, built by a workforce that is about the same size as when the original plant was inaugurated. The cars are built with the help of a production system that places immense demands on the individual employee’s competence and professional skill. Volvo Car Torslanda distinguishes itself from other car plants the world over by building no less than seven different models on one and the same production line, and this kind of flexibility demands a complex process.
An approach known as the Andon system is used to ensure quality throughout the production process. The aim of the system is to simplify the production process and make it easier to overview for the people working on the assembly line. One aspect of Andon is that every employee can sound the alert by pulling a yellow cord if a problem arises. A team board shows each day’s target achievement and quality level, so as to identify any possible areas of improvement.
Jimmy Sjöö has worked in the Torslanda plant since 1964 and he has experienced first-hand how 50 years have altered both the cars and the way they are built.
“During my 50 years at the Torslanda plant, we have seen an amazing development in every single respect. We’ve moved from the personal craftsmanship of the Amazon era to today’s advanced production processes as new models are developed. I’m really proud and happy to have worked with so many skilled and dedicated fellow-workers during my time at Volvo Cars.”
Virtually every single car produced is built in response to an order from a specific customer somewhere in the world. This is reflected in the jobs the employees do, which today are more varied and therefore require greater expertise and a more over-riding perspective on the part of everyone involved.
In order to secure the necessary competence for the future, it is important to keep a firm eye on the needs and demands that modern production technology imposes in various disciplines. This is done today in close cooperation with GTC, Göteborgs Tekniska College, which conducts most of its training in premises at Volvo Car Torslanda.
When the new body plant is inaugurated to coincide with Volvo Car Torslanda’s 50th anniversary, Volvo Cars will take the step to the next generation of models and car-building technology. The new shared model architecture, SPA, permits even greater variation using one standardised palette of components designed for several different models. The all-new XC90 is the first model based on the SPA platform and it will be unveiled later this year.
The production system in Torslanda is both flexible and efficient. Here too the employees play a crucial role in developing next-generation car building techniques. Despite immense technical complexity, the entire build process places the human being firmly in focus. New processes demand new knowhow and considerable involvement on the part of all concerned. Without the collective diversity and competence of the workforce, this development would grind to a halt.
Although the end result is still a Volvo ready for the road, a lot has changed since 1964. Today’s and tomorrow’s car builders have far greater responsibility and much broader competence that that required of their colleagues fifty years ago. As Volvo Car Torslanda now takes a firm step into the future with the inauguration of the new TA3 body plant, it does so from a position as one of the most modern car plants in the world.