Auto parts supplier ZF has completed work on a £70m state-of-the-art engineering centre in the UK. The 220,000 sq ft plant in Shirley, West Midlands, is one of several research and development centres for the company around the world, and complements ZF’s list of manufacturing facilities in the UK.
Covid restrictions mean that while the technology centre was due to be completed in 2021, it will still be a year before it is fully staffed and operational.
The centre is used for research and development of aftermarket products, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), motorsport engineering as well as steering and braking and powertrain. It is also ZF’s worldwide centre of excellence for three key technology areas, including network penetration testing, electronic components and servo drives.
The factory is already involved in work on the next generation of ZF electric motors announced this week. The company expects that 47 million EVs will require 61 million Electric Vehicle motors by 2030, an average of 1.3 EVs per vehicle, as demand for all-wheel-drive EVs increases.
According to ZF, it already has orders worth more than 22 million euros. 10% less installation space, higher power density, higher efficiency and greater flexibility. Sustainability was also a top priority during development, with the new electric motor using 10 percent less raw material.
It’s a key part of ZF’s business, which many still see as a transmissions company, but board member Stephan von Schuckmann said it would face a sharp decline after 2025.
This isn’t the only area in which ZF is expanding its operations, with the new UK technology centre set to play a major role in the development of new technologies, some of which could significantly change the automotive industry.
These include a new steer-by-wire system that uses software to replace the traditional mechanical steering ratio. It will also allow for a retractable steering column, in which actuators make the steering wheel disappear into the dashboard for autonomous driving. According to ZF, this is a technology that the industry has been requesting and it complements their existing brake-by-wire systems.
Engineers are also working on ADAS, and ZF developed the first forward-facing radar in the early 2000s. Now, the company is finalizing development of its event-generating front and surround radar system, which will enter production in 2024.
All of this requires extensive testing, and in addition to a small vehicle test track on site, there is an ADAS simulation facility and a large EMC testing laboratory capable of testing electrical components and electric motors up to 800 Volts. It is the ZF Group’s largest EMC laboratory and includes an electric drive test room and seven climate test rooms, all of which can test everything from initial components to complete vehicles, including race cars.
Cybersecurity departments require less physical space, with dedicated engineers viewing every connection in the vehicle as a potential point of attack. They not only assess weaknesses, but develop solutions, ideally before problems arise with the overall vehicle architecture.
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