By Mike Schmidt, AEM Industry Advisor Editor

A trio of technological trends are poised to completely transform the way in which the world thinks of vehicles and equipment in the future. It’s not a question of if the trends will reach maturity and cause industry-wide disruption, it’s a matter of when they will fundamentally change how people, goods and materials are transported from one place to another.

The three disruptive trends – automation, connectivity and electrification – are steadily gaining momentum with time. And manufacturers’ bottom lines depend on their ability to understand how they will grow and evolve in the coming years, as well as how they will be incorporated into the heavy equipment product offerings of tomorrow.

“The possibility for significant disruption exists in the industry,” said Torbjörn Holmström, senior advisor to the CEO, Volvo Group. “It’s very, very obvious now. These three trends are at such a mature level now that we’re seeing disruption on the technology side coming in the next five to 10 years.”

Technological Disruption Is Imminent

The world is changing very rapidly. Cities are growing larger every day, and populations continue to rise with time. The need for better – and smarter – transport solutions is growing. That’s the ultimate goal a number of industries are working toward making a reality and, as Holmström told attendees as the keynote speaker at this year’s AEM Product Safety and Compliance Seminar, cutting-edge trends like automation, connectivity and electrification can help achieve it.

Imagine the following scenario: Outside a large city, a fleet of electric dumptrucks and autonomous trailers are operating within safe and confined areas. They are charged while materials for a jobsite are loaded, and a driver enters to lead the connected convoy onto open roads. The autonomous connected trailers provide safe, modular and flexible vehicle convoys. The convoy’s transport system is enabled via an integrated cloud platform – connecting vehicles, people and infrastructure. Sensors detect environmental movements and react automatically to potential incidents, ensuring safety and preventing accidents before they occur.

With silent, emission-free vehicles being platooned, the efficiency and capacity of transport would be greatly improved. Furthermore, a wealth of new opportunities for planning cities and urban infrastructure would be available. It’s a future defined by autonomous, connected and electrified vehicles. Zero emissions and low noise would give an electric compact excavator access to environmental zones. Picture a silent and emission-free city located in a cleaner, safer and more resource-efficient world, one that comes about due to automation, connectivity and electrification working in concert with one another to improve efficiency, productivity and – perhaps most importantly – safety.

“This is the way we see the future going forward,” said Holmström. “Normally, our company just develops and puts our offerings out on the market, and we try to stay silent on what we’re doing. But with where things are headed, there’s just so much regulation. We need to be thinking out maybe 5-10 years in advance, so that everyone understands what’s coming.”


 “(Automation, connectivity and electrification) are at such a mature level now that we’re seeing disruption on the technology side coming in the next five to 10 years,” said Torbjörn Holmström, senior advisor to the CEO, Volvo Group. 


How The Industry Is Responding

According to the Volvo senior advisor, disruptive technologies and their potential effects on industries have been a focus for the company for many years. The company has responded with product development efforts, including building the foundation for a load-carrying system able to take transportation to the next level by going fully autonomous. In addition, Volvo is also testing hybridization of reloaders, fully electric excavators, as well as fully autonomous and electrified haulers.

“We’re talking about automated gearboxes, automated braking systems, engine control, electrified steering, ultrasonic sensors and radars, as well as new computing power that’s absolutely needed,” said Holmström.

And it’s that ongoing development of computing power, as well as how data is transferred from vehicles to infrastructure and back again via “the cloud,” that's critical to the evolution of transport. According to Holmstrom, Volvo has been exploring the concept of vehicle connectivity and determining how best to address high-speed communication between assets for years. Technology now allows for roughly 30-40 computers to work together and transfer relevant vehicle data at an incredible rate of speed, and it is also capable of connecting vehicles to the cloud, thus providing full visibility of the vehicle, in addition to location and environmental data.

“We now have uptime monitoring of full vehicles,” said Holmström. “We monitor the vehicles all of the time to see if there’s a failure code, or if there’s something else, and we’re alerting owners that service is needed. This in the infrastructure we’re building today, and we’re building it every day with our vehicles.”

The Future of Transport

So what does the future hold? According to Holmström, completely autonomous vehicles working in confined areas and in conjunction with reloaders, excavators and trucks in a well-organized system will become the norm sooner rather than later.

The ways in which goods and people are transported are experiencing a significant paradigm shift, one which will propel a number of industries into a future defined by highly efficient and integrated systems, connected infrastructure and intelligent vehicles. As a result, OEMs and manufacturers are constantly researching and developing new and better solutions in order to better meet the needs of both its customers and society as a whole.

Volvo’s research into automation, connectivity and electrification is just one example of how the industry is driving the evolution of vehicles, and the knowledge gained will allow for the development of functionality to drive efficiency, productivity and safety.  

Connected to the cloud, people, vehicles and logistical partners will be linked, no matter where they happen to be at any given time. And fully autonomous vehicles are coming – first in confined areas, but later in more public spaces – and, according to Holmstrom, everyone will be better off because of it.

“It’s never about technology for technology’s sake,” he continued. “It’s about how technical development can actually benefit customers and society.”

More Information

Torbjörn Holmström, senior advisor to the CEO for Volvo Group, was the keynote speaker at the 2018 Product Safety Compliance Seminar.

The 2019 Product Safety & Compliance Seminar and Product Liability Seminar will be held April 29-May 2 in Des Moines, Iowa. For more information on the Product Safety & Compliance and Product Liability seminars, contact Nathan Burton, AEM technical and safety services manager (, tel: 414-298-4126). 

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