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ZF Friedrichshafen AG has commissioned a technology centre at Hyderabad to pursue progress in the digital space.

Story by:

Bhushan Mhapralkar

Present in India since 1982 through joint ventures until it set up its own subsidiary at Pune in 2007, ZF Friedrichshafen AG has commissioned a technology centre at Hyderabad. Spanning 100,000 sq. ft., the technology centre will help the tier 1 automotive supplier to pursue progress in the digital space. Adding to ZF’s manufacturing footprints at Coimbatore and Pune, the technology centre highlight’s ZF’s commitment to India where it will be investing Euro 15 million over the next five years. Apart from fostering high-end innovations which will focus on bringing advanced technology to India as well as localise strategic business activities including research, design and development for global market initiatives, the centre will also look at leveraging academic research communities from India. To be dedicated to electronics, embedded software and mechanical engineering, the centre will support ZF’s global development teams, enabling the company to accelerate local product development. Built in a short span of eight months, the centre, according to Mamatha Chamarthi, Chief Digital Officer of ZF, will become a pillar of innovation for the company.

Leveraging frugal engineering qualities

Aiming to leverage the frugal engineering abilities India is known for through the technology centre, Chamarthi said that they are looking at creating a low cost model of its nine-speed transmission that is offered to commercial vehicle OEMs in India. Announcing that the technology centre at Hyderabad will play a crucial role in carrying our safe routing as part of ZF’s three main stays – see, think and act, ZF CEO Dr. Stefan Sommer, said, “The safe routing of technologies as we expect significant change in automobiles comes under the think part.” Dedicated to electronics, embedded software and mechanical engineering, the technology centre at Hydreabad will support ZF’s global development teams, enabling the tier 1 automotive supplier to accelerate local product development and support its non-automotive operations as well as customers.

Looking at harnessing the skill set present in India to develop world class technology solutions for ZF across the globe, in addition to accelerating local product development, the technology centre, said Chamarthi, would provide employment to 2500 individuals by 2020. “Our focus when it comes to digitisation is on our products. We are looking at many things; transmissions in CVs for example can be connected and monitored to help with remote diagnostics, and move forward to prognostics and maintenance,” she added. Stating that they are looking at different business models like not charging for the entire transmission at once, and charging only a quarter of it, Mamatha said, “We are looking not just at technology but also at how it can help us to come up with different business policies. Not just to support organic growth but to support new revenue models that contribute to growth.”

ZF Friedrichshafen am 20.09.2016 bei der IAA Hannover

Premium, and cost effective

With all five divisions of the ZF Group represented in the Indian market, and having local production companies that manufacture parts for diverse vehicle applications, it is not tough to understand and acknowledge ZF’s intention to increase its footprint in India. Said Sommer, “The motivation for the technology centre at Hyderabad came from the company’s digitisation strategy. There is a huge need in software capacity and expertise to serve the digital future of our products. With software as the main point, the centre at Hyderabad will support all our technology centres in the world. It will also help us to stay close to our customers by leveraging new software and intelligence of our think, act and see strategy.” The technology centre at Hyderabad, apart from helping ZF to set up a strong footprint in India, will help the group to support customers to achieve ambitious fuel efficiency targets the government has set. ZF has a lot of technologies to offer. These would effectively contribute to the group’s customers addressing regulatory and other market needs. The technology centre at Hyderabad, said Sommer, give us an opportunity to have the right technology from the cost and performance perspective.

ZF India Technology Center Inauguration by the hands of Mr. K. T Rama Ra... copy

A brainchild of Mamatha who comes from the TRW side of the business, the technology centre at Hyderabad has a lot riding on it. While Mamatha is keen to replicate ‘M-city’ (University of Michigan Mobility Transformation Center) at Hyderabad in association with the Telangana Government, according to Sommer, ZF is looking at being balanced and modular. Said Sommer, “ZF has traditionally been stronger in the high cost market. The TRW acquisition gives us an opportunity to push our case for cost efficient technology. TRW has excellent cost position when it comes to their products, and have premium technology and quality. We have learned a lot from TRW, and the strategy is to have market share in performance as well as cost effective areas of the business.”

ZF and auto megatrends

ZF has identified three megatrends in automobiles. It has added safety to these three megatrends to arrive at a zero accidents level. Said Sommer, “We feel that safety is an important element. Autonomous driving, as a megatrend, is a challenge. It is life spent in different ways for the end customer, for us the need is to comply with occupant safety. If autonomous driving wil bring value, we need to rethink the safety systems to be more flexible.” Interestingly, the engineers at ZF are looking at having airbags outside the vehicle to absorb impact energy and not let it reach the vehicle, and its occupants inside. Such technologies, it is clear, would call for sensors that not only let the vehicle to drive itself in traffic, but to also avoid crashes. The ‘extra safe’ technology ZF has developed is to prevent collisions. Electric gadgets are used to drive the tech, including a smart device. Vehicle position is automatically transmitted to the cloud to make a truly connected environment. With existing automobiles expected to be on the road for quite some time, to arrive at zero-accident autonomous vehicle environment, the use of smart device may make for faster progress according to Sommer. “Safety as a third megatrend has us investing in it in the form of technologies and solutions,” said Sommer.

ZF, Innovator Mamatha Chamarthi +++ indirekter Mitarbeiter

ZF is putting in place a global engineering strategy. The strategy is being aligned to the talent available. “In India, the talent is about new age technology,” said Mamatha. “The commissioning of the tech centre at Hyderabad in eight months was made possible because of innovation thereby, and agile processes,” she added. According to Mamatha, ZF is keen to leverage the problem solving mindset and the analytical nature of Indian talent to gather data and process it into intelligence that can be fed to make an actuator work. ZF, for CVs, apart from supplying axles, transmissions, etc., is offering Openmatics. It is a smart telematics platform that enables remote monitoring of truck fleets. ZF initially provided the hardware, but has now begun doing the software part too. This involves visualisation of data. It is an area that ZF is tinkering with according to Mamatha. Openmatics, she said, has grown into a Euro 100 million business.

At CES 2017, ZF showcased two specific technologies – Block chain and extra safe. Extra safe is not about every individual subscribing to it. It is about incorporating intelligence in the components of CVs that ZF builds. It would be app.-based. It would be about connecting and sharing the geo position. The cloud-based algorithm receives the data and processes it such that it can be applied to different situations. For example, to let a vehicle know that a pedestrian is walking towards the vehicle from behind another vehicle or similar such object such that the driver of the vehicle, or the vehicle itself is not able to see him. The vehicle can take action; the pedestrian can take action. Multiple such applications can be done, adding a concrete dimension to digitisation. Through the tech centre at Hyderabad, ZF is expected to look at building a predictive maintenance platform credibility. It could be made available to all the components ZF offers. ZF is partnering with GE for data monetisation by sharing best business practices according to Mamatha. ZF is keen to get into that space too. It is exploring, without getting away from its position as a mechatronics intelligence company. ZF is keen to venture into the space, and understand what Google is doing as Google ventures into the auto space and tries to understand what companies like ZF are doing. ZF is setting up a centre in Silicon Valley with Plug and Play as a partner.


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