ZF sees a future in composites

By Rhoda Miel
News Editor

Published: January 14, 2014 4:32 pm ET
Updated: January 15, 2014 6:45 pm ET

ZF currently has a prototype suspension strut and knuckle module which uses a mixture of materials including carbon fiber and glass fiber reinforced plastics, aluminum and high strength steel.

Related to this story

Topics Automotive, Resin Transfer Molding, Composites

DETROIT — Germany's ZF Friedrichshafen AG is preparing for the auto industry's future by making sure it can provide the most efficient transmissions, sturdy suspensions and a strong electronic infrastructure, but linking all of the parts that go into those systems is the need to be able to make those parts lighter.

That leads the company to high-end composites.

"We are heavily investing because we believe that light weight will be a part of all future technology," CEO Stefan Sommer said in an interview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 14. "It's the most efficient [technology] because it's not dependent on different drivetrains or different rules which would change the way we drive."

ZF has been known as a major player in high-end metal systems for decades, but opened its first composite technology center, in Schweinfurt, Germany, in 2013. The center was aimed at studying how to bring fiber-reinforced plastics to structural parts such as springs, struts, links and joints.

It already has an all-plastic brake pedal in production.

"Every kilogram you can remove comes into consideration every time to accelerate or decelerate," Sommer said.

The company has developed a research vehicle with multiple new technology — including an electric drive and composite structural parts — and is running road tests with it now.

ZF recently signed an agreement to sell its Rubber & Plastics business unit to Zhuzhou Times New Material Technology Co. Ltd. of Zhuzhou, Hunan province. That business is mostly rubber-to-metal parts and some commodity plastics, Sommer said. Going forward, the company can now focus its experts in long fiber-reinforced plastics, using both glass and carbon fibers.

"We want to keep all of this technology and know-how in-house, because we see a lot of potential for this in the future," he said.

ZF estimated it already has spent more than 3 million euros ($4.1 million) in equipment and buildings for its new composites center.

Work at the center will focus initially on resin transfer molding to improve processing and develop simulations for future products along with developing individual parts and material joining systems.

ZF currently has a prototype suspension strut and knuckle module which uses a mixture of materials including carbon-fiber and glass-fiber-reinforced plastics, aluminum and high-strength steel.

The part would cut weight by 40 percent.

It is in prototype testing now, which likely will take two to three years before ZF begins to offer it to the customer. Sommer said he would not expect to see it in production until 2018 or possibly 2020, but that timing would fit into the U.S. government's requirement for vehicles to hit 54.5 miles per gallons by 2025.

"Even beyond that, we have had a lot of spinoffs that come from that research into other parts, which would be ready for production earlier," he said.


Comments

ZF sees a future in composites

By Rhoda Miel
News Editor

Published: January 14, 2014 4:32 pm ET
Updated: January 15, 2014 6:45 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Lund adds to aftermarket auto products portfolio with buy of Bushwacker

January 29, 2015 2:49 pm ET

Lund International Inc. has expanded its portfolio of plastic aftermarket vehicle accessories by acquiring Bushwacker Inc.    More

Image

Plastics News Now: Losing weight with style, plastics in the Dragons' Den

January 29, 2015 6:00 am ET

A 19-year-old entrepreneur brings business to a U.K. injection molder after winning support on TV's Dragons' Den, auto suppliers combine...    More

Image

Plastics help Volt hit new target

January 28, 2015 1:54 pm ET

The 2016 Volt, unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, features a sportier exterior design — GM calls it...    More

Image

Bain buying TI Automotive

January 27, 2015 8:49 am ET

After months of speculation, Auburn Hills, Mich.-based TI Automotive Ltd. entered into an agreement Tuesday to be acquired by private equity firm...    More

Image

Auto industry on the hunt for new lightweight materials

January 26, 2015 4:03 pm ET

The auto industry is focusing on lightweighting, and this is igniting a race to find new materials that can meet ever-changing performance needs of th...    More

Market Reports

Plastics in Automotive: Innovation & Emerging Trends

This special report newly released by PN and sponsored by The Conair Group examines current trends in the use of plastics in automotive, materials innovations and the changing landscape. It includes a review of legislative/regulatory activity impacting vehicle development and lightweighting, market opportunities & challenges for mold and toolmakers, innovative design strategies being implemented by major OEMs and suppliers, as well as a review of key indicators in Canada, Mexico, Brazil and China.

Learn more

Plastics Recycling Trends in North America

This report is a review and analysis of the North American Plastics Recycling Industry, including key trends and statistics based on 2013 performance. We examine market environment factors, regulatory issues, industry challenges, key drivers and emerging trends in post-consumer and post-industrial recycling.

Learn more

Injection Molding Market Analysis & Processor Rankings

Plastics News BUNDLED package contains our in-depth Market Analysis of the Injection Molding segment. You will gain keen insight on current trends and our economic outlook.

As a BONUS this includes PN's updated 2014 database of North American Injection Molders RANKED by sales volume. Sort, merge, mail & prospect by end market, materials processed, region, # of plants and more.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 16, 2015 - September 18, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

More Events