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ZF has premiered at Hannover Messe its ZF Innovation Forklift – a highly automated, electrified and fully networked forklift truck.

This is the first time the company has transferred the technology that supports its motto "see. think. act." to a materials handling application. This world innovation in the industrial technology sector has embraced current mega-trends in the industry, thus ensuring greater efficiency and safety while simultaneously lowering operating costs.

ZF's Industrial Technology Division has benefited from the Group’s broad expertise in the passenger car and commercial vehicle sectors. This is shown by a world premiere at this year’s Hannover Messe. With the ZF Innovation Forklift, the Group presents the first ever materials handling a vehicle that can see, think and act. It is a fully networked electric forklift truck with highly automated driving functions equipped with camera and radar systems that enable it to see its surrounding environment.

The data that these systems generate are analysed by the ZF ProAI central computer, which is based on an artificial intelligence software that has already been proven in other innovative prototype vehicles modelled on passenger cars and tractors. Intelligent actuating elements – such as the ZF electric rear axle steering for forklift trucks – and the electric ZF single-wheel drive carry out the control unit's given commands.

 “We are already playing a leading role when it comes to highly automated and autonomous driving – and that also includes industrial technology. It is no longer just about launching outstanding solutions that offer customers major benefits on the market. It's about speed. The ZF innovation teams have proven this here in Hanover with their new products,” says ZF CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider. “The highly automated ZF Innovation Forklift is the result of bundled know-how to create a unique and comprehensive solution that essentially embraces the main requirements of the industry: reducing costs and making materials handling processes far more efficient.”

The ZF Innovation Forklift bundles digitalisation, automation, electrification and networking. It paves the way toward autonomous materials handling vehicles of the future. This highly automated forklift truck completes work orders by independently going to the storage location, picking up the goods and delivering them to the customer. Equipped with an extremely powerful electric drive and features a lifting capacity of up to 3.5 tons, the ZF Innovation Truck is coming well within range of the diesel-operated forklift trucks broadly used outdoors; and it generates zero emissions. ZF supplies the purely electric drive as a system solution and has streamlined the forklift truck’s energy management so that it can hold a battery charge for at least one shift.

This means that operators do not have to have as many replacement batteries on hand and can, therefore, reduce costs considerably. Intelligent object and pedestrian detection is a major safety bonus when the vehicle is in operation. The ZF Innovation Forklift sensors record people or stationary objects such as pallet cages or simply pallets. The data interpreted in the ZF ProAI central control unit results in a corresponding command that tells the vehicle to either stop or drives around the obstacle. Deep learning algorithms help to anticipate the great variety of potential scenarios in high speed and then trigger adequate reactions. In other words, artificial intelligence can help to prevent work accidents and injury to people or material damage. The vehicle can also prioritise orders itself and thus make decisions regarding the optimal sequence and route.

An essential factor in this is how the ZF Innovation Forklift is networked. It can operate in a digitalised production network and there communicate both with the materials management system, infrastructure and other vehicles. The cloud-based, dynamic fleet management allows the data from the individual forklift trucks to be efficiently managed and analysed. The system considers, for example, the current battery charge status during all driving operations and schedules the recharge time at which the forklift truck should independently head toward the charging station.

When looking at the issues of data management and data analytics networking the most diverse systems to one IoT platform is an essential cornerstone of industrial technology in the future. The ZF Cloud is an open, scalable IoT platform that can be flexibly used across many industries. It offers the option of collecting data and analysing it in real time using the most powerful analysis tools and networking with many individual functions and participants. The first users of the ZF Cloud include, among others, ropeway operators who prevent unforeseen downtimes using the system’s predictive maintenance function. On wind farms, networked wind turbine gearboxes continuously calculate the optimal operating mode using the data available. ZF Cloud users can integrate external information and save it in a protected area. ZF’s internal telematics platform called Openmatics is also networked with the ZF Cloud.

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