?And one of the subjects which we are touching here in the market now is a software feature, which has a tremendous impact and you cannot see it. So if you look at traditionally where the money went you saw something. You saw engines, you saw transmissions and you saw axles. Today when you develop software you cannot smell it, you cannot weigh it, it?s very difficult for people to understand it exactly.?
Schilha admits that this has made the task for ZF more complex than it once was, especially from a knowledge level. Instead of just needing a knowledge base for transmissions, tires, axles and so on, you need an understanding of the total concept.
?Today with the communication of your component with the entire vehicle in mind you have to understand braking, you have to understand a lot of other things which a transmission manufacturer traditionally had nothing to worry about,? Schilha says.
Has there been a paradigm shift from mechanical to technical engineering? Schilha says in a word, ?Absolutely.?
?In the past your transmission updates were basically done to correct weaknesses. Or make it cheaper. Or more reliable. Now the change we have here is basically to try and improve the cost of ownership.?
Schilha says the paradigm change is for the entire aftermarket industry. ?Traditionally the industry made money in repairing damaged components. In the future we want to make money by preventing components to fail.
?Like on the aircraft industry, you cannot wait until the aircraft falls down and then we start repairing. And that?s the paradigm change we are preparing for as well.?
Transit authorities can tell anyone that they?ve watched the steady creep of fuel prices more than most as it?s created a Catch-22 between increased ridership and operating costs.
With the increased fuel prices and focus on green issues such as clean air, the fight to marry efficiency with sustainability has begun in earnest. For ZF that meant looking at how buses were being shifted and how that could be improved. Rather than working on a set shifting program, ZF is engineering software that measures topography and bus weight and decides when is best to shift, thereby improving fuel efficiency.
?So let?s say if you have routes where there were either ramps onto the motorway, or hill in between, etc. Where in the past you had to compromise on the performance-oriented shift program, we can now put six different programs into that unit and the computer on the fly decides which drawer to open and pull the programs out,? Schilha explains.
?Which means it only uses the performance-orientated program when [the operator] actually needs it. When he doesn?t need it, it closes the door and gets another program.?
ZF has tested its new software in high-traffic areas like Chicago and has seen fuel efficiency numbers better than some hybrid-drive vehicles. Schilha points to this as a clean air advancement using a technological solution to facilitate mechanical improvement.
So now that ZF has become a technology company rather than a transmission company, has that allowed it to embrace new developments quicker? Schilha thinks so.
?I would say so. And then it also depends on the readiness of the operator, of course,? Schilha says.
As a case in point, Schilha points to a remote diagnostic tool allowing ZF to look into their transmissions and retrieve live data.
Software updates can be made via email keeping the company from having to send out a tech for minor repair jobs or upgrades ? a valuable time and cost saving for both ZF and the transit agency.
?That?s what we call the replacement for the flying doctor,? laughs Schilha.