Equipment Type

Devil's in the Details

May 24, 2011

Rod Sutton is editorial director of Construction Equipment magazine. He is in charge of editorial strategy and writes a monthly column for the magazine, The Sutton Report. He has more than 30 years in construction journalism, and has been with Construction Equipment since 2001.

I've visited factories all over the world operated by major manufacturers of construction equipment, and my recent stopover in Eskilstuna, Sweden, to visit Volvo Construction Equipment reminded me once again how much goes on behind the scenes to ensure machine performance.

Manufacturers invest huge amounts of capital in quality-control processes. That investment contributes to machine cost, but it's done to guarantee machine performance. Volvo's operation stands out as an example of some of those investments that manufacturers as a group make.

  1. Testing parts as they come off the line. Despite highly organized, clean, and well-run assembly lines, manufacturers serious about quality pull components randomly and test them. Here in Sweden, I saw the transmission of a motor grader disassembled and tested. Twelve different gears were exposed in the assembly. The process, we were told, takes five days. If all is well, the unit proceeds to the paint shop.
  2. Attention to the smallest detail. Volvo dedicates a team of five measurement specialists to do nothing more than validate tolerances. They test a master gear once a year to ensure that the gears it tests stay within tolerances. This team even measures the tolerances on the instruments used on the shop floor to measure tolerances. The accuracy, I was told, is within 1/50th the width of a human hair.
  3. Chemistry, metallurgy and...paint? Volvo, and others, have teams of chemists and engineers who do nothing more than analyze metal compounds, oils, and paint. They stress-test components to failure and analyze the results. They simulate years of exposure to extreme heat or corrosive salt air. They evaluate the new technologies coming out of reseach-and-development.

 

There is much more that, frankly, I just wasn't able to catch. But the point is pretty clear. Each piece of construction equipment leaving these factories is quality inspected in ways it's difficult to imagine.

Try to visit your favorite manufacturer's factory. A visit behind the scenes will reassure you that the investment you're making is worth it...or not.

In a global market, a company's machine will be remembered for its performance in whatever locale it's assigned: from northern Sweden to the sands of the Middle East to the U.S. Midwest. A major global brand isn't going to last today if its gear teeth don't mesh or the paint upon which its logo is affixed doesn't stand up.

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