By T Murrali:
ZF Friedrichshafen AG is gearing up to offer innovative concepts, and to make major investments to augment the capabilities of the logistics industry that is ahead of the passenger car sector in the automation of driving functions. Since the company has identified E-mobility and autonomous driving as strategically important, it intends to invest more than Euro 12 billion equally on these areas over the next five years, Wolf-Henning Scheider, CEO of ZF, said.
“We are revolutionising the ‘last mile’ so that packages can be delivered more cleanly, safely and on time. For this reason, we are working together with partners and customers to further develop our concept ready for series production within the next two years. Despite current challenges in the markets and increased spending for developing new technologies, ZF remains on course. We will achieve our goals for the current year which include our revenue targets, investment increases and debt reduction,” he said.
The ZF Innovation Van supports parcel delivery drivers and solves traffic problems. The ‘last mile’ in parcel logistics is an attractive use case. The van has demonstrated how intelligent networking, autonomous driving and an all-electric drive support parcel delivery services while also meeting rising delivery volumes, demand for individual delivery, and reducing emissions and traffic in city centres. The van is based on its high-speed super computer ZF ProAI, as well as its sensor set consisting of camera, radar and lidar. It is equipped with Level-4 autonomous driving functions and is designed to independently manoeuvre through city centres, stay in its lane even if without road markings, recognise both traffic lights and road signs and react to sudden hazardous situations. In addition, it can detect and drive around obstacles such as double-parked vehicles.
The FollowMe function, which utilises a tablet-based remote control, is particularly helpful for drivers. If two addresses are close enough that it makes more sense for the delivery driver to move on foot, the Innovation Van will follow the driver as if on a virtual leash. In addition, if there is no parking available at a certain address, the driver can send the vehicle ahead to the next stop where it will look for a parking space on its own. This will also help to avoid traffic jams in future caused by delivery trucks which are often double parked. The company is in concrete negotiations with several customers, Scheider said. ZF’s two latest world premieres, the Innovation Truck and the Terminal Yard Tractor, demonstrated how the company is responding to key freight challenges. These vehicles can autonomously manoeuvre and swap bodies, trailers and containers. The driverless, manoeuvrable vehicles improve efficiency, speed and environment-friendliness at depots, company terminal yards and container ports. On top of that, they can help to reduce accidents and property damage. Besides, such vehicles can also help address the constantly growing shortage of skilled workers in the logistics industry.
“Driverless transport vehicles and automated functions will play a significant role particularly in zoned areas like company terminal yards, forwarding company depots or air and sea ports. In the near future, we will be seeing more autonomous vehicles in such zoned areas faster than on public roads. The cost, safety and efficiency benefits for customers will make a difference here,” he said.
The smart logistics approach from the company also covers zero-local emission drives for all vehicle classes. Air pollution in city centres should be considerably reduced. As a response to international requests for quotations for electrically-powered buses, ZF has received orders for more than 1,000 of its AxTrax AVE electric portal axles. These will soon be contributing to 60 million zero-emission passenger km each year in cities like Los Angeles, London or Stuttgart.
The company is also accelerating the electrification of the drive in other commercial vehicle segments. For example, it has received a volume-production order for its new CeTrax electric central drive which is suitable for buses and trucks, for deployment in shunting vehicles. The electric axle drive system for light commercial vehicles will go into volume production in mid-2019. ZF has also been working on electrification of heavy-duty trucks. For the first time, a field test with the TraXon Hybrid commercial vehicle transmission, which was jointly conducted by ZF and DAF, demonstrated the benefits of electrification in heavy trucks. With all-electric manoeuvring as well as numerous hybrid functionalities, a potential fuel saving of between five and seven percent can be achieved.
Later addressing the roundtable after the presentation at the IAA 2018 show, Scheider said, he expects about 30 percent electrification even in the commercial vehicle segment, obviously for transport tasks. “Logistics services in the urban areas can be electrified while in the long-haul area, it is possible to electrify (to some extent) and we do that with our TraXon hybrid transmission, which can result in another four to five percent saving in fuel consumption and CO2 reduction. I don’t see full electrification in the long-haul area, such as coast to coast.”
Asked how does ZF see the revenue share from the new mobility in the next ten years, Scheider said, “From our e-mobility division we have roughly more than a billion Euro from sales. This will pick up, but very difficult to predict exactly because regulations are still unstable in many areas. The customer acceptance of the price-value proposition for electrified vehicles is unclear. We do not have clear prognosis, but certainly a double-digit growth year-on-year for the next five to seven years is possible.”
About the compelling factors for the fleet operators to look at electric vehicles, he said, efficiency is key for the logistics providers, since the additional time available for the driver helps him manage other tasks like dispatching or organising loads. Noise and pollution-free driving in urban areas is pushed by the regulators and is also sought after by the people.
For commercial vehicles, the company is developing a chassis system – Vehicle Motion Management. It has a dedicated team designing the domain controller that supervises the brakes, steering, damping and the drivetrain, to ensure smooth driving. It is possible due to digitalisation and connectivity by connecting with the customers through apps. This is certainly a very promising area of transport as it could give similar kind of experience as in the case of private car, he said.
The company is working with two cities in Germany on a dedicated track for the real driving operations of autonomous vehicles, which may be ready by next year. The traffic signals will have digital transmission so that the vehicles do not need to read the signal lights – red, amber and green, instead the vehicles get digital signal thereby enhancing safety further. “We will go in to regular service next year for public transport to test it. There will still be a person in the driver seat, for regulation purpose, but the vehicle will be autonomous,” Scheider said.