Unveiling the XC60 Concept at the Detroit Motor Show in January 2007 was the climax of four months' intensive work at Volvo Cars Concept Centre. The centre is Volvo Cars' very own ‘inventors' workshop'. It includes eight different departments. The staff working in this centre are all specialists of different kinds, and they really know their stuff. The fabrication of the XC60 Concept had about 70 staff involved in working on it.
From start to finish
Laser equipment is used to cut hinge components in the sheet-metal workshop. There are about 30 or so metalworkers in this department. This time they have taken a V70 floorpan, then modified it as required for the XC60 Concept.
The body sides and roof have been made from carbon fibre, of about the same thickness as the sheet metal normally used for car roofs.
The Numerically Control milling department has numerically-controlled machine tools that can cope with most milling and cutting jobs. The workers use Rapid Prototyping equipment for machining components like buttons and lamp housings, straight from CAD (Computer Aid Development) input.
Next comes the Vehicle Development workshop, which provides all the electronic functions needed. A Volvo concept car has to have fully-functioning lighting and locking systems for instance, and its engine has to start. The computer programming of the tailgate electrical functions and soldering a diode board for the front lights are examples of this part of the production. Andreas Johansson, vehicle technician, works on a diode array for the headlamp assembly.
"It's really cool, being in on this from the design stage all the way through to the finished car. It means you've got to have broad knowledge," says Andreas Johansson.
Perfection in every last detail
Vacuum forming or thermoforming are methods used for producing interior components such as the panels for the car pillars and some of the lamp lenses. But it often takes many trial runs to produce the desired results.
Machine-milled acrylic has been used to produce the very distinctive headlamps on the XC60 Concept. On the XC60 they had to sand and buff them with very fine sandpaper to get the surface just right. Very carefully, they are fit into an outer shell of brushed aluminium, to produce a unique beam of light It takes countless measurements to ensure that all the separate parts of the car will come together perfectly to form the whole.
This is where the Geometry department comes in. Here they perform all the calculations and preparation of the tools which will turn design plans and drawings into components ready for manufacturing or fabrication. They have to see to it that all the parts for all the systems are suitable and ready for fabrication and assembly.
In the section known as the saddlemakers' shop they take care of the floor lining. On the XC60 Concept it is of dark-brown saddlequality leather - a little thicker than ordinary leather. This has to be soaked in water before it can be shaped and cut to size. Hard concentration is needed on the sharp blade used to trim the edges. The contrast stitching for the seat upholstery is in a lime-green thread.
In a separate room, the revolutionary tailgate opening options have been causing a few headaches. Two experts have spent seven weeks, full-time, making the design work well in practice.
The clever design of the tailgate, means that it can open in three stages. There was a lot of experimenting to make it work, and in the end the team were forced to build a rig to test its functioning thoroughly.
At all the appropriate junctures in its assembly, the car is taken next door for coats of paint in the Pilot Plant paintshop. The process is different when you have a carbon fibre body - you can't force the drying process.
The exterior has a three-coat metallic finish. But this shop does interior paintwork too. Parts of the centre stack console and the backs of the seats, for instance, had three coats as well. The top coat for the XC60 Concept is a clear lacquer to make the surface look slightly rubbery. And many trial coats were needed for some of the lamp systems, to get the shades and surface effects just right.
"It's ofter a question of just a few drops more or less when you mix your own paints. A shade more yellow perhaps, or a little more green. We do practically everything ourselves - it's great fun!" says Mikael Banryd in the Pilot Plant workshop.
Thorough preparation work always takes a lot of time for paintwork, but it is absolutely essential if the end-result is to be perfect.
A Concept made to last
Most car-makers develop concept cars to show off futuristic designs and to attract attention to the brand. But not many do as Volvo does - build them themselves.
There was a time when it took up to 36 months to produce a concept car. With the XC60 Concept, it was done in eight. From the project 'go-ahead' in April, the work started in August, the four months in the Concept Centre and the freight from Torslanda to Detroit in January. It was teamwork at a record speed of eight months.
Once the decision was taken to build the XC60 Concept, the Concept Centre began planning and staffing the project in the run-up to summer. Their time schedule was planned in minute detail.
The people building it have to be a tightly-knit bunch, and you have to work closely with the designers and design engineers.
The first model of the car is assembled on computer on the basis of styling and design engineering input. The physical clay model made next gives more scope for fine-adjustment and refinement of the design. The end-product is using carbon fibre. A concept car needs to be a showcase for bold design and also ‘a bag of candy ' for the technical people.
Volvo Cars' view of its concepts is that they should be used for long periods. A concept car has to go on tour to motor shows all around the world. And many of them end up in museums. So they need to be made to last. It has to be of top quality - it will be subjected to intense scrutiny by people in the same business. The impact you're
looking for is a car that takes people's breath away when they see it. And that was the result when the XC60 Concept was unveiled by Volvo Cars Senior Vice President Design Steve Mattin.
About 70 staff at Volvo Cars Concept Centre in Gothenburg were involved in making the XC60 Concept. Among them are experts in milling techniques, lathe operators, upholstery experts,sheet-metal workers, technicians and engineers.
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