A gearbox guru: 35 years spent with ZF

Tim Jordan is well-known as Technical Manager CV at ZF Services. He has enjoyed a long career in the coach and bus industry – one that has seen immeasurable change

Tim Jordan joined ZF Services over 35 years ago and now holds the position of Technical Manager CV. He will retire later this year.

Here, Tim looks back on a long and fulfilling career that has witnessed a dramatic shift in the technological landscape and which has seen sweeping changes in the coach and bus sector.

routeone: What has been your greatest challenge from a technical viewpoint since you started with ZF?

Tim Jordan: Initially, the greatest challenge was one that I set myself after four years at ZF Gears, as it was known then. I decided that the workshop environment wasn’t for me. I applied for, and was appointed to, the role of Field Service Engineer.

Before that, I worked at Trent Motor Traction (now Trentbarton), where I was trained purely as a mechanic, not as an electrician.

The field service role that I moved into at ZF was predominantly to support the up and coming Ecomat gearbox. It was being promoted by Leyland Bus as the only choice in its range, superseding its own Hydracyclic transmission.

That effectively meant that the Ecomat, a product that numbered probably around 500 in total in the UK, was then going into approximately 2,000 buses and coaches per year in the Leyland range alone.


The unique thing at that time about the Ecomat was that it was microprocessor controlled, so the fundamental operation of the gearbox was electronic. I therefore signed up to the Arthur Mee centre in Stapleford for a year to learn as much about electrics and electronics as I could.

During that time, I fitted around four years’ worth of training into 12 months. I learned a lot, from the laws of electricity and vehicle fault diagnosis to the function of microprocessors, programming and many other aspects of ZF’s whole range of transmissions.

Coupled with the tuition from ZF’s leading German Ecomat engineer at the time, I also learned how to manipulate the software to influence all aspects of that particular gearbox’s operation.

routeone: Given how much the industry has advanced over the past three decades, how much of the electrification of vehicles has surprised you, and did you think zero emissions could/would ever be achievable?

TJ: I would have been surprised 30 years ago if you had told me of the advances that were to be made during the intervening period. What’s been achieved since then has been incredible. We’re now in a place where vehicle electrification will help the UK to reach its zero-emission target.

routeone: Where do you see the industry and coach and bus technology in another 35 years’ time?

TJ: For sure, by then all vehicles will have long since discarded internal combustion.

At present, the government wants to see all diesel-fuelled vehicles, followed by those with petrol engines, off our roads by 2032, with the target being totally zero emissions by 2040.

In 35 years’ time, we will be in 2054. By then, we should have a complete generation of zero-emission vehicles on the roads, including whatever additional technology is developed by then in place. ZF is already at the forefront of that, with products such as AxTrax AVE and CeTrax.


routeone: Can youell us a little more about those new products?

TJ:  ZF’s latest innovation for electric drivetrains and the AxTrax AVE. It is a zero-emission, low-noise axle for city buses that has been produced in response to the demand for low-carbon vehicles to be further developed to meet long-term emission reduction targets.

One of the many benefits of the AxTrax AVE portal axle is that it is one way of contributing to electric mobility in urban areas.

It has a GVW of up to 29,000kg, with a motor system that saves up to 200kg compared with a central motor design and which allows low, level floor access for passengers. That weight reduction saves energy that can be converted into a greater vehicle range.

Several road tests that we have carried out in a vehicle fitted with AxTrax AVE were received very well, in terms of performance, the benefits of lower weight, reduced noise and increased passenger capacity.

In addition to AxTrax AVE, ZF offers the electric CeTrax central drive as a system solution for low- and high-floor buses. It is built on a ‘plug in and drive’ approach, so it can be integrated into existing vehicle platforms without having to make major changes to the chassis, axles or differential.

CeTrax is intended above all for challenging bus applications and it offers considerable weight advantages as well as outstanding efficiency.

routeone: In terms of technology and electromobility, what has been your steepest learning curve during your time at ZF?

TJ: Apart from learning electrics and understanding electronics, the steepest learning curve for everyone from my generation has been the introduction of computers, which during my career has changed every aspect of the job from report writing to diagnosing a problem on a vehicle.

35 years ago, every report was handwritten, with Polaroid instant pictures often attached to illustrate a problem. The only way of then relaying this information instantly to a colleague in Germany was by fax, which often resulted in very poor images arriving at the other end.

Telematics, which allows remote data to be recorded and studied anywhere in the world, was the stuff of science fiction back then.

Because this technology was evolving in front of us as we did our jobs and was not taught at school before we embarked on further education or a career, this has been the steepest learning curve.

routeone: What have you enjoyed most about your role?

TJ: That’s simple. Travelling, meeting lots of different people and continually learning. The products that ZF manufactures are always evolving along with technology, and ZF is usually among the frontrunners. As an engineer, it has been great to have been part of that journey.

Some of the places that I have visited are those that I would not otherwise have seen. They have contributed to making my life varied, interesting and educational. Some of the characters that I have met along the way, all over the world, have been an education in life itself.

routeone: What advice would you pass on to the next generation of engineers?

TJ: First and foremost, enjoy what you do. You spend about a third of your life at work. Don’t fall into the trap of only doing a job because of the rewards that the money can bring, such as paying a mortgage.

I’ve got too many friends who have long since lost interest or enthusiasm for their job, and who only focus on the rewards – which are normally only enjoyed when on holiday or at the weekend.

It is possible to have a job that you are genuinely interested in and which doesn’t seem like a chore. Strive to find that position – the one that not only interests you, but which suits your mentality.