Intelligent tech for safe, efficient logistics: ZF

German transmission specialist, ZF Friedrichshafen, has shared its insights into the future of freight forwarding.

According to ZF, the logistics industry is currently experiencing positive growth forecasts and increasing transport volumes. The flip side of this is an increase in flexibility requirements as well as time and cost pressure.

Forwarding companies reportedly suffer from the shortage of skilled workers, which will drastically intensify among professional drivers. With the ZF Innovation Truck and the Terminal Yard Tractor, ZF is said to offer future-oriented solutions to the central challenges faced by forwarding companies.

“Autonomous vehicles that, thanks to our technologies, can see, think and act are turning the idea of consistent smart logistics into reality, at depots and other specified areas,” ZF Head of Commercial Vehicle Technology Division, Fredrik Staedtler.

“These vehicles can prevent manoeuvring damage and downtimes, which gives logistics companies a competitive advantage. The functions presented in our current innovation vehicles are therefore applications that are in high demand and pay off quickly.”

ZF said that new swap body technology will increase efficiency and safety. The ZF Innovation Truck, for instance, is a hybrid truck based on a heavy six-wheeler that can perform tasks without a driver.

“As soon as the driver has entered the premises, he can get out, activate the autonomous driving mode and then take a break. The truck will find its way to the target position driving autonomously and electrically.  Likewise of its own accord, the ZF Innovation Truck then loads a new container,” ZF said, adding that it is controlled by a central computer, ZF proAI, where stress, fatigue, distractions, the darkness or adverse weather conditions will not influence the truck.

While ZF proAI is the Innovation Truck's brain, according to ZF, other ZF technologies enable it to act: among others, the active electro-hydraulic ReAX commercial vehicle steering system and the TraXon Hybrid automatic transmission system.

The latter is characterised by a modular integrated electric motor that allows locally emission-free driving. To give the ZF Innovation Truck its orientation and vision, the technology company selected a cost-effective, camera-based and laser-supported sensor setup, completing it with a GPS system.

In terms of autonomous loading, the extended sensor set additionally enables the Terminal Yard Tractor to keep an eye on its surroundings. Here, the central computer ZF proAI coordinates the functions of longitudinal and lateral guidance: This enables this shuttle vehicle to take the trailer from the truck and autonomously manoeuvre it to the ramp for loading and discharging. Once this has been completed, it takes the trailer back to the truck.

An on-site computer reportedly calculates the trajectory and transfers the data to the on-board unit of the ZF OPENMATICS telematics system by wireless signal.  ZF proAI in the vehicle, processes the information in real time and converts it into instructions for action by the engine, steering system and brakes.

Electronically routed commercial vehicles can talk to each other, so as soon as the autonomous driving mode is activated, the vehicles automatically log on using the depot's individual LTE/WLAN wireless signal as well as the OPENMATICS on-board unit. The routing constantly checks and considers, for example, the vehicle's current position and the routes of other vehicles on the premises and immediately adjusts the vehicle's own routing when necessary.

“Thanks to a sensor set in the vehicle and a routing system on the work premises, drivers are shown on their tablets how to approach and pick up the respective swap bodies quickly and smoothly,” said ZF. “With this, the technology company is pushing ahead with useful functions for truck fleets, keeping an eye to the future of both manual and autonomous driving as well as driverless logistics.”

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