Nobody’s at any time questioned me to appear work in a automobile manufacturing facility. The reasons for that are reasonably obvious: Factories could be dangerous to me, and I could be harmful to the merchandise. The vehicle organizations are likely much more anxious about that next part—digits can be reattached, but wheels just cannot, as soon as I cross-thread all the studs. It takes a very long time to establish a standing for high quality, but a quite brief time for me to set up your turbo backwards.

Despite a number of inherent challenges, Volvo invited me to occur establish a 2019 S60 at their new 1,600-acre plant in Charleston, SC. That means they have a lot confidence in me, or perhaps just self-confidence in their excellent control procedures.

Clocking In

Some Volvos are however a small boxy.

Gary Coleman for Volvo Cars America

In advance of showing up at the Volvo manufacturing unit, I built a pit stop at TJ Maxx to invest in on your own some khakis (some Izod chinos to be exact). Why? Because you can not have rivets on your outfits when you’re doing the job up coming to freshly painted vehicles, and it would be unusual to wear go well with trousers whilst slinging a torque wrench.

After that, I’m suited up with an orange polo shirt and metal-bolstered sneakers—built for maximum consolation and greatest toe protection. Suitably attired, new recruits are despatched for schooling in the processes that will utilize out on the manufacturing unit ground. The aims are basic: keep safe and sound, develop excellent cars and trucks, and do it all quickly.

To master the routines, you are dispatched to a practice line the place the “cars” are wooden containers with crude parts you will need to bolt on as the line moves. For a presented ingredient, you will need to confirm the portion quantity in advance of you start off slinging wrenches. You need to have to make guaranteed your power software is spinning in the proper direction, and that you’re fastening the aspect with the appropriate nuts.

“The targets are very simple: keep secure, develop ideal cars and trucks, and do it all immediately.”

None of that appears as well daunting, but when you’ve received a number of components to attach while the vehicle entire body moves inexorably towards the future station, discombobulation sets in speedy. When that happens, you have one recourse: pull the cable the runs over your station and cease the line.

At the Volvo plant, any employee can end the line for any motive. When somebody pulls the cord, a track starts off blasting—a distinct song for each individual space, so a supervisor will promptly know which spot requirements aid. In the instruction room, it’s “Welcome to the Jungle.” My petition to modify that to Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business” is swiftly rebuffed.

Signing up for the Line


Gary Coleman for Volvo Cars and trucks The us

Provided a selection of assignments, I head for a powertrain station, in which I’ll set up travel shafts and purge valves with an exceptionally patient Volvo staff member named Tramaine Smalls.

“Each car or truck coming down the line is various, so you’ve got to check and see what it is—especially whether or not it is hybrid or not,” he tells me.

Righty tighty.

Gary Coleman for Volvo Vehicles The us

The rationale for that, I soon learn, is that the motor facet of the hybrid driveshaft is specifically the same as the non-hybrid, but the total duration is way shorter, presumably because the electrical motor normally takes up some serious estate. So you do not want to bolt just one of those people into a non-hybrid, lest you conclude up with a stubby driveshaft that does not arrive at the hub, producing to pull that overhead cable even further down the line (the song is “La Bamba” nevertheless no one particular appreciates why.)

Smalls’ task is to set up driveshafts on both equally sides of the motor and then in good shape a nest of plastic tubes that feel to be part of the purge valve method. He’s so smooth and untroubled that this all appears easy—hang the loose conclude of the driveshaft with a cable, seat the splines, commence a couple bolts, torque them down with a computerized wrench, mark them with a paint marker. That’s one particular driveshaft.

The other 1 is a very little different (it has a snap ring), and the purge valve tubes demand each some screwdriver action and crimping a clip in spot. All of this transpires as the floor moves beneath you: you’re not going relative to the motor, but everything’s shifting by the manufacturing unit, with stripes on the ground denoting where by your workspace begins and ends.

If you’re not done by the time your motor is on its way out of your spot, it’s “La Bamba” time. The songs never ever plays on account of Smalls, but for me—that’s a various tale. The very good news is that when you check out to install a driveshaft backwards, it won’t go in that way. Belief me.

Carry In the Robots

Mega-Wrench, ready to bolt.

Ezra Dyer

Like any fashionable car or truck factory, the Volvo plant is also highly automated. Pieces of it are mainly dim, even when the line is operating, due to the fact robots do not want light-weight. But you can see exactly where automation hits its boundaries, where by the dystopian darkness presents way to a bustling human business.

Even at the marriage station (where by the lessen fifty percent of the chassis is bolted to the upper entire body), the mega-robo-wrench that motors up beneath every single car has its bolts equipped by a man or woman, who will make certain just about every of the 20-additionally wrench heads is loaded with the appropriate hardware.


Owning in fact set up propulsion elements on somebody’s model new S60, I have a newfound appreciation for the crazy logistical nightmare of car manufacturing. 1000’s of areas, assembled by man and equipment, coalesce to develop into this one entity: a car or truck.

When I climb into an S60 T6 for my travel dwelling, I know that there are driveshafts driving and purge valves purging somewhere less than that very long hood. But it’s a tribute to the Volvo make approach that the moment I leave the manufacturing unit parking large amount, I neglect all about how damn difficult it is to make a car.

Till the next time I hear “La Bamba.”

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