A mechanical engineer from Youngstown State College in Ohio, Rickert became president and CEO of Bosch Rexroth in 2001 with the merger of Bosch and Rexroth. Previously, he was vice president, general manager, and chief operating officer for automation at Rexroth Corp. Rickert began his career as a maintenance engineer at BF Goodrich in 1962. Later, he worked at Sharon Steel Corp., Rockwell Reliance Electric, and the Hyper Loop division of Lucas Industries.
More than ever before, it's a global market for machine builders, and they have to get their products to market faster and faster, says Rickert. They are relying on vendors to know their processes. How do they do it?
DESIGN NEWS: What are the major engineering issues that engineers and vendors alike are dealing with in drive and control technology today?
Rickert: The two issues that are common are electronics and communications protocols. Electronics are important because they make products more intelligent, even mechanical systems.
In our case, we've integrated position feedback in our profile rail. In the area of communications, we have capabilities for off-site diagnostics and connections to PCs, plant computers, and the Internet.
Q: Why are electronics and communications protocols important in drive and control technology today?
A: They are important because they affect the productivity of machines. As a matter of fact, they are actually becoming the backbone of today's machines.
Q: What are the pressures engineers specifying drive and control technology face today?
A: Companies are under increasing pressure to get their machines to market faster. It's a global world for machine builders. They have to interface with their supply chain as well as ensure an efficient manufacturing process internally. Additionally, drive and control technology is changing rapidly, and it's hard to keep up to date. In the area of communications protocols, there must be 12 to 14 protocols. The industry has a responsibility to develop standards. We at Bosch Rexroth are very proactive within industry groups developing standards. The goal is to develop standards so competitive products can just plug and play. We would like to see just one standard, but unfortunately it seems there is no trend in that direction.
Q: Are engineers demanding more from drive and control technology suppliers than in the past?
A: Machine builders and users have been downsized. So, the machine builder has to be knowledgeable about his machine and market needs. We have to become part of their design team. They rely more and more on drive and control suppliers. Machine users are looking for standardization of components and systems so their operators won't have so many technologies to learn, and so they can reduce their inventories. The automotive and packaging industries want us to manage major products for them. All of this affects the life of engineers here. They have to know machines and processes. Here at Bosch Rexroth, we have internal training programs to help them.
Q: What's the next breakthrough in drive and control technology?
A: Breakthroughs in drive and control technology will be in the area of smaller, lighter, and faster design. Customers are also looking for integrated products. The advantage to the machine builder is faster assembly time. We've integrated a rotary nut in a servo motor for a ball screw. Integrated products are a high priority for us.
Q: How will engineers benefit from the Bosch/Rexroth merger?
A: We have expanded our product line, first of all. We also have a stronger technical team. With six different regions, we are local to the customer. Machine builders can come to us as a single source and feel secure in knowing that we will apply the best technology.