Technology

ZF AS Tronic Truck mit Intarder

Partnership for Globally Successful Transmissions

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With the AS Tronic, ZF launched the first automated manual transmission (AMT) with an integrated control technology for commercial vehicles in 1995. The project was realized together with WABCO, the company that is now part of the ZF Group.
Florian Tausch, September 02, 2020
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Florian Tausch was active as a journalist in various industries and countries. Today he heads the editorial team at ZF.
It was a major milestone for the entire industry: With the AS Tronic, ZF launched the first automated manual transmission (AMT) with an integrated control technology for commercial vehicles in 1995. It was also the first with two countershafts, which allowed a more compact and lighter design. The project was realized together with WABCO, the company that is now part of the ZF Group as the Commercial Vehicle Control Systems division.

"For the gearshift actuator, we needed a partner who had expertise in fast-switching valves," explains Dr. Christoph Rüchardt, now head of AMT series development, the beginning of the collaboration. "This competence was available at WABCO through the pneumatic control of their brake systems."
On top of the existing know-how, significant efforts were poured into this project to ensure its success: "In 1986, WABCO became the first global provider of transmission automation solutions. But for the specifications of the AS Tronic, a completely new technology had to be developed. Even though many of the original team members are now retired, they passed their experience on to the next generation of colleagues like me, who now follow in their footsteps. This knowledge transfer has helped greatly to advance the product line through the years,” explains Holger Kelpe, Product Engineering Team Leader at the Commercial Vehicle Control Systems division. This development resulted in the first ever fully integrated gear shift controller in the commercial vehicle industry, which set the foundation for many further AMT developments. Subsequently, WABCO became the largest supplier of automation solutions for transmissions with over 5 million AMTs sold.
Through developing the AS Tronic, WABCO and ZF became the first commercial vehicle suppliers to develop an AMT together, which opened up the technology to a global range of customers, who could now benefit from increased efficiency, comfort and safety provided by automated gear shifting.

The second generation of transmissions set the bar

The second generation of transmissions set the bar
A decisive milestone for both companies was the start of series production of the second generation of the AS Tronic in 2000. Great strides were made in integrating the gear shift actuator further into the transmission, helping to decrease the size and weight of the final product. Additionally, the developers also integrated the electronics with two processors. This made it possible to implement a gear selection strategy required for fully automatic driving. By further improving the construction, this second generation AMT lent itself much better for high volume series production. “You can safely say that the AS Tronic 2 has been the benchmark in the market for many years. Numerous manufacturers such as MAN, DAF or IVECO have relied on it,” Rüchardt underlines the importance of the product.
The AS Tronic lite, which has been successful to this day, was added to the portfolio in 2006. In this electro-hydraulic automation system for 6-speed manual transmissions from the Ecolite family, mechatronics and actuators were also developed together with WABCO.

Start of series production for a global transmission

Start of series production for a global transmission
With the EcoTronic mid, another automated manual transmission will go into series production this year, which is technically based on the ZF-Ecomid. Straight from the beginning of the development, we decided to continue working with WABCO as a partner for the gear shift actuator. However, this time, an existing product could be leveraged: “OptiDrive automates and optimizes the shifting in transmissions for medium and heavy commercial vehicles. It helps to save up to five percent fuel. And thanks to its modularity, it can be easily adapted to a wide range of gearboxes,” says Holger Kelpe. The project also helped to advance the OptiDrive technology, making a great product even better.
The EcoTronic mid will go into series production in 2020

With the new product, ZF serves the trend towards automated manual transmission systems in trucks. Market studies see great growth potential, especially in countries like China and Brazil. In this highly competitive environment, ZF benefits from a consistent design-to-market approach. Production was also tailored to the requirements of the target markets: the EcoTronic mid is produced at four locations on three continents.
OptiDrive automates and optimizes the shifting in transmissions for medium and heavy commercial vehicles.

Software as a success factor

Software as a success factor
The electronic control plays a major part in the transmission’s comfort. It runs the same software platform that is used to control the most modern automatic ZF transmission, TraXon. This not only enables different driving modes but also optional functions such as rocking free or a start-stop functionality. It has been evident for some time that software is also becoming a decisive factor in transmission engineering. Cloud functionalities of the vehicle, such as a predictive shift strategy and over-the-air updates as well as the topic of cyber security are the focus. Last but not least, through the merger with WABCO, ZF offers comprehensive system expertise for the commercial vehicle sector and is well prepared for current and future challenges in the industry.