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At the heart of armored vehicle maintenance, at Arquus

(B2 in Saint-Nazaire) Engaged in the Sahel or the Sentinel operation, the light armored vehicle and the VT4 are today essentials of the French army, in France as well as on the outside. In the back, men and women work hard to keep them in working order

A VT4 (left) and a VBL (right) sit prominently (© AF/B2)

At the entrance to the site, rows of armored vehicles and trucks park in the sun. Two models are proudly displayed next to the sign of the Arquus group (1). It is a light armored vehicle (LAV) and a 4x4 ground vehicle (VT4). On their own, they illustrate the change in activity that the Saint-Nazaire industrial site is undergoing.

In Saint-Nazaire, focus on maintenance

In the premises of the factory, we busy ourselves, we tinker, we dismantle, we weld, we paint. The noise of the machines, in the background, is incessant. At the entrance, earplugs are offered. Construction machinery criss-crosses the site. Markings on the ground are even provided - and repeatedly reminded - to allow pedestrians to circulate without danger. An accident quickly occurred...

A redistribution of production sites

Here, the goal is to focus on the maintenance and repair of wheeled machinery. The group implemented a new industrial strategy in 2020, and redistributed activities between different production sites. The production of new machines is therefore now done in Limoges, the logistics are ensured in Garchizy and the militarization of the engines as well as the production of mechanical sub-assemblies, in Marolles. The Saint-Nazaire site specializes in the operational maintenance of all products in the range (ACMAT, Panhard, RTD).

Skills extended to others

With the long-term possibility of extending to other brands? " We are now the only industry to have a site that does maintenance », assures the director of the site Laurent Postollec. " If we are able to repair our entire range, there is no reason for us to limit ourselves to these ».

Among the wheeled machines to which the skills of the site could be extended: those developed in partnership with other manufacturers, such as with Nexter as part of the Scorpion program for the army. " I am preparing to perhaps be able to repair vehicles that are not necessarily from the range “, supports this pillar of the Volvo group.

It is now here that the imposing armored vehicle is repaired and modernized, to reach the “Ultima” standard. Its capabilities are demonstrated on the test track, in real conditions. " This is where all vehicles leaving the factory are tested “explains one of the drivers.

Inside it's shaking, and it's going fast

The man takes us on board for a short (but intense!) demonstration. No sooner had the seat belt been fastened than the racing car took off at full speed and sped off, with hardly any qualms for the two journalists who clung as best they could to the handles. Inside, it shakes, and it goes fast. The model is no longer very young, it dates from the 1990s. But it is resistant. Our driver fully exploits the latest improvements of the car and takes advantage of the passage to 130 HP (against 90 in the previous version). Chills guaranteed! Another development caught our attention: the installation of air conditioning, which was a big plus during this sunny day.

(© AF/B2)

The smell of paint on the latest VT4

After this eventful escapade, return to dry land. But not without surprises. Head to the factory premises. Here, it is the smell of paint that surprises first: The latest VT4s are being militarized, that is to say being transformed from a civilian car to a military car (equipment replacement, For example).

A militarized civilian model

Built on a civilian base from a Ford Everest model, the SUV is then partially disassembled to remove components that will not be useful in a military context or that will be replaced by military components. The workers thus begin by removing headlights, mirrors, rear shelves, etc. Then the windows and the wheels are covered with a kind of cardboard tarpaulin, before the car goes through a cube which removes its initial paint and gives it a first coat of military paint.

The end of the new

These vehicles will only be produced until 2023.” The end of VT4 production marks the end of new production in Saint-Nazaire “, we are told. Previously, " 80 to 90% of our activity was new vehicles, but for Bastion and VLRA, therefore for the export part », adds Laurent Postollec.

(© AF/B2)

New solutions for export

Here, the teams also support customers in equipment training. A service which in particular relieves the site personnel of these maintenance operations to devote priority to orders from its main client: the army.

virtual reality tools

In addition to the training loan » with PowerPoints as a bonus, training « innovative is offered. For this, the company uses virtual reality tools. " The virtual makes it possible to bring a first pedagogical approach”. Thanks to this, it is possible to "seeing through a vehicle, its operation, on the engine, electronics, etc. » and undergo initial training. Learning that will be later “completed on an actual hardware maintenance operation “, explains Thomas Brice, responsible for support strategy, customer relations and maintenance in operational conditions (MCO).

Skills maintained remotely

These new training solutions allow site workers to stay out of theaters of operation. But it gives soldiers the means to be able to " face a number of problems themselves on the spot ", without having to do " heavy maintenance ". Such training makes it possible to form wider, faster » and to mobilize « less materials “, explains the manager. The offer is mainly intended for export customers to allow " maintain skills remotely ».

Dematerialize the diagnosis : when the technician sees what the customer sees

Another means deployed to relieve the site teams: dematerialized assistance. Connected glasses make it possible to carry out a diagnosis “ pushed enough “, even from a distance. In practice, the technician can visualize exactly what is seen by the customer ", and so " dematerialize the diagnosis ". A particularly useful tool when borders were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, when trainers could not travel to their clients' countries. A practice destined to develop? We will still have to wait...

(Agnes Faure, st.)

  1. Arquus was born from the merger of the French land armament brands Panhard, ACMAT and Renault Trucks Defense (RTD). Despite an attempted sale in 2016, the company is still part of the Swedish Volvo Group.

Report during a press trip organized by Arquus to its Saint-Nazaire site, at the end of September

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