ZKW has been manufacturing high-quality lighting systems for the NAFTA region in the Mexican city of Silao since 2016. Now, the lighting specialist is expanding the location by an additional 21,000 square meters. This step increases the production area to a total of 35,000 square meters. In addition, the company plans to hire over 600 new employees, in order to expand its staffing levels to 1,600 by 2023. The location produces front headlamps and auxiliary lamps for clients such as BMW, Ford Lincoln, Freightliner, General Motors, Mercedes Benz, Navistar and Volvo. The planned production volume is 2.2 million units per year. “The goal of the second phase of expansion is to significantly increase capacity at the site, and increase competencies in the Design, Engineering and Research & Development areas. In doing so, we value a multicultural, integrative and sustainable corporate culture” explains Jan Seumenicht, General Plant Manager of ZKW Mexico.
Cooperation with Silicon Austrian Labs, Evatec, EV Group and TDK Electronics advances light projection technology
Together with research partners Silicon Austrian Labs, Evatec, EV Group and TDK Electronics, ZKW is working on “micromirror” technology. This microelectromechanical system (MEMS) consists of a chip with integrated, microscopic mirror mechanics. The micromirror can be pivoted around two axes by means of piezoelectricity and enables a laser beam to be directed specifically and precisely. In the future, this will enable smart lighting functions for vehicles, such as the projection of symbols (for example arrows) and warnings onto the road, or flexible, adaptive vehicle lighting. This technology can be used in front lights, rear lights or as side projection, as well as in LIDAR systems for optical distance measurement. “Micromirror could be a strategically important key technology enabling new automated lighting functions for autonomous driving. The goal of this so-called ‘smart road lighting’ is to make vehicles smarter, safer and more interactive,” explains Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.
Headquarters in Wieselburg and Chinese site in Dalian awarded for very high delivery reliability
The ZKW sites in Wieselburg and Dalian (China) received the “GM Supplier Quality Excellence Award” for their excellent performance as a reliable automotive supplier. The awards honored the high level of delivery reliability that the lighting system specialists offer General Motors. Despite numerous restrictions due to the pandemic, ZKW was able to fulfill its delivery contracts with GM on time, reliably, and with a high level of quality. “In these turbulent times, we are particularly proud of these awards. They honor our everyday efforts for our customers worldwide”, explains Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.
Energy savings, waste avoidance and the conversion to green power reinforce sustainable, eco-friendly production – all ZKW products projected to be CO₂-neutral by 2038
Sustainable business is a central concern of both the ZKW Group and its customers. As part of its group-wide “Corporate Sustainability Project,” ZKW is working harder to avoiding waste, save resources and implement environmental protection measures at its sites in Austria, Slovakia, Mexico, the US, China and South Korea. The goal is to develop and manufacture products more efficiently and more sustainably. ZKW is focusing on energy-efficient production machines that reduce CO2 output. Green power will also be used by the plants in Wieselburg and Wiener Neustadt beginning in 2022. In Krušovce, ZKW has built Slovakia’s first company building with a class A0 energy label – an award given for the building’s uniquely eco-friendly and energy-saving design. The plant’s staff is contributing by developing a waste separation and prevention initiative and by recycling. The plant in Silao/Mexico was also constructed according to innovative, environmentally-friendly standards. In addition, the employees are supporting local environmental protection by planting 240 trees in the La Purisima natural conservation area. “As a global player, we are aware of our social and corporate responsibility. Because of this, we are converting our production sites to CO2-neutral production by 2025. We want to take an active role in shaping climate protection, and take a close look at the CO₂ footprints of our products” explains Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.
Last year, the Wieselburg lighting system specialist applied a total of 57 innovations for international patents – 50 of them in Europe, and seven in China. The automotive supplier leads the patent rankings in Lower Austria for 2020. ZKW is 4th place in Europe among all Austrian companies that submitted their inventions in Europe. ZKW secured a top placement thanks to the company’s many innovations in intelligent lighting and sensor solutions required for autonomous driving. Research and development are central at ZKW. New products with modern measurement technology are tested in the company’s lighting channel, which is one of Europe’s largest. “Our patents represent the values of our company. Innovation is essential to us, to illuminates a path towards the future” explains Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.
ZKW is working with Newsight Imaging to develop highly precise, adaptive high beams – including for retrofitting
New technology integrates light sensor and controls directly into the front lighting
The strategic partnership ZKW entered into with Israeli startup Newsight Imaging in 2019 is already achieving results. Newsight Imaging won ZKW’s “Drive Light Sight” competition in 2019. Now, a new prototype for a glare-free high beam has been developed as an initial result of the cooperation; the high beam can be integrated directly into the headlamp with its associated sensors and controller. This eliminates the need for a separate front camera. The project, which is currently known as “senseZ” could be ready for series production soon and be manufactured by ZKW. “The autonomous high beam system can be added to or used to retrofit older vehicle models that do not have a front camera or an infrastructure designed for ADB. However, the innovation can also be used to upgrade existing adaptive high beam technology with a higher resolution” explains Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.
ZKW is researching the control units of the future alongside AIT Austrian Institute of Technology and FH Wiener Neustadt
FFG-funded “zoneZ” project is built on interdisciplinary collaboration
As part of the “zoneZ” research project, ZKW is working alongside the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology and the Mechatronics department of the Fachhochschule Wiener Neustadt (FHWN – The University of Applied Sciences Wiener Neustadt) to research an all new class of control units for motor vehicles. The “zoneZ” project is financed and supported by the Federal Ministry of Climate Protection as part of the FTI program Mobility of the Future, and is managed under the Austrian Research Promotion Agency. The goal is to develop a control unit that can control future vehicle sensors, such as radar, camera, and LiDAR, as well as actuators such as headlamps and displays. This will help driver assistance systems activate spotlights for targeted illumination of hazardous objects, or activate the parking assistant or pedestrian protection to avoid accidents. “Our objective is to structure the electronic vehicle architecture of the future in sections, defined by geometric proximity. The goal of the research project is to create a functional pattern that can be used in a statistical model, as well as in a test vehicle” explains Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.
After almost a year of development and optimization, the ZKW COBOT program has now gone live. Collaborative robots are working alongside personnel on the production line. While industrial robots are placed in a separate cell, shielded behind protective installations and safety doors, the ZKW COBOT is free-standing and can interact with the operator. Currently, the intelligent machine is used to assemble headlamp light guides. Initial experiences are promising: Working on a team with the smart robot helps facilitate exhausting manual work for employees, accelerates the assembly process by around 20 percent, and helps ensure consistently high production quality. “Economic efficiency, safety and quality are the focus in the COBOT project. The purpose of the collaborative robot is to deliver targeted support to our employees in manufacturing” says Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.
Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Udo Hornfeck (48), MBA, became the CTO of the ZKW Group GmbH on March 1st, 2021. He is succeeding Jürgen Antonitsch in the position. Hornfeck served most recently as Chief Technology Officer of the Wiring Systems Division of LEONI. He is a well-versed technology expert with many years of international expertise in the automotive and engineering fields. Hornfeck will focus on further expanding the development network of ZKW sites and supporting the departments of technology and innovation. “We are glad to be elevating the future of our mobility concepts to a new level together with Udo Hornfeck,” says Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.
Last year, ZKW searched for start-ups offering innovative solutions in the areas of sensors and auxiliary lamps in the “Drive Light & Sight | Edition 2020” Challenge. Now, the 74 total applications submitted from 25 countries have been reviewed by the ZKW expert jury. The young company Flite has been chosen as a winner, thanks to its new surface finishing method for headlamp lenses, alongside the start-up Maradin, with a micro-laser projector for dynamic lighting systems. Each of the winners will receive 15,000 euros in prize money, along with a place in the ZKW Partnership Program. The winning concepts will now be implemented in practice alongside ZKW’s innovation experts. “Collaborating with start-ups is an important part of our innovation strategy, and is key for developing future lighting and sensor systems. This maximizes safety for all road users in the age of autonomous driving” explains Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group GmbH.