ZF’s vision of the future commercial truck is automated, connected, and electrified, and the company shared its latest advancements toward what it calls its Next-Generation Mobility strategy on July 19 at its testing facility in Jeversen, Germany.
ZF said it is now the largest supplier with the broadest portfolio to the commercial vehicle industry after purchasing Wabco in 2020 and combining it with its existing commercial-vehicle operation into the Commercial Vehicle Solutions division earlier this year.
With both commercial vehicle and passenger-car businesses, as well as a global footprint, ZF claims it can transfer technologies and competencies across vehicle segments in areas such as automation and electric drivetrains. That is, even if the technologies shown here are not yet available in North America, they may be in the future.
Steering by Wire Advances the Road to Self-Driving Trucks
One example is ZF’s latest announcement for its passenger car offerings, a new electric steer-by-wire system that will be launched by a major global automaker within the next year.
Steer-by-wire technology uses electrical signals to transmit driver commands to the steering system, eliminating the mechanical link between the steering wheel and the front axle.
“ZF’s smart by-wire systems usher in a new era of vehicle control by putting an end to mechanical connections,” said ZF CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider. “With ZF’s steer-by-wire technology, new safety and comfort features such as autonomous emergency evasive maneuvers or parking in very confined spaces are possible.” It represents a significant step forward toward fully self-driving cars and trucks by introducing new design and engineering freedom.
“ZF’s new steer-by-wire technology is an important prerequisite for advanced automation in passenger cars and, true to our guiding philosophy of ‘develop once, deploy anywhere,’ will also be applied to commercial vehicle automation,” Scheider added.
According to ZF, by-wire is an ideal fit for future electric and automated vehicles. The company also offers brake-by-wire with Integrated Brake Control and electronically controlled active suspensions.
By-wire technologies allow the amount of steering assist or brake torque to be tuned to mimic the typical feel that drivers expect, but they can also be instantly adjusted to increase brake force to reduce stopping distances or steer around an obstacle more expertly than drivers can.
Officials stated in response to a reporter’s question that steer-by-wire would eventually replace the company’s ReAx electric steering assist, which is currently being tested for autonomous-truck applications.
“Because of our expertise with supercomputers and smart actuators… we are in a unique position to control all dimensions of a car or truck’s driving dynamics,” Scheider told reporters. “We can connect all of these components and control them electronically.” It’s a whole new world.”
ZF’s EPS, electronic power steering, is a step in that direction on the commercial vehicle side, and “is an important prerequisite for future driving systems and a higher degree of automation,” according to Wilhelm Rehm, head of ZF’s Commercial Vehicles Solutions division.
eMobility for Commercial Vehicles of the Future
Rehm also stated that the CV division “can quickly take over e-mobility innovations from passenger cars into the truck.”
According to Scheider, ZF’s commercial vehicle business benefits from the company’s passenger-car sector’s economies of scale. “It’s clear to us at ZF that the future of mobility, for cars and trucks, will be electric,” he told reporters.
ZF introduced a new integrated, modular electric driveline, CeTrax 2, for commercial vehicles weighing up to 44 tons gross vehicle weight. The new system has a good power-to-weight ratio and a well-integrated, compact design. According to the company, this enables a high, sustained output of 360 kW and improved efficiency through powershift gear changes.
It also includes high-end technologies adapted from ZF’s passenger car expertise, such as an innovative cooling system and a silicon carbide-based inverter. Next year, production with a global vehicle manufacturer will begin.
eWorkX, a new electric power take-off, was announced a few weeks ago.
ZF officials also stated that by combining smart technologies and control systems for both truck and trailer, the company can take a holistic approach to sustainability. According to Rehm, the company is focusing on the benefits that can be realized by looking at the tractor and trailer as a whole. Improved efficiency yields better fuel economy now and can help extend the range of electric trucks in the future.
“By integrating our individual solutions into a complete system, even across trucks and trailers,” Rehm explained, the company can improve efficiency, safety, and security.
ZF is demonstrating how its complete vehicle approach represents a significant step towards the industry goal of ‘zero accidents’ and next level efficiency by equipping innovation trucks and semi-trailers with a suite of its latest safety and efficiency technologies.
Automated Commercial Vehicle Solutions from Start to Finish
With the next generations of its Adopt (Autonomous Driving Open Platform Technology) platform, ZF is also working on commercial vehicle automation. By enabling control of all relevant vehicle actuation systems, Adopt translates driving instructions from Virtual Driver applications (Autonomous Driving Artificial Intelligence) to real vehicle motion commands.
Adopt 2.0 focuses on low-speed yard automation applications with top speeds of up to 20 km/h. ZF also demonstrated ADOPT 3.0, which allows for hub-to-hub highway applications at speeds of up to 80 km/h.
Officials from the company emphasized the growing importance of computers and software in their operations. Scalar, a digital solutions platform for commercial vehicle fleets that enables efficient Transport-as-a-Service, was unveiled at Global Technology Day. It is a fully automated, AI-powered planning, routing, and dispatching solution.
ZF Scalar combines and connects artificial intelligence with technologies found in commercial vehicles and third-party systems. The platform will assist fleet operators in increasing operational efficiency, sustainability, planning reliability, cargo and passenger safety, and cargo and passenger safety.