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.
In early May, the ZKW Group will be adding a new development office in Olomouc/Czech Republic and a sales and development office in Shanghai to its ten existing international locations. The new branch in Olomouc will support the global engineering network, while handling further development tasks to add to existing capacities in Austria. 50 new jobs will be created during the initial expansion. The company’s goal is to employ more than 100 specialists by 2023. The new sales and development office in Shanghai will be supporting the existing ZKW location in Dalian. These expansion steps underscore the ZKW Group’s successful trajectory. Despite the pandemic and the difficult economic environment, the Group succeeded in generating revenues of 1.03 billion euros in 2020. “We were able to maintain production at our locations through a major organizational effort and by showing outstanding flexibility. We have the excellent teamwork and commitment of all of our employees to thank for our success. Now, we will continue to grow through our global development footprint” says Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) will provide €150 million to Austrian ZKW Group GmbH. ZKW is a leading automotive supplier that develops and manufactures innovative premium lighting systems and electronic modules. In recent years, ZKW significantly shaped the industry through a series of innovations such as the first laser headlights in series production. The fresh funds from the EU bank will be used for ZKW´s investments in Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) in the field of innovative automotive lighting systems carried out in Austria and Slovakia. In addition, ZKW aims to invest in state-of-the-art machinery and equipment for its manufacturing site located in Slovakia.
Project Solaris is being funded by the FFG grant agency and the Ministry of Technology, as part of the program “Production of the Future.” ZKW is responsible for project management. The ZKW team is researching self-healing solders with a high load-bearing capacity alongside the Vienna University of Technology and the Materials Center Leoben. The material is being researched for potential application in connecting high-power LEDs and other power semiconductors in the automotive industry. ZKW develops and manufactures these kinds of electronic assemblies – such as control units and light modules – at the Wiener Neustadt location of ZKW Elektronik GmbH. “The Solaris project is helping us to develop new products custom-tailored to our automotive clients’ needs, and to make our manufacturing as environmentally friendly as possible while conserving resources. Our goal with this high-performance connection technology is to optimize the failsafe reliability of our electronic products” says Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.
ZKW introduced the “Dragonfly” research and development project around a year ago. To launch the project, the lighting system specialist integrated optical sensors into the headlamps of a test vehicle to facilitate automated driving functions. Now, the system is being expanded with LiDAR – a method for optical measurements of distance and speed. This provides precise distance measurement even at night, improves lighting control and gives a key added boost to road safety. “Project Dragonfly will help create the sensor-based 360 degree view essential to autonomous driving. The goal of the research project is to further improve road safety” says Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.
Headlamps are not just light sources, they are also a unique design element of any vehicle, and have to integrate seamlessly with the manufacturer’s brand image. ZKW created the international “brickZ Design Competition” to collect innovative ideas and concepts for future front lighting designs. Major design agencies took part in the competition, as well as talented engineers and students. The participants presented the designs they had submitted to a professional jury during the professional award ceremony on April 29th, 2020. KWAutomotive from Korea and Design Storz from Salzburg were selected as the winners. They will enjoy the grand prize totaling 15,000 euros and the chance to collaborate with ZKW. “We truly value innovation and a forward-thinking headlamp design. Competitions like this one help us find bright minds and make valuable partnerships,” explains Hannes Scheer, Head of Innovation at ZKW Group GmbH.
The ZKW Group GmbH submitted a total of 51 new patents in 2019. 17 patents were registered with the Austrian patent office. With this figure, the automotive supplier leads the Lower Austrian patent rankings for 2019. ZKW is 4th for new registrations across Europe. The Wieselburg company stands out in its industry with lighting system innovations, many of which center around digital light. The industrial company is also at the front of the pack when it comes to trademark registrations. Research and development are highly important at ZKW. The company uses the latest measurement technology and tests new products in its own light channel, which is one of the world’s largest. “Our patents represent the values of our company. Innovation is important to us, to illuminates a path towards the future” explains Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.
Despite the difficult economic environment the automotive industry is facing, ZKW has enjoyed some admirable successes. The Wieselburg lighting specialist received four major awards over the last few weeks: In China, ZKW received the “Best Improvement Award” from Shanghai General Motors (SGM) for its unique achievements as a supplier. In the European market, ZKW was honored by General Motors with the “Supplier quality excellence award.” ZKW not only received the “German Design Award” for its newly developed stripeZ LED light module, but also won the coveted “Automotive Brand Contest” in the Future, Mobility & Parts category. “In times like these, we are especially proud of these awards. They confirm our innovative strategy once again, as well as our strong customer focus,” explains Oliver Schubert, CEO of the ZKW Group.