Innovator Spotlight: ZF

Leveraging a PLM enabled digital thread and digital twin, ZF is developing new products in an innovative way.

Creating a world with zero emissions, zero accidents, and zero downtime

ZF’s vision is to build the next generation of mobility that is clean, safe, comfortable, and affordable for everyone, everywhere. Central to this strategy is the digitization of its core platforms to enable cross-divisional and cross-functional collaboration. With PLM as the foundation of the digital thread, ZF is integrating its systems and platforms across the entire value chain to revolutionize business models, processes, products, and services. By doing this ZF has been able to make the right decisions on the right data at the right time, reducing lead times, lowering costs, and improving quality.

Challenges: Breaking down data silos

With over 270 manufacturing locations across 42 countries, and 150,000 employees worldwide, teams were working in silos without an automated way of sharing the latest product information between divisions, suppliers, and customers. Its IT environments were not harmonized from a tools nor process perspective leaving users to rely on information that was out of date, not incorporating the latest product changes and variations. Working from data that was often weeks old, there was low confidence in the decisions being made.

To support the business in all aspects, the ZF digital transformation initiative sought to address three main challenges:


Engineering Collaboration:

ZF needed to quickly unify its product development environment. With software being a key differentiator in the majority of ZF’s new products, it was imperative that software, mechanical, and electrical components come together in a useful flow for engineers.

Enterprise Collaboration:

In order to meet time to market and quality targets, ZF’s electronics divisions needed to securely provide real-time data to the “extended” and largely remote enterprise inclusive of both end users and other ZF divisions. As a Tier 1 supplier, it also needed to store and communicate data from various CAD, ECAD, and MCAD sources via a single and secure tool.

Democratization of IT:

IT never has enough resources. For ZF, rather than trying to constantly meet the demand for technology by increasing IT resources, it required a significantly more effective and efficient way to “democratize” IT. ZF had to find a way of making data available to the business community, on managed platforms, enabling the business to create IT solutions for themselves.

Collaboration: The Strategy behind ZF’s Philosophy of ‘See, Think, Act’

Collaboration is key to staying relevant and competitive in a marketspace that is ever changing due to trends such as e-mobility, autonomous driving, digitalization, and sustainability. Globally dispersed, cross-functional teams need real-time access to product data in order to collaborate and make decisions they can be confident in.

That’s why ZF adopted a ‘See, Think, Act’ philosophy. It wants its business users to be able to see the data that is relevant to them in a format that is easily consumable. It wants them to be able to think on the data because they know it's from a trusted, single source of truth. And it wants them to be able to act on the data by providing easy access to product development processes.


Perspective: The ZF benchmark for teamwork

ZF needed to integrate product data across its systems, people, and processes from design and engineering, to the factory, and even in the physical world via the internet of things (IoT). The digital thread and digital twin were at the heart of this strategy–unifying teams across R&D, manufacturing, and field operations. Hear from stakeholders how they work together as a team with passion, anticipation, diversity, empowerment, and accountability. From each of their perspectives you will learn how they were able to address functional and local needs while supporting ZF’s global strategy.

Global CIO
VP of IT Value Center
Head of IT Software Engineering
Electronic Division – Engineering Manager
Electronic Division – Application End-User
Dr. Jürgen Sturm, based in Friedrichshafen Germany, is the Chief Information Officer of the ZF Group. Together with his global team, Dr. Sturm is supporting innovation in both new processes and business models including the required technology governance, architecture, and cyber security. His team is building digital thread and IoT solutions to enable greater agility and speed across the organization.
Mr. Frederik Verster, based in Koblenz, Germany, is the Vice President of the IT Value Center responsible for all applications in product development, production, and quality. In his role, Mr. Verster focuses on ensuring that the IT strategy supports ZF’s business strategy to ensure the application roadmap is built to align with current and future organizational requirements.
Mr. Mukul Jain, based in Hyderabad, India, is the head of IT Software Engineering and co-founder of the ZFworx CoE (which is ThingWorx Navigate). Mr. Jain has empowered the business to become more agile by speeding up digital initiatives with a platform that enables self-service IT.
Mr. Wolfgang Ruedell, based in Koblenz, Germany, is the manager of engineering tools in the electronics division of ZF. He works with his engineering partners to understand their needs for tools, how to use tools, how to optimize them, and what is needed from a data perspective. He works very closely with the IT department, acting as the translator between the engineering terminology and the IT language.
Ms. Natalia Czaja, based in Czestochowa, Poland, is a Manufacturing Configuration Management Analyst. Ms. Czaja’s team supports processes in ZF’s electronics division, from the initiation to the execution phases of projects. Diligent preparation of change requests is their main issue.

Solution Overview: Establishing PLM as the single authoritative source of truth

Critical to achieving ZF’s vision was implementing cross-divisional and cross-functional core software platforms that enable the collaboration required for developing innovative products. The focus was to provide solutions that make data available to its various divisions which it can then use for analytical purposes and artificial intelligence (AI) applications.

It starts with ZF’s mechanical designers where they use Creo. Windchill is then used as the single authoritative source of truth for all product-related data. The Windchill platform allows for standardized processes where possible and variation where needed. ZF also uses Kepware for machine connectivity which is considered critical to the digital transformation of its factories. ThingWorx Navigate is utilized as an integration platform to integrate data not only from Windchill but also from other legacy PLM systems, program management systems, and ERP systems, for example. Vuforia is one of the key technologies used to support the quality processes within its factories. The augmented reality capabilities are used to guide workers on the shop floor through quality checks. This data revolution enables a radical re-design of almost all ZF’s business models, business processes, products, and services. Software and technology are becoming core to its business, and this is of critical importance for the competitive edge of the company. The results have been significant. ZF has been able to make decisions faster, speeding time to mark, while increasing productivity and improving overall product quality.

Implementation Spotlight: ThingWorx Navigate for Collaboration

ZF turned to ThingWorx Navigate to support its ‘See, Think, Act’ philosophy. ThingWorx Navigate allows users to ‘see’ product information in the easy-to-use apps, ‘think’ by combining different data sources via an app or report, and ‘act’ by helping users make and take action on data-driven decisions. By leveraging real-time data, analytics, and AI, ZF has transformed the way teams dynamically collaborate.

With ThingWorx Navigate’s low-code platform approach and reusable UI components, ZF can provide self-service IT functionality to its global employees. Developers have been able to create apps within hours vs. weeks without impacting the source systems or connectors, and with minimal involvement from IT. Below are three core apps that ZF developed:

Where-Used App

Helps ZF business users to know where a part is being used (i.e., assembly, plan, end product). With one click users can access and visualize information, saving many hours per task.

Part Information Report App

Allows users to view summarized part information with minimal clicks without having to search in multiple systems or product interfaces.

ZF Windchill Insight App

Summarizes information for users, helping them to make decisions and reflect decisions back into relevant systems. This saves engineers time while empowering them to make quality decisions.

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