Manufacturing News

ZF launches big expansion at Shanghai r&d center

German parts supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG is investing 50 million euros (412 million yuan) to quintuple the size of its Shanghai headquarters and research hub to accommodate offices, laboratories and test benches.

The center will have 54,000 square meters of floor space, up from 11,000 square meters now.

The expansion will allow the facility to design global products for ZF.

ZF set up the r&d center in Shanghai in 2005 as its eighth global development center. In the past few years, the facility has developed auto parts that are used in vehicles not only in China but also other countries, company executives told Automotive News China last month.

One example is an electric power steering system designed for micro-cars and subcompact cars.

With a servo unit attached directly to the steering column, the power steering system is very compact, said Rudi von Meister, president of the company's Asian region.

The system is used in the Tata Nano in India, and in subcompact models produced by Shanghai General Motors, Jianghuai Automobile Co. and Great Wall Motor Co. ZF also plans to produce the system for vehicles built in Germany.

With the component, ZF "has been able to demonstrate that it can develop a commercial solution for the least expensive car," said von Meister.

ZF opened its first production plant in China in 1994. Now it runs 25 factories in the country.

To keep pace with the auto industry's rapid expansion in China and India, ZF's r&d team in Shanghai has become increasingly involved in the company's product development.

Currently, ZF is developing and testing a variant of its 9-speed automatic transmission. "It will be developed here and is planned to enter mass production in China first in 2017," said Ye Guohong, president of ZF (China) Investment Co.

Another product under development in Shanghai is a rear axle driven by dual small motors. The left and right wheels each have a compact drive unit which combines a transmission and an electric motor in a single lightweight aluminum housing.

The component, called an electric twist beam, is designed for electric cars and hybrid-powered vehicles. Like the new 9-speed transmission, the electric twist beam is likely to be produced in China, Ye said.

While ZF still handles most of its r&d in Germany, the company's Shanghai facility is expanding its global role.

As the Shanghai technical center expands, "the technology will flow back to Germany and other markets," Ye said. "That's our mission and that has also made the work here more interesting."

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