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"Our products consume as little energy as possible”: that’s the ZF promise. The Group also ensures that sustainability is part of the manufacturing process. The key: Environmentally friendly energy sources and optimization of consumption.

Text: Andreas Neemann , 28. February, 2018

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.

When Somasundaram Balasubramaniam looks at his monitors in the Indian ZF location Coimbatore, he sees how much energy the machinery on-site is consuming at that moment, alongside all other data. When he started out with his DO MORE (Digital Online Machine and Operations Research) project, energy consumption was of little interest, as the aim of the project is to provide early detection of when servicing is needed and make all production processes more stable. To achieve this, digital operating data from machines and systems must be centrally available and evaluable. However, these elements can also be used in energy management: They can help to identify inefficient engines which need to be replaced, for example. In addition, differentiating between production-related and other types of energy consumption at the Coimbatore location has led to many other approaches for economization.

Sustainability on all levels

DO MORE is a great example of how energy efficiency is a long-term concern for ZF. "In light of the sustainability standards we set for our products, we also need to ensure sustainability within the company to maintain credibility, for example in all of our production processes and in employee training. The same attention is also paid to our suppliers," says Jürgen Holeksa, ZF board member Human Resources. He is also responsible for sustainability. Back in 2012, ZF took on the goal of reducing its specific CO₂ emissions (i.e. based on sales) by 20 percent by 2020, and it has already achieved this target.

However, the Group is not resting on its laurels. Current goals for environmental protection, occupational safety and health as well as healthcare are set down in a sustainability program, along with other subjects such as the environmental impact of our products. "This supplies a basis for the locations' own programs, making environmental protection part of the production processes worldwide," says Stefan Rieck, head of ZF's Environmental Protection Department.

Lights off for power guzzlers

Examples of this are our drive to replace traditional lighting products with LED lights (see additional boxes) and new production processes such as AWP tempering. AWP stands for Assembly of Warm Parts. This is a new heat treatment process, based on induction. The technique means that a workpiece is no longer heated as a whole in an oven, but in intermittent bursts via induction. This saves huge amounts of energy compared to the old method. In addition, the amount needed for investment is lower for AWP tempering, and the process also outperforms others in terms of integration into the production processes. The Group's Car Chassis Technology Division, which frequently uses heat treatment on comparatively small components, has already introduced the new process to eight locations worldwide, with more to come. This example shows how closely sustainability is linked with innovation and economic considerations at ZF.

Clean electricity generated in-house

Some ZF locations do not just use power, they also produce it themselves. For example, the Group is focusing on combined heat and power plants (CHPs) in which special gas engines use heat to generate electrical energy. These low-emission systems achieve an energy conversion efficiency of up to 90 percent. CHPs are far more efficient and cheaper than sourcing electricity and heat from different power stations. The cost of this energy generated in-house is also lower than the market price charged by external electricity providers. In total, ZF currently operates six CHPs in Europe, with the two largest located at the Group's headquarters in Friedrichshafen. Each year, all CHPs produce 42 gigawatt hours of power – this is around as much as is consumed by just under 10,000 four-person households per year. Compared with conventional energy supply, the CHPs contribute to reducing the annual emission of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by an estimated 42,000 tons.

However, using CHPs everywhere would not be sensible, as they require thermal heat to operate efficiently. Other additional sources of power are therefore of interest at many international Group locations, such as Pune, India. Recently, huge solar panels have been installed there. These have an output of around 200 kilowatts, which, when calculated for the year, comes to around 290 megawatt hours of power for production. In comparison to conventional power generation, this saves 250 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted every year.

Even such supposedly minor effects are important for the Group. They show that at ZF, many activities worldwide are contributing to a greater goal: sustainable handling of energy.

42 gigawatt hours - The amount of power ZF produces annually via its combined heat and power plants. This could power a small town of around 10,000 four-person households.

It's lights off for power guzzlers

LED lights function on far less energy than light bulbs or fluorescent lights. Lights which use a light emitting diode (LED) consume up to 75% less energy than other types of lighting. Industrial companies like ZF save a lot of energy by using LEDs in large areas, such as production and administration. In addition, prices for LEDs dropped by around 90% between 2008 and 2015. As a result, ZF Environmental Management started changing old power guzzling lights for LEDs a while ago: "We save three gigawatt hours of electricity annually, just by switching 1,600 hall downlights at the Friedrichshafen location to LEDs," explains Martin Rück. He looks after environmental protection for the Friedrichshafen location. Managers at many other company locations in Europe, Asia and North America report similar results. Other benefits: LEDs have a far longer service life than other types of lighting. Also, sometimes fewer lamps are necessary because LEDs generate a much brighter light that is also far easier on the human eye.

At the Friedrichshafen location alone, ZF has replaced a total of 1,600 hall downlights with LEDs. This saves three gigawatt hours of power each year. This is equivalent to the power that 750 four-person households would consume each year.