ZF is entering the next phase of digitalisation by expanding its strategic collaboration with Microsoft. With the ZF Cloud, the mobility and technology company is creating an all-encompassing data and integration platform to digitalise all of ZF’s industrial and operational production and business processes on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. The expansion of cloud capacities is intended to enable the company and its customers to store and process the enormous volume of vehicle data. In this way, ZF engineers want to optimise the connectivity of ZF components and enable entirely new vehicle functionalities – including for automated driving and autonomous shuttles.
By using Microsoft technologies for cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and data technologies, ZF wants to develop into a cloud-based mobility service provider. In order to accelerate the digital transformation, ZF is investing several billion euros in the digital transformation of the company over the next few years; a significant part of this is flowing into the collaboration with Microsoft.
All strategic technology fields in which the ZF Group is active are to benefit from the cloud functionalities. “The new ZF Cloud will enable a fully digitalised and integrated sales and operations planning process along our end-to-end supply chain,” says Dr René Deist, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) and responsible for digital transformation at ZF. The unified data platform combines the implementation of specific customer requirements with an ongoing long-term demand forecast. This, ZF strategists hope, will enable the company to determine internal and external capacity needs based on new market developments. In addition, the digital connection of the ZF supply chain to the ZF Cloud creates seamless end-to-end supply chain visibility and tracking of material movements. This transparency enables faster response to challenging market developments to minimise or avoid supply chain disruptions and ensure timely delivery to customers.
Microsoft Azure’s cloud, data and machine learning capabilities help ZF optimise data exchange between a variety of cloud-linked components and use artificial intelligence to establish new products or business models. For automated and autonomous driving, for example, the ZF Cloud enables a continuous data flow between autonomous ZF shuttles and their environment. ZF envisages several use cases that offer added value for ZF customers and passengers. Examples include mobile applications for shuttle services that use live location information for updates on shuttle availability, capacity and estimated time of arrival to avoid congestion and save time and energy. Integrating data from infrastructure partners and smart city service providers can help make autonomous shuttles available to more people, meeting last-mile transportation needs.
ZF also has a broad portfolio of offerings to help cities and regions measure, reduce and report CO2 emissions. It can, for example, enable energy-efficient driving and transportation of automated bus or snowplough fleets or monitoring of road conditions. Based on Azure Cloud and AI services, ZF offers solutions to the public sector to reduce operating costs while improving safety and customer satisfaction with new digital technologies.
Digital product and development platforms within ZF R&D can be aligned for seamless data transfer through the ZF Cloud. In cooperation with Microsoft, ZF uses the cloud services and developer tools of Azure as well as Microsoft’s experience in agile software development. Microsoft’s DevOps tools enable ZF to further improve its multidisciplinary collaboration in the areas of automation, testing, monitoring and continuous software delivery using agile methods.
In addition, Azure helps, for example, to process data from global fleets for simulations linked to the height sensor in the chassis. This new ZF product can continuously send road condition data to the cloud and effectively protect drivers and other road users from danger through an integrated algorithm.