Bosch Rexroth board member reflects on the state of the industry

Heiner Lang recently expanded his responsibilities to include three of the company’s business units

In August, Heiner Lang joined the executive board of Bosch Rexroth AG, Lohr a. Main, Germany. In his new role, Lang will also be responsible for the three Bosch Rexroth business units which constitute the factory automation division: automation and electrification solutions, assembly technology and linear motion technology. He will retain his role as general president of the automation and electrification solutions business unit.

Lang became general president of the automation and electrification solutions business unit at Bosch Rexroth in July 2017. Before this new role, Lang started his career at Bosch Rexroth as the head of technology for the industrial applications business unit in January 2017.

Heiner Lang answered 7 questions about the organization and how technology is affecting the industry.

What are three key things that a machine builder, system integrator or manufacturer should know about your company?

First, Rexroth, a Bosch company, is international. We think and act globally and solve challenges unique to our local markets. We have 50 production locations, sales and service hubs in more than 80 countries and we are the market leader in motion and control.

Second, customer focus is key to us, and we see change as an opportunity to serve our customers. Customer integrity and intimacy means more than being a good supplier. It means serving as a valued partner, and our more than 30,000 associates are focused on that. This enables us to set trends and provide game-changing technology that helps our customers succeed. 

Finally, technology and innovation are in our DNA. No one can match our portfolio or Rexroth’s deep industry knowledge. We are leaders and set the industry standard in hydraulic applications, whether it’s mobile equipment or industrial hydraulics. In factory automation, we set the innovation pace with electrical drives and controls as easy to use as a smartphone and linear guideways connected to the cloud for condition monitoring, and we are developing autonomous guided vehicles like the Active Shuttle, which is an intelligent alternative to the conventional milk run. 

What new technologies are driving your product development and why?

The development of new technology and the speed of innovation is increasing. What drives us across all technologies is electronification, electrification and connectivity, from a digitalized hydraulic pressure valve in a bulldozer to machines with sensor-equipped ball screws to connected motion platforms, like those integrated into an opera stage.

Electronification means we add bits and bytes to the product, integrate sensors and enable logic and smart function features connected and controlled by electronic automation and enterprise networks. This approach is transforming many technologies: for example, hydraulic components are far more customizable to the desired application and can be engineered to capture and communicate historical data for life-cycle monitoring.

Electrification is expanding in all industries, and Rexroth is the pioneer in combining electric drive systems with hydraulic and mechanical solutions. For many years, our servo-hydraulic solutions have empowered complex machines, such as simulator platforms, to perform their functions with much greater dynamics and precision. Currently, we’re developing hybrid systems for construction machines, an area where combustion engines and hydraulic drivetrains are still dominant. Recently for example, we worked with a customer to downsize a rehandling excavator’s diesel engine by 30 percent using a Rexroth servo-hydraulic power unit. The new power unit saves fuel, reduces CO2 emissions and produces less noise.

Finally, connectivity, with and without cables, finds its way into industrial equipment. We plan to have all Rexroth products able to be digitally connected to information systems by 2022. The active exchange of information about device and system factors like status, demand and functional behavior increases transparency and uncovers optimization potential. Our CytroBox, for example, is apparently a hydraulic power unit, but with its integrated sensors and connectivity, its operating condition can be monitored, and proactive service tasks can be obtained to optimize OEE.

How does the Industrial Internet of Things figure in your business strategy?

IIot is an essential part of our business. After many years of sophisticated industrial approaches, from Industry 4.0 to China 2025, we developed our Factory of the Future vision to present a clear picture about our strategy: going forward, the only thing in a modern, Industry 4.0 factory that is fixed in place is the building itself; the technology and production equipment is flexible to meet ever-changing demands. 

It’s an ambitious vision, and to reach it — and make it easy for both our customers and Rexroth to begin — we focus on sensors, software and services. The Factory of the Future is data-rich and uses I4.0 sensors sitting somewhere in the industrial environment to capture that data, such as a machine or tightening power tool. Without data, the key ingredient in IIoT, you cannot build a factory of the future. The rest is hard work, which means developing analytical software around the data that separates unnecessary data from the important stuff and provides the right data in the right way: the indication, trend, signal, alert, etc. that is needed to make real-time decisions to improve operating performance. The real value comes from the services that are wrapped around the sensor and software to optimize time, money and space. 

A very good example is the SCD sensor (Sense Connect Detect). The device (sensor) costs less than $100. It’s designed for tough industrial environments and can detect acceleration, temperature, magnetism and light. Our customers use it with a smartphone app (software) that can display sensor data as well as analyze and collect data. The alarm function (service) tells the customer when a certain value has exceeded its limit or notifies the operator or maintenance staff that a check is needed. The sensor provides manufacturers with an easy, inexpensive and proactive way to leverage IIoT technology. 

How will machine automation and controls alter the way companies staff their operations in the future?

Manufacturing processes will become more digitalized and connected, while people’s skillsets will emphasize mind over muscle. If robots and algorithms take over monotonous, difficult or even dangerous work in factories and office, human workers can focus on creative and demanding tasks. Designing the processes and adding human creativity will remain key for machine automation and control. Success will depend on people’s capabilities to combine industrial processes and digital systems.

How is the development of software solutions impacting your requirements for hardware?

By the end of this year, Rexroth will launch its new automation platform, ctrlX Automation, manufacturing’s answer to the smartphone. This innovative development is a hardware and software solution for factory automation, connecting the IT with the OT world and bringing a consumer-like user experience to the shop floor. To make it future-proof, we decoupled the hardware from the software, allowing ctrlX Automation to run software independently from the hardware. Thus our development is now focused on basic software solutions such as motion or IoT functions, while at the same time we have prepared the framework to run customer specific software, customized function blocks or open source software on our new automation platform.

As engineering and IT continue their convergence, which one is and/or software will be making your products better, faster and easier to use?

The efficiency of convergence in engineering and IT comes from the integrated digital workflow. Our customers can start with their application, and our design and sizing software will suggest a solution that can be tweaked and tuned jointly. A modern web technology offers ease of use and can be run continuously from the ideation up to the commissioning and operating process. With our app technology, customers can download functionality from different sources (that are packed in so-called containers) and can be executed on the control (snap-technology). This system gives customers the speed and flexibility to, for example, adapt to new circumstances or download crucial security updates. Most importantly, our new products come with the simplicity and intuitiveness of a smartphone experience. 

Looking into the future, how will technology change your company over the next five years?

We embrace technology as well as innovation because they’re in our DNA. They’ve led our company to be more competitive in product performance, quality and cost. Increasingly, timing has become very important. Development cycles are becoming shorter and technologies are merging. This has impacted our organization and how we work together. It remains important to understand what can be done, how it can be applied and most importantly: Is there a substantial need and ROI? I am convinced that digitalization and connectivity will change our company most in the years to come. 

For example, Rexroth uses technology to accurately create the conditions our products experience over their lifetime. We correlate the nominal condition of the product with its real condition before delivery in order to keep a fingerprint at zero hour. Connectivity helps — if the customer agrees — to update on the operational condition. Then we can back trace changes and jointly find ways to optimize the operations, product design or even guarantee or sell availability. By the end of the day, this will drive Rexroth to go from a hardware-only company orientation to a software and service provider on top. We are prepared for the challenge new technologies will bring.