Volvo’s virtual lab to link India R&D globally

by Sricharan R 08 Apr 2022


The Group’s TechLab in Bengaluru will enable its worldwide R&D to have an increased focus on new products and projects in electric mobility, autonomous vehicles and connectivity. 

The Volvo Group recently expanded its research & development (R & D) operations in India by laying the foundation for its Vehicle TechLab in Bengaluru. The TechLab is located near the company existing R&D set up plays a crucial part in the Swedish company’s global operations

When global business was put on halt during the pandemic, Volvo too had to shut its operations as well as R&D and innovation centers. However, the Indian R&D facility was open, Jan Gurander, deputy CEO of the Volvo Group said, indicating how important the Indian arm’s activities are to the Volvo Group. Now, with the virtual tech laboratory, the company hopes to strengthen its R&D footprint in India as well as develop a seamless integration with Volvo’s other global product development hubs. As Gurander put it, “India is playing a more and more important role for us. We are more active here than many think.”

Explaining the rationale of the new laboratory which as the name suggests will facilitate R&D in a virtual eco-system, Gurander said, “We plan to increase the numbers working here as well as infrastructure and services for our customers.”

Like many other global players who set up base in India, Volvo has been impressed by the “competency and the talents we see here in India and which are of very high standards”. That is why it is shifting more and more of our activities to India in terms of R&D and is the rationale for not “closing the operations of Indian R&D during the pandemic”.

The Volvo Group has been in India for 24 years, and as CR Vishwanath, Vice President, Volvo Group Trucks Technology, India, describes it the journey is that of “a serial investor”. Since 2020, Volvo has ramped up the hiring process. Volvo Group Trucks in India employs around 1600 engineers from 750 at the time of its inception, and this number will significantly go up in the coming years. “The TechLab is the platform to provide value to development activities, and accordingly enhance the company’s R&D staff,” adds Vishwanath. The R&D center will see the addition of another 400 engineers by the end of the current calendar.

The establishment of the virtual laboratory has to be seen in the context of the group’s global on-going transformation. According to Gurander, the Group has some of the one of the most ambitious science based target initiatives, and has gone on the record to say it intends to achieve net-zero value chain greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. The Group has forecast that by 2030, 50 percent of revenues will come from services and solutions and this is where India’s role is crucial.

India’s contribution
With the new Global TechLab, the Volvo Group’s R&D operations in India are among the largest development sites outside of headquarters in Sweden. Gurander mentioned that the Sweden R&D center is double the size of what India is. “In Sweden, you have a lot of test beds and centers. Everything is connected to R&D. We do not have plans to have that here in India. But this place will have its ownership on certain products and projects. There is competency that they will contribute and added value,” he said.

The increased focus on product and project responsibility within Volvo Group’s R&D operations in India, has led to a demand for a framework that will support the enhancement of product knowledge and prototype validation capability within India.  The new lab can house complete trucks, chassis and aggregates and is equipped with supporting infrastructure engineers to test, validate and experiment their ongoing work - through a set up equipped with driving simulators, test benches, 3D scanners among various other tools and systems.

“This Vehicle TechLab is designed as a collaborative virtual workspace creating a simulated workshop environment using technologies like virtual reality, human body motion tracking and realistic digital rendering of vehicles that allows Volvo engineers across the globe to connect. This facility will significantly reduce the development times, improve problem solving and offer better insights and speed in building innovative solutions,” said the VP.

Explaining how the lab works, Vishwanath cites an example saying that when engineers are working on a design, the TechLab will help them to incorporate a lot of things, which they do not have to do later. There is also a lot of simulation where the team of engineers work jointly with all other development sites. This helps them reduce the cost of development also. “We can have a joint collaboration to solve problems in a much faster way,” he added.

The new addition to Volvo’s R&D will focus on a range of areas that include vehicle technology, electric, autonomous as well as connectivity solutions. Engineers will have access to complete products which could well include battery electric or fuel cell electric trucks too. Like R&D centers everywhere no mandate can be complete without a reference to the emerging world of electric mobility “The future of mobility will see a lot of transformation which basically translates as electric, connected and autonomous. We will be shifting gears into the new future of mobility,” Vishwanath said.

Faster time-to-market
The establishment of the TechLab is expected to be seamless collaboration and faster time to market for products, says Kamal Bali, President & MD, Volvo Group, India. “At Volvo Group in India, we are proud to be playing a key role in shaping the future of the global world of transportation. This is one of the most exciting times to be an engineer.  Our aim is to provide one of the most rewarding and satisfying work environment for our engineers – a culture that offers learning, capability building, high feasibility to turn ideas into actions, a global network, good work-life balance, flexible workplaces and that which is marked by trust, transparency and collaboration – while being immersed in advanced technology that goes in making world leading trucks,” he said during the event.

In July 2021, the Volvo Group launched CampX, the Volvo Group’s Global Innovation platform in Bengaluru.  CampX has already engaged with close to 70 start-ups and is now building multiple proofs-of-concept (POC) with several startups. According to Gurander, the CampX functions as an innovation hub, while the TechLab is where vehicle validation will take place. “We have gained a lot of interest from startups. We are in the phase of evaluation. The solutions that will emerge are for our global customers,“ he said.