In advance of next week’s Hannover Fair, being held in Germany, I spoke with Dr. Karl Tragl, president of the executive board of Bosch Rexroth AG, about his company’s current activities, his views on the state of industry, and Bosch Rexroth’s future plans. Here is Design World’s exclusive interview with this well-known and respected industry leader.
PH: Is the Hidden Beast opening any new markets for Bosch Rexroth, and how do you see it fitting in to your current portfolio? We haven’t seen a lot of activity from Hagglunds since the purchase, can you comment on how the integration has gone? Where do you see it going in the next 5 years?
KT: Hägglunds is an important part of our portfolio and is fully integrated into Bosch Rexroth. We expect substantial growth with Hägglunds products especially in plastics machinery, in mining and offshore industries as well as in material handling and other applications. The Hidden Beast is a fine example of how we work: Customers from the plastics industry approached us and asked us to design a hydraulic motor that was smaller, stronger, more reliable and more energy efficient than any other ever. We accepted the challenge. The result is our new Hägglunds CA 10 to 40 gearless motor range. This range delivers the highest power density in the market, and full torque and full speed simultaneously—not only for the plastics machinery industry. The first version of the motor is extremely suitable and fits very compactly into injection molding machines. The next version of the motor will cover more applications like presses, marine and offshore applications, recycling facilities, mobile applications and more.
PH: We’ve seen some specific examples of Industry 4.0 in components—Eaton has the LifeSense Hose, Parker has the Smart-Hose tracking system, Bimba has Intellisense—what is Bosch Rexroth working on that’s comparable?
KT: Our approach is to roll out Industry 4.0 capability to our complete product portfolio and we are already pretty far. We are combining hydraulics with digital controls and decentralized intelligence. Our new range of Hydraulic Power Packs continuously monitors all relevant system states of the power unit. With its own intelligence, the HPU transforms this data into knowledge using condition monitoring and predictive maintenance functions to improve the uptime of machinery significantly. We have developed a complete range of motion controls for hydraulics replacing valve functions by software. Finally, with Open Core Engineering, we offer a unique interface between automation and the high level-languages of the IT-world, so that programmers can more easily integrate smart devices and apps for automation applications.
PH: I know that Bosch Rexroth is very much invested in Industry 4.0/The Internet of Things. And it will certainly change our world in the coming years. But of all the predictions, what part of the Internet of Things do you feel is overblown or over-exaggerated by the media?
KT: I remember the year 2000, when a lot of people in the so called “old industry” felt every prediction about the internet was overblown. Today, we know better. I am sure that it is nearly impossible to over-exaggerate the effects of Industry 4.0. But I see two possible misunderstandings.
First, Industry 4.0 will not result in fully automated plant floors without humans. This is a clear distinction to the concept of Computer Integrated Manufacturing. In the future we will still see a lot of people working together with machines. But their role will be different; they will more likely coordinate and control processes, which means that they need different skills than today.
The second misunderstanding is the perception that Industry 4.0 is all about huge investments that only big companies can afford. Our experience in our own plants is completely the opposite. We follow an iterative approach, where we decentrally realize many ideas on a small scale to gather experience. Step by step, we expand successful pilot projects and introduce Industry 4.0 organically. I think this is also a good template for small- and medium-sized companies to start with.
PH: 3D printing is another area that will change manufacturing in the coming years. How do you see additive manufacturing technologies changing the way you manufacture components? Is Bosch investing in any research in that area?
KT: Bosch Rexroth already uses two 3D printers in daily production in our foundry in Germany for short production runs and rapid prototyping of casting cores. Additive manufacturing makes it possible to implement complex geometries and shapes while resulting in both shorter development periods and lower costs. Thus, short runs and spare parts can be produced at greater efficiency and lower costs. As an automation supplier, we are also an established partner of 3D printer manufacturers worldwide. Our controls, servo drives, and linear modules help to improve speed and accuracy of 3D printers.
PH: What does the factory of the future look like, and how is Bosch Rexroth incorporating that now?
KT: Products, processes and humans will be interconnected. What does that mean in real life? In one of our factories, we have installed a multi-product manufacturing line, where over 200 different hydraulic valves are assembled semi-automatically. It consists of nine autonomous modules. The workpiece carrier is equipped with an RFID tag, which connects the real product with its virtual data. The modules read the RFID and know exactly the configuration of the finished product. At the same time, each module recognizes the associate in place on the production line and shows him the corresponding working instructions, which are individualized in language and information depth. This multi-product line is in daily production since last summer. We achieved a productivity increase of 10% and a decrease in inventory of 30%. I am proud to emphasize, that this line is made with off the shelf hardware and software from Bosch Rexroth.
PH: With the “local for local” manufacturing trend continuing, are there plans for bringing additional specific component manufacturing to the U.S.?
KT: Bosch Rexroth [has been] manufacturing a substantial portion of components in the U.S. for many decades now. Our local for local strategy is more than production. It also encompasses the development of products, solutions and services meeting regional requirements. Our GoTo program has been developed in the U.S. using the latest technologies to make it easier to select, configure and order components. One distributor in the U.S. told me that he saves 15 people-days per year due to the GoTo program—and we realize the shortest delivery times in our industry.
PH: Do you think that American safety standards are insufficient, compared to European or other worldwide safety standards?
KT: No, as a matter of fact, the European machine directive has adopted the American approach of incorporating probabilistic methods. In general, safety has become a major concern in all trade markets and we see that safety standards have become more strict everywhere. I think this is positive, because machines should never endanger human health. Bosch Rexroth has developed safety solutions for all automation levels and technologies. More importantly, we have safety specialists in our global organization who know the respective regional rules and support machine manufactures and end users to meet them.
PH: Post selling what is now Aventics, how has that impacted Bosch Rexroth, and do you plan to replace that with anything else? Your various components can make up roughly half a fluid power system. Why haven’t you made a move yet to get into the remainder—a bigger focus on cylinders, as well as items like hose, fittings, couplings, etc.? Haven’t your customers been asking for a complete solution from you?
KT: We continuously revise our technology and product portfolio. The acquisition of Hägglunds fit perfectly, because it extends our product range in our core market segments factory automation, machinery and engineering, and mobile equipment applications. The same is true for our hydraulic filter business. Sealings, on the other hand, are a different story because the market potential for hydraulics sealing is too small for economies of scale. Because we know how sophisticated modern sealing technology is, we have a high respect for the expertise of the leading suppliers. We cooperate very closely with them and develop, in cooperation, custom-tailored sealing for offshore applications. Therefore we deliver complete solutions in which all components from Bosch Rexroth and our preferred suppliers are perfectly matched.
PH: Do you see your future growth more as acquisitions, or internally developing new technologies?
KT: We follow both directions. We invest substantially in new products and technologies like the electronification of hydraulics. At the same time, we are scanning the global market for other opportunities. For example, in [recent] months, we focused on enlarging our footprint in high potential emerging markets. We acquired stakes in Hytec Holdings, South Africa and the hydraulics business unit of Maestranza Diesel in Chile.