Commercial Vehicle Solutions
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Smart Logistics: Moved by an invisible hand

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Large numbers of autonomous vehicles will soon be on the move without many of us realizing it. These are trucks that operate without drivers at depots and are boosting efficiency in the movement of goods. They function using ZF tecchology.
Andreas Neemann,
Andreas Neemann wrote his first ZF text in 2001 about 6HP transmissions. Since then, the automotive writer has filled many publications for internal and external readers, showcasing his passion for the Group's more complex subjects.
There is no doubt that our globalized economy is producing ever increasing quantities of freight. This demands increasing logistical efficiency. There has not been much evidence of this in practice so far. Once the trucks reach the goods receiving area, the drivers hand over the freight documents. They then park their vehicles and have to wait. Break time? Forget it. At any time the driver may have to return to the cab, maneuver the vehicle on the ramp and uncouple the trailer for unloading. This requires subtle maneuvering and the highest level of concentration. After a long haul, no breaks and yet more taxing maneuvers, drivers are often completely exhausted. In 2017 in Germany alone there were 16,500 notifiable work accidents involving commercial vehicles away from road traffic, 28 of which were fatal.

Smart Logistics at the Depot

Smart Logistics at the Depot

ZF's approach is to organize the processes within the depot more simply, reliably and safely using autonomous driving – making them more cost-effective as a result. ZF's "Smart Logistics" concept is focused primarily on two vehicles, the ZF Innovation Truck and maneuvering Terminal Yard Tractor, which are able to complete a large number of maneuvers without a driver. The Innovation Truck is able to find its target position in the depot completely unaided, sets down its swap body and picks up another. Threading precisely backwards under a swap body demands a great deal of practice and concentration even from experienced truckers. More often than not, property gets damaged. The ZF Innovation Truck is able to perform this with absolute precision at the same speed every time and with the utmost safety, while the driver takes a break.

The depot scenario just described is made possible using the complete technical package provided by ZF:
  • Cameras and laser-based sensors monitor the surroundings.
  • The ZF ProAI central computer processes the information in real time and calculates the route.
  • These commands are converted by intelligent mechatronic ZF systems into propulsion and steering: The electrified automatic commercial vehicle transmission TraXon Hybrid provides locally emission-free driving, the ReAX electrohydraulic steering system is able to convert steering commands directly from the controls, without any driver input whatsoever.

"Our concept also incorporates the carrier's logistics infrastructure. This means that we have a major part of the logistics chain in view", says Mark Mohr, who is responsible for developing driver assist systems for commercial vehicles at ZF. This starts at the loading stage. Smart tags can be attached to the cargo containers while they are on the truck. They provide digital information concerning the stock including, for example, whether the cargo has been damaged during transit due to strong vibrations or an interruption of the cold chain. Radio data transmission from the smart tags directly into the merchandise management system may even render the now commonplace freight documents superfluous.
ZF also has another innovative vehicle capable of maneuvering autonomously, the Terminal Yard Tractor. It picks up trailers and moves them reliably from place to place. And it can work all day, every day – even 24/7 if necessary – without any sign of fatigue. For large container terminals and logistics centers in particular, this kind of smart logistics solution will soon provide a payback.
Our concept also incorporates the carrier's logistics infrastructure. This means that we have a major part of the logistics chain in view.
Dr. Mark Mohr, who is responsible at ZF for developing driver assist systems in the commercial vehicle sector.

Convoy efficiency

Convoy efficiency

Autonomous driving should, however, also be encountered more frequently outside of depots in the future. It will, ultimately, also bring significant cost and safety benefits on the streets. In "platooning" several trucks travel a very short distance behind one another. Each individual truck moves in the slipstream of the leading vehicle. The spacing between them does not exceed eight meters. This saves up to 15 percent of fuel in comparison with individual travel. To prevent this from affecting road safety, the vehicles are networked.
Safe driving in slipstream thanks to networking: Trucks during truck platooning.

Each vehicle, except for the first truck, is driven automatically. The entire platoon brakes as soon as the driver of the lead truck steps on the brake. The drivers of the following vehicles do not need to be watching the road continuously. They need only be able to take over in the event that the systems are deactivated. ZF also provides the technical foundation for platooning. Sensors and control electronics allow the truck to be driven automatically. ZF is currently involved in a variety of platooning projects with truck manufacturers.

Autonomous driving

What is the state of the art? How is testing carried out? What will the future bring? Everything there is to know about cars and other vehicles that operate on an automated or autonomous basis.