ZF is entering the next phase of digitalization by expanding its strategic collaboration with Microsoft. The mobility technology company will create a holistic data and integration platform, the ZF Cloud, to digitalize all of ZF’s industrial and operational production and business processes on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. The new capacities will process the huge data volume generated by vehicles using ZF technologies to further optimize connectivity of ZF components and enable entirely new vehicle functionalities, including for automated driving and autonomous shuttles. By leveraging Microsoft’s comprehensive set of cloud, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and data technologies, ZF is becoming a cloud-native mobility services provider, delivering clean, safe convenient and affordable mobility solutions to its customers. To accelerate its digital transformation, ZF is investing billions of euros into the digital transformation of the company over the next years, thereof a significant amount in the collaboration with Microsoft.
Seventy percent of the data traffic in the ZF Cloud is expected to come from vehicle sensors enabling new functions. An example: the new ZF height level sensor provides continuous feedback on road conditions through the ZF Cloud and can warn road users in real time of road damage and obstacles.
“The data supplied by ZF products and our business processes will be integrated into a comprehensive cloud architecture in all areas. This enables us to significantly improve our efficiency and speed. We increasingly think and act like agile tech companies enabling us to better serve our customers around the globe. With Microsoft, we have an ideal partner who will make a major contribution to the digitalization of the entire ZF company,” said ZF’s CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider. “Digital transformation is reshaping the transportation industry, enabling mobility services providers to empower employees, enhance productivity and deliver unique customer solutions faster,” said Judson Althoff, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, Microsoft. “In partnership with Microsoft, ZF is pushing its digital capabilities to the next level and using the Microsoft Cloud and AI solutions to accelerate the delivery of mobility innovations and streamline business operations through a digital work environment that helps its employees shape the future of mobility.”
Cloud functionalities will benefit all strategic technology fields where ZF is operating. “The new ZF Cloud will enable a fully digitized and integrated sales and operations planning process along our end-to-end supply chain,” said Dr. René Deist, chief digital officer (CDO) in charge of driving digital transformation at ZF. The unified data platform combines specific customer requests with a rolling long-term demand forecast, which will allow ZF to anticipate internal and external capacity needs based on new market developments. In addition, digitally connecting ZF’s supply chain with the ZF Cloud will provide seamless end-to-end supply chain visibility and tracking of material movements. Full visibility enables a faster response to potentially challenging market developments to minimize or avoid supply chain interruptions and ensure timely customer deliveries.
Microsoft Azure cloud, data and machine learning capabilities help ZF optimize the data exchange between a broad range of cloud-connected ZF components and create new products or business models using Artificial Intelligence (AI). For example, for automated and autonomous driving, the ZF Cloud enables a continuous data flow between autonomous ZF shuttles and their environment. ZF envisions multiple use cases that add value to ZF customers and people interacting with ZF shuttles. Imagine mobile applications for shuttle services, using live locations for updates on shuttle availability, capacity and estimated time of arrival with real-time route planning to avoid congestion and save time and energy. Integrating data from infrastructure partners and smart city services providers can help make autonomous shuttles available to more people and address last mile transportation needs.
In addition, ZF maintains a broad portfolio of offerings to help cities and regions measure, reduce, and report carbon emissions and to enable energy-efficient transportation in the areas of automated bus fleets, snow plough fleets or road and rail condition monitoring. Building on Azure cloud and AI services, ZF provides solutions to public sector organizations to reduce operational costs while improving safety and customer satisfaction with new, value-added digital technologies.
Simplifying engineering experiences
Digital product and development platforms within ZF’s Research and Development activities can be geared towards seamless data transfer through the ZF Cloud. Working with Microsoft, ZF is leveraging Azure cloud services and developer tools as well as Microsoft’s experience in agile software development. Microsoft’s development and operations (DevOps) tools enable ZF to further enhance its multi-disciplinary collaboration across automation, testing, monitoring, and continuous delivery using agile methods.
In addition, Azure helps process data from globally operating fleets for simulations linked to the height level sensor in the chassis. This new ZF solution can continuously send road condition data to the cloud and use an advanced algorithm to help protect the driver and other road users from hazards.
Increasing transparency and traceability across operations and supply chain
“A standardized data platform can also be a valuable tool in facilitating the maintenance of ZF wind turbine gearboxes,” stresses Dr. Jürgen Sturm, ZF chief information officer (CIO). “It enables the gradual integration and transformation of all internal systems in order to implement consistent business processes worldwide.” ZF components send data to the cloud, generating automated notifications when the next maintenance interval is due. In operations the new platform can help increase the transparency of the performance and production outcome ranging from individual machines to the entire plant. It can also better map the traceability of production processes, as well as the analysis and forecast of production output or quality. ZF draws from the valuable experience based on the ongoing collaborative effort with Microsoft and PwC Germany. The three companies transform processes and workflows using Microsoft Azure infrastructure, data, and Internet of Things (IoT) services to build ZF’s Digital Manufacturing Platform (DMP), making manufacturing more flexible and more efficient. The project enables ZF to reduce conversion costs, improve inventory, performance, and quality. After the successful conclusion of the DMP pilot project at its Diepholz plant in Northern Germany, ZF plans to implement the platform across all around 200 ZF production facilities worldwide.
Enabling continuous learning and growth through digital skills initiative and digital work environment
ZF’s new cloud strategy includes a cultural transformation within the company. ZF will launch a comprehensive employee training initiative for continuous learning. The goal is to help all ZF teams unlock the new data platform capabilities and extend the skills that enable them to accelerate product development and make production and administration processes even more efficient and productive. In addition, ZF employees are being empowered through a digital hybrid workplace and skills initiative. ZF equipped approximately 110,000 frontline and office workers with Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams to modernize the business, stay at the forefront of the mobility industry, and accelerate customer-focused innovation. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ZF employees utilized cloud-connected Microsoft tools, including Teams, to work productively and safely from home or, when needed, from production-related ZF work environments.
Microsoft Teams enabled employees working from various locations to upload data in real time and collaborate faster and more effectively. Furthermore, ZF enabled employees to take advantage of Microsoft Dataverse for Teams, along with low-code development tools in Microsoft Power Platform, to publish new apps that automate processes and analyze data within Teams. Citizen developers used Teams and Microsoft Power Platform to solve business problems rapidly, saving time and reducing cost.