What do ships and cableways, wind turbines and regional trains, shredders and other large industrial equipment share in common? All these different applications benefit from the digitalization expertise of the ZF Industrial Technology Division. And because ZF draws on its wealth of experience from the automotive industry, the Group can also fully exploit its digitalization expertise for industrial applications. In this part of the "Industry digital" series of articles, we shed light on the advantages of this know-how for ships, wind turbines, trains and other sophisticated machinery.
The goal is ambitious: To master the mobility turnaround, rail in Germany should become the number one means of transport. The German government intends to invest almost 100 billion euros in the rail network and regional transport. "But for the changeover to work on a large scale, trains must run reliably," explains Alan Dittrich, Head of Digital Solutions, Rail Drive Systems at ZF. This means preventing and reducing breakdowns and delays wherever possible, even with peak loads and high cycle rates. This in turn presupposes that as many potential fault sources on the vehicle and the route as possible are detected and rectified early on. "With our digital platform connect@rail, we have a turnkey solution for rail operators and transportation authorities."
Bluetooth sensors attached to the bogie of the train represent the core component of connect@rail. The installed sensors measure acceleration data that is later transferred to the cloud via secure onboard gateways. Once evaluated, a customized dashboard displays this information for the particular operators. The great thing about collecting this data is that minimal variations in acceleration can be used to detect damage – not only to the bogie, but also to the infrastructure itself. To this end, ZF is building a comprehensive ecosystem of technology and strong partnerships. Currently, joint projects are underway with DB Systemtechnik and transportation authorities in Germany and Austria to detect track defects. "Our digitalization capabilities allow us to analyze the rail system holistically," Dittrich sums up. If maintenance and repairs can be planned efficiently, this prevents or shortens downtimes. "In this way, we help our partners and customers to ensure smooth operation – and thus shape the future of rail as part of the mobility transition."
What rail does for transport, wind energy does for the power grid. Wind energy plays a key role in the energy transition. To this end, the turbines must operate reliably. But maintaining wind turbines is no easy task. "Operators aim to make their maintenance and repair planning as efficient as possible," says Sivakumar Jayapal, Head of Service at ZF Wind Power. "Here too, prevention beats repair. And at ZF, we have the skills to support this approach."
Worldwide, almost 25% of the gear-driven windturbines are powered by a ZF gearbox. "Our market position means we feel responsible for providing preventive servicing for this sustainable energy source so it becomes more reliable," Jayapal adds. Thrive, ZF Wind Power’s service concept, enables the company to meet this responsibility. The Thrive’ Services Powered by Analytics combines data from gearbox production, real-time analyses of turbines with ZF gearboxes and reliability calculation models to anticipate the maintenance requirements of the turbines. The offer consists of Spare Parts Optimization and Fast Return to Operations. The former provides an accurate analysis of the gearbox's previous and remaining service life, resulting in a precise, timely recommendation for spare parts. Flexibly adjustable forecast periods optimize inventories and enhance component availability. This in turn optimizes costs for the plant manager and turbine operator. With Fast Return to Operations, digital condition monitoring seamlessly transitions into problem solving. If the sensors on the rotor gearbox report an alarm, the ZF Thrive team immediately presents the correct solution and rapidly initiates the next necessary steps to resolve the problem.
This saves valuable time, guarantees the availability of spare parts and personnel and minimizes downtime, which in turn reduces maintenance costs and increases wind turbine yield. "We examined the entire value chain in wind energy," explains Jayapal. "This enables us to ensure a reliably high energy output over the entire lifecycle of the turbine."
From rail to wind turbine, from ship and cableway to recycling plant: However different these machines may be, they all have bearings, gears and oil reservoirs. This makes them the ideal application for ZF's innovative condition monitoring system ZF ProVID. "Our solution covers the entire driveline," explains Christian Schade, ZF ProVID product and project manager. And adds: "It may sound surprising to some people that even stationary machines such as shredders or rolling mills have a driveline." ZF ProVID combines many years of application experience in vibration measurement and analysis, hardware expertise in variable sensors, and cloud expertise. This enables the Group to develop customer-specific algorithms that evaluate the current operating state of the machine precisely in a qualified manner. Oil properties as well as the vibration data from gearings and bearings of the transmissions and other elements of the driveline, e.g., motors and cable pulleys in cableway systems, are just some of the items processed. "We don't just generate status reports in real time," says Schade. "In addition, we can also make statements about the expected remaining service life and make recommendations for action – such as optimal maintenance intervals." Schade goes on to provide a telling example from the world of winter sports: "Imagine you're running a ski resort and your lift breaks down in the peak season. With ZF ProVID you will receive a timely warning before this happens. You can then carry out repairs when no one wants to hit the slopes – for example, overnight or outside peak hours."
It's not only alpine tourists that benefit from ZF ProVID. Shipowners or industrial customers stand to gain, too. "From the thruster to the large-scale rolling mill plant, we can monitor everything that our customers need to monitor," says Schade. "The advantage is obvious: Better availability, less potential for consequential damage, lower operating costs." And the potential is far from exhausted. ZF ProVID is constantly being fine-tuned to deliver greater reliability and user-friendliness at sea, in the mountains or in the production hall.
More punctual trains, more sustainable energy in the power grid, greater safety in industrial production: As it turns out, customers and end users in many sectors benefit from the digitalization expertise of the Industrial Technology Division at ZF. And there are other fields in which networking offers real added value for society. We will discuss this in a future article.