[YesAuto Technology] As a world-recognized industrial power, Germany has not only bred a long-standing and well-known automobile brand, but also spawned many parts and components companies that have been around for centuries. A hundred years ago, in Friedrichshafen on the shore of Lake Constance, a company was established to develop and produce gears and transmission mechanisms for aircraft. Today, this company is well-known by car fans all over the world in addition to relying on excellent automotive gearbox products. At the same time, through continuous technological innovation, we have been at the forefront of automotive technology development. It is the German ZF ZF (ZF Friedrichshafen AG), which celebrates its 100th birthday this year, and its century-old history starts with the famous Zeppelin airship.


When a car is brilliant, dazzling, and dazzling under the focus of the spotlight, you may not even think about how many parts are made of its body, and each part is subtly and orderly. Weaving together and working together can constitute this complex product that condenses human wisdom. It is based on this relationship that the quality and performance of each component has a real impact on the overall performance of the vehicle, and component manufacturers can be described as the giants hiding behind the halo. We will take you through a series of articles to take you to understand the parts companies in the huge industrial chain behind the car companies. They often have a deeper background than the OEMs and strong R&D innovation and manufacturing capabilities. Some companies will extend their reach. In many fields, it constitutes an empire-style enterprise.

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ZF History Prequel

-Earl Zeppelin

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, conquering the blue sky was not yet a skilled skill for humans in this period. The Wright brothers chose airplanes, but Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin (Earl Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin) of Germany was obsessed with another idea that seemed more feasible at the time. This German aristocrat who was born in Konstanz, Grand Duchy of Baden (now part of Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany) and one of the founders of the future ZF company participated in the American Civil War in his early years. And served in the Union Army in the South. Although the Confederacy of the Confederacy, which supported slavery, was finally defeated by the Northern Federation, in those days, Earl Zeppelin took a balloon into the air for the first time, and this trip to the sky gave him a great inspiration.

Earl Zeppelin believes that when the technology of the aircraft is not yet mature, large airships that can be manually controlled play a very important role in both military and civilian use. In 1890, Zeppelin had already begun to build a large rigid airship in Konstanz, and the German military was also very interested in this aerial giant that could carry more bombs. On July 2, 1900, the first pilot airship designed by Earl Zeppelin, code-named LZ1, made its first test flight in Friedrichshafen.

This airship has an aluminum shell wrapped with wire, and the aluminum shell is wrapped in cotton cloth with 16 hydrogen air bags. The LZ1 finally landed in Manzell, not far from Friedrichshafen. Despite the short flight distance, it attracted thousands of onlookers: this giant floating in the air is about 130 meters long and has a diameter. About 12 meters, it looks like a huge cigar, so it is called “flying cigar”. However, this large cigar was damaged by wind gusts shortly afterwards, and some serious problems were exposed at the same time: the reliability of the engine was poor, and the steering was more difficult to control.

-Flight accident and the Zeppelin Foundation

Due to insufficient funds and no more support from the government, some problems were not fundamentally resolved until the fourth pilot-produced airship LZ4 carried out a verification flight for military requirements. In August 1908, the LZ4 “broken down” in Mainz because of a crankshaft failure. In order to carry out repairs, Earl Zeppelin insisted on flying the LZ4 to the Daimler factory in Echterdingen, but misfortunes did not come singly. A storm caused the airship to hit a tree and set fire, destroying it. However, this disaster did not cause casualties, but unexpectedly helped Earl Zeppelin a great favor.

The tragic experience of LZ4 not only did not defeat Earl Zeppelin, but on the other hand solved the problem of funding for the production of airships. After the accident, the whole of Germany was raising funds for it, and the final amount was staggering. In the same year of 1908, Earl Zeppelin founded Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH (Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH) and established the Zeppelin Foundation to manage the huge sum of more than 6 million German marks raised across the country as the basis for the operation of his airship company. To this day, 93.8% of ZF's shares are still held by the foundation .

-Zeppelin with heart disease

Time soon arrived in 1914, when the First World War broke out. Although the war was cruel, for Earl Zeppelin, it enabled him to further realize his dream of airship. Since the aircraft had just appeared at that time, the air load was small and the threat of ground bombing was not great. Therefore, although the airship’s huge body was vulnerable to attack, the German military had used airships to bomb Britain before 1917, because airships could Load hundreds of kilograms of bombs. On the night of August 5, 1914, Zeppelin successfully bombed the Fortress of Liege in Belgium; on August 26, German airships bombed Antwerp for a week, and on August 30, it attacked Paris; on January 19, 1915, the airship Began bombing the British mainland.

Because the performance of the aircraft was still very fragile at that time, there was no power to stop the airship from coming. There are almost no airplanes that can fight at night, and even if most airplanes find an airship, all they can do is poke two small holes in its thick skin. The only thing that can prevent these giant German aerial “cigars” from going. Britain's visit is the volatile weather at sea. On January 19, 1915, the German Zeppelin attacked East England from an altitude of 1,500 meters for the first time. On May 31, the German Army’s LZ38 airship under the command of Captain Linnaz made its first air strike against London, killing 7 people and wounding 31 people.

Although the military has affirmed the importance of Zeppelin in military strategy, and has continuously participated in military operations such as reconnaissance and bombing, the problems related to engines and transmission systems still plague these aerial giants, as well as creations. Their Ferdinand Zeppelin: When the airship is running, huge vibrations and deafening noises reach the crux of the problem-the bevel gears responsible for transmitting the power of the engine simply do not meet the design accuracy requirements, which makes these big guys seem to suffer I don’t know when a sudden condition will happen.

-The birth of ZF

Thanks to the development and production of Zeppelin airships, a large-scale technology center has been formed in Friedrichshafen. A group of heavyweights including Karl Maybach, Alfred von Soden and Alfred Colsman came here and joined Qi The airship manufacturing company of the Earl of Berlin. Among them, before the establishment of the famous Maybach brand, Carl Maybach has been developing and designing multi-cylinder power units for Zeppelin. However, Sorden and Kosman are the key figures in the treatment of “heart disease” for Zeppelin.

In order to solve the problem of the machining accuracy of the transmission gears, Soden, who was the head of the testing department of Zeppelin at the time, approached the Zurich engineer Max Maag, who had developed a method for precise production of gear components, and hoped to acquire his Process equipment. Through Kosman’s negotiations and negotiations, Mag and Zeppelin finally reached an agreement to set up a factory in Friedrichshafen to provide Zeppelin with transmission gear products: Zahnradfabrik. In German, zahnrad means gear and fabrik means factory, which together means gear factory. The company officially completed its commercial registration on September 9, 1915. Since then, ZF has officially stepped onto the historical stage of the world's manufacturing industry.

After the establishment of ZF, Mag's innovative method has greatly improved the precision of gear manufacturing, and each tooth on the gear can reach the designed parameters. In addition, Maag also improved the original quenching and deformation process to further improve the quality of the finished product. At the same time, it is clearly stated in the new company's regulations that ZF's products will cover aircraft, automobiles and ships. In 1916, the company moved to a factory in the Löwenthal district of Friedrichshafen and obtained 10 technical patents. It is these patented technologies that enabled ZF to develop the first vehicle gearbox.

●An important transmission product in ZF's history

-The first gearbox

    Beginning in 1916, ZF’s R&D team led by Soden as the general manager had basically completed the design and development of the first automotive gearbox. However, due to the First World War, ZF could not get enough The funds to hire labor and purchase production materials. The reason is that ZF has just been established and is not a supplier of wartime supplies to the German military. Faced with this predicament, there are only two ways before Suoden: closing the company or obtaining a production contract from the military. So ZF began to produce gears for aircraft during the war and supply them to the German military. On the one hand, it could obtain private investment, and on the other hand, it also received a steady stream of orders from the military.

However, the First World War ended in 1918. According to the Treaty of Versailles, the German aviation industry was hit hard, so ZF's related production was quickly stopped. The company was led by Soden to turn to the development of the automobile industry. In 1920, ZF's first automobile gearbox Soden transmission was born, and the product was directly named after Soden.

-Silent gearbox

The noise of early gearboxes during power transmission and gear shifting has always plagued the drivers of vehicles, so there is an increasing demand in the market for improving the NVH level of gearboxes. ZF saw the needs of the market and started the research and development of silent gearboxes, and the results of the research and development finally surfaced in 1929: the new Aphon silent gearbox series, three of which are specially designed for small passenger cars. There are 4 models exclusively for large trucks.

The Aphon series gearbox is the world's first gearbox using helical gears. In addition, the gear damping system also enhances the smoothness of operation. Thanks to the introduction of the Aphon gearbox, ZF quickly leapt to the leading position in the drivetrain industry at that time, and also had heavyweight customers such as Daimler-Benz, Horch, and Wanderer.

-The first automatic gearbox

Although in the eyes of many people, Europe, dominated by Germany, has always been at the forefront of the world in the research and development of automotive technology, but from the beginning of the last century until the middle page, Americans were more willing to experiment and innovate in new automotive technologies. Far away from the world battlefield and economic expansion, their demand for luxury cars is higher than that in Europe, and local manufacturers are constantly developing various new technologies that can make vehicles more comfortable and luxurious, and allow car owners to enjoy the journey comfortably. Automatic gearbox is one of them.

In 1940, the world's first mass-produced fully automatic gearbox was launched. This was the Hydra-Matic from General Motors, which was the first option for Oldsmobile and Cadillac models. The Hydra-Matic gearbox is designed with four forward gears and one reverse gear. The core of the shift mechanism is composed of three hydraulically controlled planetary gear sets. Unlike previous semi-automatic gearboxes that require manual control, Hydra-Matic can According to the throttle position and speed, the up/down gear will be automatically completed.

Compared with the US market, automatic transmission technology in the European market is relatively lagging due to factors such as war and consumer driving habits. In the 1940s and 1950s, GM's Hydra-Matic was not only widely sold in North America, but also equipped in European luxury cars such as Rolls-Royce and Bentley. After 1954, Mercedes-Benz developed its own 4AT product, which is the same in principle as Hydra-Matic, using planetary gear sets as the core mechanism.

At the same time, ZF's product line still lacked automatic transmission products. This situation was resolved in 1965. In this year, ZF launched the first automatic transmission product 3HP12, which is a 3-speed automatic transmission suitable for small passenger cars with a displacement of 1.5-2.2L. Its transmission mechanism also uses a planetary gear structure, and is equipped with a hydraulic torque converter to make power transmission smoother. The first batch of 3HP12 customers are BMW from Germany and Peugeot from France.

In 1968, with the ambition to make a big splash in the premium compact car market, Peugeot’s 504 model was equipped with a ZF 3HP gearbox. This veteran French car company has high requirements for smoothness and comfort of shifting, so it finally chose ZF.

-Hyundai automatic transmission

The emergence of 3HP12 laid the foundation for the basic structure and design concept of ZF's longitudinal automatic transmission. In 1990, ZF launched the world's first passenger car five-speed automatic transmission 5HP. This gearbox was first installed on BMW's 3 series (E36) and 5 series (E34) models, and was well received for its excellent transmission efficiency and fuel economy.

In 1996, the ZF 6AT gearbox was successfully developed, but the final mass production product was officially launched nearly four years later. As a long-term partner and major customer, BMW often takes the lead in carrying ZF's latest gearbox products, and this time is no exception. This six-speed automatic transmission, code-named 6HP26, is mounted on the new BMW 7 Series (E65/6) launched in 2001. Compared with the previous 5AT products, the 6HP26 is lighter, more compact, and has a higher transmission. effectiveness.

With the continuous advancement of technology, six-speed and seven-speed automatic transmissions and dual-clutch transmissions have entered people’s field of vision. ZF is also constantly developing and developing more gears, higher transmission ratios and better shifting performance. Excellent automatic transmission. In 2007, the eight-speed automatic transmission 8HP was launched, and mass production was achieved two years later. It is worth mentioning that although the 8HP has eight forward gears, its volume is only equivalent to the traditional 6AT. At the same time, ZF claims that with the automatic start-stop system, it can reduce fuel consumption by 11% compared to the 6HP series gearbox. In addition, in this gearbox, ZF also applied the modular design often heard in vehicle development, so that it can be easily matched with hybrid power systems and four-wheel drive systems.

In 2011, the world's first passenger car nine-speed automatic transmission was born, this is ZF's 9HP. Different from the 8AT products that have gradually become popular before, 9HP is a 9AT gearbox specially designed for transverse engines. As a horizontal front-wheel drive platform, the most important point is to require the size of the gearbox to be as small as possible, so that it is possible to simultaneously squeeze the horizontal engine and a nine-speed automatic transmission within the limited width of the vehicle. While increasing the number of gears from the traditional five-speed and six-speed to nine-speed, but also to control the growth of the transmission volume within a reasonable range, this is indeed not an easy task.

The core structure of the 9HP transmission is 4 sets of planetary gears and 6 shift elements, one more shift element than 8HP. The different combinations of planetary gears are controlled by shifting elements, and 9 forward gears and 1 reverse gear are set. It uses nested planetary gears to shorten the length of the gearbox body, and controls the overall weight by optimizing the structure of the gearbox body and using lightweight parts and materials on the basis of meeting strength.

-Short history of CVT

In addition to the development of traditional automatic transmissions and manual transmissions, ZF also has a history of producing CVT transmissions. In 1999, ZF acquired the CVT plant of DAF, the Dutch company DAF, which pioneered the first double-V rubber belt CVT, which specialized in the production of CVT gearboxes. During this period, the CVTs of MINI, Volvo and MG models all came from ZF.

However, in 2006, the Belgian Punch Group acquired the CVT business unit of ZF and established Punch Powertrain. Today, Punch provides CVT transmission products for a large number of Chinese brand models.

Other products of ZF

Since its inception, a large number of ZF products have been concentrated in the transmission system and components, and we are most familiar with various passenger car gearboxes with increasing gears. In addition to these gearbox products, ZF is also a diversified and established supplier of parts and components. Its business scope also includes steering systems, axle systems, damping systems, and automotive electronic systems. In addition, ZF has also produced complete vehicles and some electronic products.

On the afternoon of September 15, 2014, Central European Time, ZF Friedrichshafen AG announced a merger and acquisition transaction with TRW Automotive Holdings. ZF spent US$13.5 billion in cash to purchase all shares in Tianhe. Prior to the acquisition, ZF ranked ninth among global auto parts suppliers, and TRW ranked eleventh (2014 data). After the merger of the two, the scale of the company is comparable to that of Bosch, the top three in the industry. , Denso and Magna.

However, we have said before that ZF’s own steering business will be owned by Bosch. The reason is that ZF and TRW both produce steering systems, and the sum of the market shares of the two steering systems has constituted a monopoly. Trends, so ZF had to sell its steering system business to Bosch, which can be considered a decision after weighing up.

ZF and China

In the early morning of April 13, 1959, nine ZF employees left Friedrichshafen, where the ZF company is located, and embarked on a 14-day maritime expedition. The destination was Sao Paulo, Brazil, in South America. The purpose of this trip to Brazil is to find a suitable site for ZF's first overseas factory, and it is also an important milestone in ZF's 100-year history of development. Today, ZF has 113 factories in 26 countries around the world and employs more than 71,400 people.

In 1981, ZF entered China. At present, ZF has established 1 regional headquarters (including engineering technology center), 20 manufacturing companies, 3 after-sales service and trading companies, and 97 after-sales service outlets in China. When ZF conducts local engineering technology research and development, it adopts the principle of market-oriented design, pays more attention to the needs of the local market, and develops products suitable for the local market.

Edit summary:

Compared with the leading auto parts giants such as Bosch and Denso, ZF’s product line may not be the most abundant, but in the 100 years since its establishment, ZF has continued to innovate and make breakthroughs in the field of transmission technology. , To provide the best products to tens of millions of consumers around the world, which may be the reason why it is still radiating youthful vitality at the age of 100. Of course, during the war, war machines were produced for the German Nazi military, but now ZF is focusing on technologies that make the world greener and travel safer. I believe that through these “giants behind” With unremitting efforts, the future transportation life of mankind will also become better.