Lighting Provider Points Laser at Americas
ZKW is a privately owned Austrian company with headquarters and an R&D center in the town of Wieselburg. The provider of lighting and electronic modules has plants around the world, including Slovakia, China and India, all following the same strict quality standards. Its latest target is the Americas and the soon-to-open plant in Silao, Guanajuato will play a leading role in the company’s plan to penetrate the continent. Mexico is crucial for ZKW’s business strategy as the newest member of the exclusive group of countries paving the way for laser technology in lighting systems.
ZKW’s focus on new products and technology has helped it to stand out among premium brands. The company’s global customers include BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, the Volkswagen Group and Volvo, as well as large truck companies such as Scania, MAN Truck & Bus and Volvo Trucks. Once the Silao plant is up and running by the end of 2016, its manufacturing lines will cater to Volvo, Freightliner, Ford, General Motors and Infiniti. ZKW has already reached out to Mercedes-Benz and Audi’s local facilities as it supplies headlights for both brands in Europe and hopes the partnership will continue in Mexico.
ZKW specializes in the production of lighting systems, primarily headlights, indicators and fog lights for the premium segment. ZKW was the first company to incorporate laser light technology in a vehicle, namely for the BMW i8. The difference between LED and laser is the headlights’ reach. LEDs allow 200-300m visibility, while the i8’s laser headlights help the driver see 700m ahead and can even illuminate up to 900m in some cases. This innovative addition to the product line employs the laser’s whiteness to make it feel almost like you are driving in broad daylight when it is pitch black. Laser allows infrared cameras to focus and illuminate specific objects, enabling the driver to see pedestrians and other cars more easily.
ZKW’s suppliers are located in Guanajuato, Guadalajara and Queretaro, so Puerto Interior in Silao was a natural location for the company’s plant to be close to the supply chain. Guanajuato’s industrial zone offers perfect access to the automotive industry in North America. It offers a pool of experienced automotive technicians who can slot straight into any company’s roles. Transport infrastructure is an additional selling point as nearby airports and highways make Silao a highly connected area.
Despite ZKW’s laser innovations, the majority of new developments are in LED lighting as they weigh less than standard illumination systems and can be integrated into mass production vehicles. New functions are constantly introduced into lighting systems such as light beam adjustments. ZKW’s headlights alter their angle automatically, moving separate groups of LEDs to dip the beam and avoid dazzling oncoming drivers, while simultaneously compensating with brightness from the other side of the car. This function is only possible with LED or laser, as xenon bulbs cannot be adapted in this way. The systems that control headlight adjustments are managed at an in-house unit in Austria solely focused on electronics.
Specializing in smaller volumes has permitted ZKW to incorporate advanced technology into its products and has placed it among the top three companies worldwide in the lighting systems field. While it innovates alone, the company has to work hand in hand with OEMs for their car designs. Limitations can arise because of a car’s motor or exterior shape, hence the importance of close collaboration. It also must comply with each brand’s specifications, such as Audi’ distinctive headlight shape that can be recognized at a distance. ZKW innovation is reflected in design, technology and in the vehicle’s performance. Its lights can significantly reduce a vehicle’s weight for potential clients. Such is the case of the Audi Q7, a prime example of a lighter car partly thanks to different headlights.
Over the next three years ZKW plans to hire between 300 and 350 people to run the Silao plant. The company is prepared to employ up to 2,000 workers once operations are consolidated. The company believes there is plenty of potential to supply both Mexican-based OEMs and those in the US. The Austrian company has great plans for Mexico. Introducing product adaptations and new technology will be a priority once it is operating fully while R&D operations in Mexico City also are being considered.