Published on November 17th, 2018 | by Nicolas Zart0
International ZF — From Gearboxes To Autonomous Flying Drones
November 17th, 2018 by Nicolas Zart
Although ZF might not be a current household name, it has been associated with quality gearboxes for decades. Today, the company is embracing an open culture to meet its future goals and many industry demands.
From Gearboxes to Autonomous Flying Drones, ZF Embraces An Open Culture & Clean Mobility Future
The name of the game for current companies is survival at all costs. While some gracefully embrace the unknown by jumping into the electric vehicle (EV) and autonomous vehicle (AV) world, others still debate the finer points of turning electric and autonomous by 2022 or 2023, and will it be 2035?
Recently, ZF caught our attention with a press release showing a flying AV that delivers spare parts. The company officially received the approval to fly its autonomous drone prototype over its own factory premises. The drone is currently flying spare parts from its central warehouse.
Short of the obvious benefits of relieving vehicle traffic, autonomous drones save time and can quickly reach upper building floors. The goal for ZF is to deliver outside its factory premises and ease deliveries to other companies, as well as hard-to-reach residential areas.
Technically, the ZF autonomous drone uses six electric motors and can haul up to five kilograms (11 lb), three kilograms (just shy of 7 lb) with its grippers and transport box included. With a top speed of 30 km/h (18.5 mph), the drone can recharge in 30 to 40 minutes.
According to Fredrik Staedtler, head of ZF’s Commercial Vehicle Technology division: “At the IAA Commercial Vehicles show in Hanover this year, we showed the technologies which we are developing to enable the autonomous depot. With the drone, we are taking the transport chain to the next level.
“With approvals for automated drone flights from the Stuttgart Regional Administrative Authority and the German Air Traffic Control DFS, we can accelerate logistics processes in the plant and at the same time strengthen our technological leadership position.
“Chief Maintenance Technician Michael Wiest took advantage of ‘agile working’ at ZF and very quickly and creatively implemented logistics-by-drone from an initial idea. He pushed the project forward when policymakers were only considering allowing fully automated drone flights but had not yet drafted legal provisions.”
This news is important since Germany is now seriously embracing EVs and AVs despite past reluctance. ZF AV drones that could until recently only be used privately or commercially for mapping can now monitor, survey, and deliver parts. ZF is the first company granted that right in Germany.
Matthias Haberstroh, head of Supply Chain Management at ZF’s Commercial Vehicle Technology division, had to say the following: “We still need to make some adjustments to achieve a completely smooth flight before our delivery drone can be permanently integrated into the logistics process chain. … The transport system was extensively tested by our supplier, but we still had to further test a number of different navigation sensors on site in Friedrichshafen which also ensure precise positioning between the plant halls.”
The company plans to offer its autonomous flying drone to other companies, such as couriers, express, and parcel services.
What lies behind ZF’s AV drones is its “Next Generation Mobility” strategy, which aims to deliver a cleaner and more efficient mobility platform. The ZF Digital Convention offers its employees presentations and workshops on the digital transformation the company plans to undertake. ZF is fostering an open culture to encourage employees to think like entrepreneurs and contribute creative ideas. And, after all, isn’t that what any company should do?
ZF insists on a clean and safe automated mobility future that should be comfortable, affordable, and accessible to everyone anywhere. Mamatha Chamarthi, Chief Digital Officer at ZF Friedrichshafen AG, said: “It enables us to offer our products on a networked basis, comprehensively across diverse customer sectors. … To retain our leadership, ZF made an early decision to move both the Group and all its system solutions to the next evolutionary level in terms of digitalization.”
Arwed Niestroj, Vice President of the Digital Transformation and Global Innovation Hubs, insists on an open corporate culture that offers space to develop new ideas: “Successful digital transformation begins in the minds of the employees. … We have 146,000 potential digital innovators at ZF. To realize this potential to its fullest extent, we want to create an environment that integrates each individual and encourages them to think like entrepreneurs – to be curious and to have confidence in their own ideas.”
In a special internal “pitch night” called the “Digital Innovation Challenge” for the European region, ZF employees could submit their ideas in four main categories: “Digital Products and Services,” “Industry 4.0,” “Digital Business Models,” and “Culture & Workplace.” Each finalist presented their concepts to a jury consisting of ZF executives, board members, and experienced inventors. Funded winners will can develop their ideas for a “minimum viable product.”
A Digital Innovation Challenge for the Americas was pitched at the ZF’s Farmington Hills location in Michigan on November 1st. Two more events for the Asian region in Shanghai and Hyderabad will be at the end of November and mid-December.
I’m always struck at how a traditional car component company can turn around and embrace a cleaner, smarter future. If this press release and this one are anything to gauge, then ZF is on the right track.
You can read more on ZF’s Open Culture Clean Mobility Future here.