Summer 2022

Tier 1 – ZF

Digital adrenaline –
ZF seeks to turn fear of transformation into fervor

Arno Güllering, who leads ZF electrified powertrain operations across 26 plants globally, explains how the company is building employee buy-in to the transformative changes it is implementing. Report by Christopher Ludwig & Peter Murphy

If you want to grasp the depth of the sweeping changes automotive electrification and digitalisation of manufacturing have triggered, listen to component maker ZF’s career advice to new entrants:

“Do not do an apprenticeship just in mechanics. Go to electronics. Super important,” says Arno Güllering, Senior Vice President of Operations for Electrified Powertrain Technology.

Güllering, who also spoke on the topic during Automotive Manufacturing Solutions’ May 17-19 Evolution Summit, explains how ZF is building buy-in among its workers for the broad changes advanced computing is now imposing.

The executive is plain-spoken about the fear it entails for employees, not only in terms of job security but also in terms of new digital skills acquisition and doubts about the future relevance of skills they already possess.

“Transformation brings insecurity for a lot of people in the plant. We have to get people involved and take this anxiety and fear away and give them a view of the future. After all it’s not bad. New products come to the market. It’s always a possibility to ‘reinvent’ yourself and for growth,” says Güllering, who has led ZF’s electrified powertrain operations since he joined the company in 2019.

ZF’s approach is to foster change “in little steps”. Its package of e-learning courses, for example, drill right down to the basic physics of the electric powertrain and demonstrate why it is vastly more efficient, because “a lot of people still don’t believe that,” he says.

“You have to create the interest. My thinking is that it is a big opportunity to get into this super exciting and interesting market. New and better products that don’t burn oil … My main challenge is to get everyone involved and to see it in a positive way.”

During the Evolution Summit, participants also heard how ZF was working more closely with upstream suppliers, with increasing vigour in the last two years, to make climate-neutral the car components they supply.

Increasingly important for Güllering is also ZF’s pursuit of visibility into the supply chains that replenish its plants. “We need to know what’s on ships,” he says, outlining lingering challenges from the global pandemic.

He gives a first-hand account of ZF’s experience of applying the cutting-edge technologies being urgently embraced by OEMs such as cloud-level optimisation and replication of production processes. That has contributed to a broad standardisation of plants with Chinese, US and Mexican plants now barely distinguishable from inside, something that equally applies to the quality of their output, according to Güllering.

But lest a new arrival to the automotive field conclude that gaining international exposure is therefore now superfluous, Güllering offers a further piece of career advice:

“Everybody is on TikTok or Instagram internationally but hardly anyone wants to go to China or the US for three years. Internationality is important. Be open to a job abroad – for some weeks, months or a couple of years,” says the executive, who worked early in his career in the US state of North Carolina and in Romania.

“That helped me understand globalisation. That’s the key – to go.”

How ZF is empowering people in the transition to producing electrified powertrains


    While we have done a lot of things in the last 20 years with trying to figure out how to get the right parts in the operator’s hands at the right time, in the right quantities, what we haven’t cracked, until now, is how to get these vehicles to have different takt times and still keep them synchronised – Frank Faga, Canoo