Volvo Cars' nose team - the human nose is still out of competition
As yet, there is no technical device which can replace the human nose or, in particular, determine if something smells good or bad. For this reason, Volvo Car Corporation established some years ago a ‘smell test panel'. Our 'nose team' is consisting of eight specially selected people with ‘standard' noses, who guide the designers in their choice of materials and production methods, especially for the interior of the car. A new Volvo must smell like a Volvo!
What smells good or bad is a subjective judgement.
"Different people have different perceptions of smells," says Patrik Libander who is a test engineer and responsible for the smell test panel. "These are due to differences between generations and cultures, and to the different associations made by different people depending on their own experience. However, this is one of the things that makes my job exciting."
The interior of a modern car contains many different materials, such as plastics. These, in turn, contain chemical substances. While most of these substances remain ‘locked' in the material, small quantities can evaporate and give off the smell typical of a new car. Volvo Cars monitors these substances and the smells they may cause in the cabin.How the interior trim details should smell is the task of the ‘smell test panel'.
The panel consists of eight people who undergo a careful selection process to ensure that they all have a ‘normal' sense of smell and do not differ appreciably from each other in this respect. There are always four people attending at each test occation.
"People who like an odour that others in the panel think is unpleasant are excluded," explains Patrik Libander, "likewise those who either cannot detect or are hypersensitive to smells. All must be non-smokers, since smoking can affect the sense of smell."
The panel evaluates the smell from the interior trim items on a scale from 1 to 6, on which ‘1' indicates ‘Not noticeable' and ‘6' is ‘Unbearable'. To secure approval, the test ranking must not exceed ‘3', which is ‘Clearly noticeable, but not yet unpleasant'.
The interior designers also use a sunshine simulator at the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, situated in Borås, an hour's drive from Göteborg. There, a car equipped with a new interior trim material can be tested by placing it in the simulator for a couple of hours until the cabin temperature has reached about 65ºC. Analyse equipment are then used to measure the levels of TVOCs (Total Volatile Organic Compounds) and aldehydes in the interior. Finally, members of the Volvo Cars ‘smell test panel' sit in the car and evaluate the smell on the fixed scale.
"We impose strict demands both on ourselves and our suppliers," concludes Patrik Libander and adds "Travelling in a car should be a pleasant experience for the nose as well."