Diesel Progress International talked to Piergiorgio Di Francesco, newly appointed head of Off-Highway North America for the Industrial Technology Division of ZF North America Inc.
ZF exhibits at IFPE & ConExpo/CON-AGG in South Hall, 85113
DPi: Mr. Di Francesco, you had quite some international experience in your career. Can you tell us what your role with ZF in the US will be and what your work will be focusing on?
Piergiorgio Di Francesco: I am currently responsible for ZF Off-Highway in North America. As I always say to my team, we are here first to defend ZF business in the region, but at the same time we want to grow our share through our superior products and dedication to the customers. This means not only our major partners, but also medium and smaller size OEM’s that we want to serve with professionalism and commitment, because every customer is important to us.
DPi: What are your expectations for the North American market in the coming years? Are there segments which are expected to perform particularly well? Some which pose specific challenges?
Di Francesco: The US economy is entering its longest economic expansion, with almost all key performance indicators trending positive. However, 2020 is an election year and this brings uncertainties and deferred investments. If we add the trade war, the consequences of Brexit, the tensions in Iran and now the Novel Coronavirus outbreak, then the market consensus is that 2020 will be a softer year compared to 2019.
With regards to construction equipment, housing and infrastructure are predicted to do well, while oil & gas and non-residential investments are trending down, with the overall sentiment to be single digit negative. Regarding 2021, there are some signs of recovery on the horizon; therefore, the expectation is that it will be better than 2020.
DPi: Will ZF be focusing on any special segment, or application?
Di Francesco: We are in the middle of a revolution in the automotive market, and this is shifting also towards the adjacent Off-Highway business. Besides the standard products that have always characterized ZF leadership as a drivetrain system supplier for Best-In-Class Efficiency, we are highly committed to extend this leadership to new and innovative technologies like electric drivetrains, advanced driver assistance systems, connectivity, autonomous driving, condition monitoring, etcetera, through synergies with other ZF Divisions.
DPi: ZF’s motto at ConExpo is “The Future of Construction”, with an offer for Intelligent System Solutions. Can you explain what these Intelligent Solutions consist of and for which applications they are mainly meant?
Di Francesco: The Future of Construction is the way ZF sees this market to evolve in the near future. Our vision breaks down into three technology segments: 1) Efficiency, which is our advanced driveline product portfolio that delivers best-in-class efficiency. 2) Electrification, i.e. zero-emission solutions for wheeled applications and 3) Smart Construction, that represents our offering in terms of advanced driver assistance systems, connectivity, predictive maintenance, and so on.
These combined portfolios help ZF to provide a complete Intelligent System Solution to the market, which is constituted by sensors (“See”), advanced control units (“Think”) and actuators like axles, transmissions, gearboxes, brakes, steering systems (“Act”).
In principle, we are targeting all wheeled applications with particular attention to the compact and medium size equipment.
DPi: Are these system solutions answering specific trends in the markets?
Di Francesco: As explained before, this trend is a derivative of the trend that we all see in the automotive and commercial vehicles markets: zero emissions and zero accidents. Considering off-highway, Europe is slightly ahead with this trend but lately we have seen a lot of interest and activities coming from our North American customers.
DPi: Electrification is a big topic these days. Can you say how ZF is addressing this technology and market trend?
Di Francesco: Climate change is obviously a topic that interests everybody and the ZF Group is at the edge to provide zero emissions solutions that help the environment. Through synergies with other Group Divisions, the Off-Highway Business Unit has started to develop and produce a complete system for electrified vehicles by leveraging in-house competencies and partners’ support. We are now able to supply a wide range of drivelines (electric motor, inverter, transmission, valves, ECU and of course axles) for a vast variety of applications such as compact and medium wheel loaders, telehandlers, mini-dumpers, mixers, backhoe loaders, and others for construction equipment, along with forklift trucks and other material handling applications and implements and trailers in agricultural machinery.
DPi: Efficiency has also always been an important theme for ZF. What are your most recent developments in this area?
Di Francesco: We have always been committed to provide our customers with reduced consumption/less emissions, along with increased performances and higher productivity solutions. Our ZF Efficiency Package, with its 5-speed powershift ERGOPOWER transmission, ERGOLOCKUP and self-locking differential, already satisfies these requirements. In addition, for premium applications we offer our continuous variable transmission (CVT) drivetrain that represents the best-in-class driveline for construction machinery (we display a specific solution for motor graders at ConExpo), forestry and heavy material handling applications.
DPi: Is there anything else remarkable about the N.A. market that you want to mention? Challenges or opportunities?
Di Francesco: ZF is globally recognized as market leader when we talk about technology, and our exhibits at ConExpo will prove our competence as a supplier of intelligent system solutions once again. However, our competitors are not just watching but taking action; therefore, we need to continue working hard and fast to keep the lead. The challenge is not outside but inside us: owe have a strong team and by joining forces of the entire ZF Group we will deliver “The Future of Construction”.