ZF's future technology for present day mobility

K Shivraj | Features | April 7, 2014
ZF's future technology for present day mobility

A cheerful looking Tata Nano climbs on the glass fa├žade of a building to beat the jam. It looks absurd, but the intention is clearly to highlight its new found manoeuvrability - courtesy of a well-engineered electric power steering. Developed by ZF Lenksysteme, a 50:50 ZF Friedrichshafen AG and Robert Bosch joint venture, the electric power steering sports a column mounted brushless motor. Apart from saving costs, such a technological feat could open up new possibilities.

Since most vehicles employ a design that is either pinion-type, or rack-type, a column mounted electric power steering (EPSc) saves space. In case of the Nano, the column-type electric power steering is power dependent. Its steering support is adjustable for a particular vehicle's speed. At speeds reach 80kmph, the EPSc cuts off assist to ensure a good feel, and inspire confidence. The active-return mechanism makes the EPSc feel like a hydraulic power steering in terms of feel, and experience.

Specialising in steering systems (through a JV), chassis systems and components, and transmissions, ZF Friedrichshafen AG was founded in 1915 in Germany to supply gears to Count Zeppelin's airship. It was in 1916 that the company turned to manufacture passenger and commercial vehicle transmissions. With presence in India spanning ten manufacturing plants, ZF supplied components and systems are not easy to view. They make their presence felt nevertheless, doing duty on vehicles from Tata Motors, Mahindra, Jaguar Land Rover, Ashok Leyland, AMW, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Volkswagen, and others, turning them into enjoyable, safe and efficient modes of travel.

Consider the 2014 Range Rover Evoque. It employs a 9-speed automatic transmission from ZF. It is the first passenger vehicle in the world to feature a 9-speed auto transmission, and now the Evoque feels more enjoyable than ever to drive. Different amounts of throttle help control what gear one is driving in. A light push of the pedal, and the transmission shifts up to save fuel. If this makes it more fuel efficient, the highly compact 9-speed auto-box (making optimal use of the planetary gear arrangement) kicks down as quickly. Dropping ratios with only a split-second delay. The manual mode allows change of gear using the steering wheel mounted paddles. It’s easy to flick between third and fifth, ignoring the taller high gears. They come into their own at cruising speed. Clearly, the 9-speed automatic transmission has made the Evoque quicker.

Quicker a 25-tonne tipper feels than it actually is on a narrow twisty mountain road on the outskirts of Pune. It is laced with a variable-ratio hydraulic power steering from ZF Lenksysteme, called the Servocom. The variable ratio hydraulic power steering will enter production in 2015. Featuring a screw and nut arrangement with variable pitch diameter and hydraulic assist, the Servocom turns the 25-tonne tipper into what could be described as highly drivable. Hair pin turns up a steep hill do not make the driver sweat; neither do they ensure that he flexes his biceps for a safe journey. With the pain of working the steering lost, it is anomalies like the stubborn accelerator pedal and a notchy shifting 9-speed transmission that draw flak.

If the 9-speed manual transmission on the 25-tonne tipper felt like it came from a truck two generations old, the 9-speed manual transmission of the Tata Prima 31-tonne tipper proved that it is worthy of a praise. Called the Ecomid, it is found on many new generation trucks in India. With high local content, the Ecomid offers high shift quality, enhanced operating safety and improved fuel efficiency. The only automotive supplier in the world, to make dedicated transmissions for trucks and buses, ZF is keen to offer Automated Manual Transmissions for trucks in the interest of safety and fuel efficiency.

AMTs save the driver the trouble of operating the clutch and shift gears. Available with an Intarder, the ZF AS Tronic AMT for trucks helps the driver concentrate on the road, and improve fuel efficiency by ensuring optimal gearing under most load cycles. Different driving styles fail to adversely affect the fuel efficiency of the truck.

For a safer and smoother bus ride, ZF offers a 6-speed automatic transmission (EcoLife) and low floor axle (AV 133). Capable of handling torque up to 2300Nm, EcoLife reduces fuel consumption by approximately 5per cent. It also reduces carbon-dioxide emissions, and offers 40per cent longer service life. Reducing noise emissions, EcoLife is capable of making city buses and coaches substantially more comfortable and efficient. Enabling minimum floor height, AV133, apart from covering alternative driveline concepts like trolley, electric and hybrid, ensures significant passenger comfort. A new version of ZF’s low floor portal axle, AV 133 uses alternative materials to save weight. AV133 can be integrated into existing platforms as well!

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