Technology

#digitalization #smartmobility

Digitalization Encounters Electromobility

Min Reading Time
Tags: Efficiency, Connectivity, InternetOfThings, Emobility, ZeroEmissions
Electric drives are a decisive aspect of the mobility of tomorrow. When they are integrated in smart, digital solutions they offer even greater added value to manufacturers and end customers. With the I.E-Axle, ZF shows what form that might take.
Kathrin Wildemann, January 08, 2020
author_image
Kathrin Wildemann has been a part of the permanent Copy Team at ZF since 2016. In her online and offline articles, she likes to cover electromobility and other topics that involve sustainability.
Big data, data monetization, Internet of Things (IoT) – these terms crop up on a regular basis whenever digitalization trends are being considered. Networked systems are a decisive factor in overcoming the current challenges facing the mobility of tomorrow. However, software solutions are best able to unleash their potential when they are based on equally smart and sustainable hardware. This thought was also shared by a team of ZF employees. They developed a new solution that incorporates another megatrend, that of digital intelligence. What emerged from this is the networked I.E-Axle electric drive that enables additional functions via a cloud connection. It also transmits data on the status and use of the drive to a very wide range of users – and this opens up a whole range of new business models for clean and efficient mobility.

Zero pollution and networked

Zero pollution and networked

This means that the I.E-Axle combines digitalization with electromobility, another core competency of ZF. ZF is ahead of the pack in the electrification of vehicles – whether they are pedelecs, formula racing cars, or city buses. The electric passenger car axle drive is an example of how the Group is contributing toward cleaner and sustainable road traffic. This year, it enters volume production with a German manufacturer of premium passenger cars. “However, in future, our customer base will consist not only of OEMs but also of providers of ride-hailing and mobility-as-a-service solutions. They will take advantage of the opportunities of digitalization in very different ways,” states Julian Fieres, Head of Strategy and Sales in the ZF Electromobility division. “We therefore wanted to ensure that our electric drives are more than just technology leaders – they must also provide added value in the form of digital services.”
Accordingly, the electric passenger car axle drive now constitutes the basis for the I.E-Axle. The concept is as simple as it is ingenious: Using a bidirectional connection to an IoT platform, the I.E.-Axle collects data about the drive and parking brake, senses overvoltages and overcurrent, measures acceleration values, and monitors the temperature of the electric motor and power electronics. At the same time, it is possible via this connection to directly actuate the power electronics and the inverter that act as the brain of the drive. Furthermore, software updates for the vehicle and driveline can be downloaded wireless, by over-the-air (OTA) technology, which saves the need for costly and time-consuming workshop visits.
By connecting to an IoT platform, the I.E. Axle collects data and can get software updates.

Data monetization: networking creates new business models

Data monetization: networking creates new business models

Networking with the cloud enables access to a whole range of new services. When you consider the potential applications for the I.E-Axle, there is something there for everyone. This enables automotive manufacturers to analyze the individual vehicle handling of end customers and to provide made-to-measure warranty terms that reward responsible driving styles. Algorithms for predictive maintenance planning are able to detect malfunctions at an early stage, reducing the downtime experienced by fleet operators. The driving data collected help developers at ZF to design new electric drives that specifically target the genuine requirements of road traffic. The pay-per-X function gives rental car companies a way to tier their rates in different ways, for example by the top speed at which a vehicle was driven. Drivers also stand to benefit from this networked drive concept. Using an app, they can book additional features – an example being additional torque that provides additional power for a particularly steep section of road, or a few minutes of that Formula E feeling.

Employee inventiveness leads to innovative products

Employee inventiveness leads to innovative products

Julian Fieres developed the idea for the I.E-Axle with his colleague Andrea Loi, Consultant Business Development, Strategy & Product Planning Div. E, for the ZF in-house Digital Innovation Challenge. This competition for ideas called upon employees of the Group to submit their proposals for new digital products, services, and processes. “We have deliberately sought ways of expanding existing hardware through the addition of software functions in order to create new business models,” explains Andrea Loi. “Many of our products already incorporate a substantial amount of sensors and intelligence. This was really just about also making this available to other users.” On this basis, the international project team led by Julian Fieres and Andrea Loi built a first prototype, with colleagues from Shanghai, Friedrichshafen, Schweinfurt, and Silicon Valley – accomplishing this in just one year thanks to tight and responsive project management. At present, the team is already looking for first customers for this smart electric drive.
Julian Fieres and Andrea Loi present their idea at the Pitch Night 2018 in Friedrichshafen.
"Many of our products already incorporate a substantial amount of sensors and intelligence. Whenever we extend existing hardware with software functions, we make this available to other users and create new business models."
— Andrea Loi, Consultant Business Development, Strategy & Product Planning Div. E