Bosch Rexroth: New manufacturing in the Rustbelt

Last week, I got to tour newly expanded Bosch Rexroth facilities in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The 200,000 ft2 hydraulics manufacturing and distribution center houses the company’s valve and manifold manufacturing center for mobile and industrial hydraulics; a new logistics and distribution facility handles shipments to several hundred customers, including drive and control distributors. It's a $2.2 million expansion in a town that was dominated by steel making for more than a century.

Shown here is the manufacturing center. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is now home to seven Bosch Rexroth U.S. facilities with approximately 450,000 sq. ft for manufacturing, distribution, logistics, administration, service, and storage (second only to the hydraulics operation in Fountain Inn, S.C.)

Bethlehem Steel (depicted here in a painting by Joseph Pennell) once employed 167,000 people in the city. "It's crucial that our region no longer rely on one employer," said Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez before the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Bosch Rexroth's opening last week.As a journalist from the Rustbelt City of Cleveland, I always find in interesting and encouraging when manufacturers choose to locate in the region. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising. After all, east-coast ports and proximity to existing manufacturing infrastructure are as conducive to business now as they were 50, 100, and even 150 years ago.

In fact, here's a short piece I wrote about the legacy of steel-making ... a diminished but positive force in our local economy ... and how it continues in my own neighborhood on the western bank of the mighty Cuyahoga River.

As for Bosch Rexroth, it employs about 700 people in Bethlehem and recently won the Pennsylvania Governor’s Jobs First award ... and was named a top place to work in the Lehigh Valley, the region encompassing Bethlehem, Allentown, and Easton, Pa.

Officials say their expansion is part of a local-for-local manufacturing and service strategy. “Bethlehem is a convenient location from which to serve our hydraulics customers in North America," says Americas President and CEO Berend Bracht.

No doubt, the new manufacturing facility is typical of new industry — far smaller, cleaner, and more nimble than the industry it's partially supplanted in the region. The facility produces industrial, mobile, and compact controls, valves, and manifolds. Served out of the new Bethlehem facility include mobile-equipment, machine-tool, plastics-machinery, marine and offshore, pulp and paper, and test-machinery engineers.

The new distribution and logistics facility supports customers with functions such as shipping, receiving, logistics, quality control, traffic management and accounting.

In addition to the Pa. and S.C. locations, Bosch Rexroth has hydraulic-component facilities in Dallas, Houston, Lake Zurich, Ill., and Columbus. The company's Drive & Control division also has a new technology and service center in Houston (serving marine and offshore industries), expanded linear-motion and assembly operations in Charlotte, and a GoTo quick-delivery program.

To close, consider this March 2014 article about how new industry is helping to improve the old industry it's supplanted, at least in Bethlehem. Some 100-year-old iron and coke-furnace designs are now more efficient thanks to precise hydraulic actuators that meter out just the right raw material (for better-quality end product as well). Woodings Industrial Corp., just north of Pittsburgh, now makes the furnaces with high-response directional proportional valves, electronic pressure transducers, and control software for closed loop control. They get the parts and software from the Bosch Rexroth Bethlehem facility.

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Elisabeth Eitel

Elisabeth is Senior Editor of Machine Design magazine. She has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Fenn College at Cleveland State University. Over the last decade, Elisabeth has worked as a...
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