July 19, 2006 Vol. 2, No. 15
So it was back to Europe for me since the last Product Watch e-newsletter, Germany in this case, just in time to join the insanity surrounding the World Cup ‘consolation’ game in Stuttgart. It was Germany vs. Portugal and the
city was one mighty lively place, but — frankly – I was more interested in the real reason for my journey. And that was to have a hands-on look at the latest technologies from ZF.
The company’s proper moniker is ZF Friedrichshafen AG, but it’s not exactly a household name amongst Canadian truck operators. It’s in fact a major component supplier, much stronger in Europe than here, though that could well change in the future. It did about $15 billion worth of business last year, so I do mean ‘major’. You’ll likely know ZF best as the manufacturer of the automated FreedomLine transmission sold here by ArvinMeritor’s Commercial Vehicle Systems, but the company is obviously much more than that. With 122 plants in 26 countries, including a steering-gear plant in Ontario, ZF employs some 54,000 people. Its focus is driveline and chassis technology for trucks, cars, and buses.
And that includes Formula One race cars, by the way, for which ZF supplies the tiny but expensive – like $20,000 – clutches.
Sadly, amongst the 26 vehicles arranged for the press to play with at a sprawling former German army training camp an hour or two out of Stuttgart, there was no Ferrari. Not even a Toyota for that matter. There was, however, a huge and brutal MAN 8×8 military truck worth $1.5 million that I abused for a while on muddy tracks and 27% grades and other such fun topography.
And, wonder of wonders, the test fleet included a very familiar made-in-America Volvo VNL tractor sporting ZF’s Servoline rack-and-pinion steering with the rack sitting neatly behind the conventional beam axle. The latter truck will find its way back to this side of the pond later this fall as ZF begins an effort to sell North American truck makers on the rack-and-pinion idea. Freightliner offers such a steering system now, in very limited quantities.
The former army camp offered 36 km of narrow country roads, plus artificial prairie crosswinds (really), and I had the chance to spend some good time in the Volvo. It was terrific, and you’d be impressed by the steering
precision, the strong centering, and effortless tracking. And you won’t feel any ‘bump steering’ effect. It’s still a prototype, but ZF says we might see it for sale here by 2009.
Now on to a tall MAN cabover, which also had the rack-and-pinion system. It went still further, having been treated to independent front suspension as well as the same Servoline steering to produce a compact package that
weighs much less than a conventional front end while leaving space for the larger cooling packages demanded by EPA-compliant engines. The ride? Superb. The handling? Very, very good.
And then there were the artificial crosswinds – courtesy of a bank of half a dozen 10-ft tall fans – to help us test ZF’s ‘Servoactive’ steering gear that combines hydraulic and mechanical actuation with an electric motor that
superimposes a second gear as need arises. The result is automatic compensation for crosswinds and grooved pavement, among other benefits. It includes a yaw sensor, and it reacts very quickly.
There was much more that I’d like to write about from my time with ZF, but I’ll have to save it for the September issue of Today’s Trucking.
One last note about another very interesting piece of technology that I’ll also explore more deeply in the next newsletter and in the magazine. From Modine Manufacturing, the radiator folks, comes a new fuel-cell-based idle
reduction system that incorporates high efficiency, zero-emissions fuel cells, and utilizes a non-greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, as the refrigerant. This new idle-off system can be used for both cooling and heating the
sleeper, creating multiple benefits for both drivers and fleets as well as the environment.
A demonstrator unit exists now, and Modine is showing it to truck manufacturing customers “…to see which parts they like, how they would like it configured and when. We would also be showing it to fleet managers,” a Modine spokeswoman told me. More on that one next time out.
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