Primarily, it is the logical linkage between hardware and software and between man and machine that ultimately determined Benjamin Ulrich's choice of studies – and which continue to fascinate and spur him on now in his work at Berghof Testing. In this interview, the software developer and project manager reveals what is most important to him when working with his customers, which central performance feature of the test systems has changed the most since he started at Berghof, and which testing task is most daunting for him.
1. You come from the Reutlingen area and set up contact with Berghof at a very early stage of your studies. Sounds like a strategy well planned in advance. Was it like that?
No, it wasn’t, to be honest. It was quite different. Actually, my initial intention was to study automotive engineering at the University of Applied Sciences in Esslingen and specialize in drivetrain technology. Then a friend took me to the open day at Reutlingen University – and after that day and many interesting impressions, it was clear to me: the mechatronics degree program with its combination of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science – that's exactly my thing. The contact to Berghof was rather a happy coincidence: for many years, there has been an industrial partnership with the neighboring university in Reutlingen here and that's how I took notice of Berghof. In 2012, I completed an internship here and was so thrilled that I worked as a student trainee at Berghof Testing parallel to my studies and also wrote my final thesis there – I did all that with the goal and desire to successfully go my way here after graduation. And fortunately, it worked out. Meanwhile, I have been with the company for almost eight years. And I would definitely like to remain part of the Berghof team for many more years.
2. What fascinated you so much about working at Berghof that you were tantalized by the company right away?
First of all, there is a very general point, which at the time was the main reason for me to shelve my original desire to study automotive engineering and rather focus on mechatronics: I am fascinated by the logical linkage of hardware and software in the development of our test modules and test systems – and the linkage of man and machine while solving the testing task. In addition, at Berghof Testing you are an important member of the team from the very beginning, you can implement your own ideas and you exchange ideas regularly and directly with the customers. That was and still is very important to me. To be just a small cog in the machine as an employee, as is the case with many large corporations, which would not be for me.
3. Why is the exchange with customers so important to you?
For me personally, the most important thing in my work is to serve our customers as well as possible and in doing so build a good, trustful relationship. I actually take the projects, which I am responsible for very personally – in a positive sense. From my point of view, it's not just about finding an optimum technical solution for the testing task. There are, beyond that, many related issues that determine whether a project can become the desired success for both sides at the end of the day. A very important factor, for example, is the commissioning of the plant and smoothly connecting it to the control systems on site. Even more important, however, is the training of the team on site and that we are always available for our customers, even after the successful completion of the commissioning, in order to recommend ourselves for follow-up projects. Because the systems are getting more and more powerful, but also more and more complex. That's why all our systems are designed in such a way that we have immediate access via remote maintenance and so are able to help quickly and easily – this is, of course, particularly helpful to us and our customers at the moment because of the Corona-related travel restrictions. At the same time, we take great care to ensure that our systems are to use intuitively and easily thanks to the graphical user interface – this is made possible by our in-house testing software. Graphic design, by the way, is a subject that also interests me very much in my private life.
4. You told us that test systems are getting increasingly powerful, but also increasingly complex. Having worked for almost eight years at Berghof Testing – which performance feature has changed the most during this time span?
Quite clearly the degree of automation. In more and more projects, we develop fully automated test systems for our customers, so-called unmanned or operatorless systems. Of course, this presents our team with ever bigger challenges because we regularly enter completely new territory, but on the other hand it is also incredibly fascinating. We spotted this trend early on and have been working intensively on this topic in recent years – with success: our latest bumper testers achieve top values in terms of cycle time, flexibility and degree of automation – and as a result, Berghof Testing has grown strongly in the area of bumper test systems and is now the market leader in automated bumper testing.
5. Berghof's test systems also check automotive components that contribute significantly to passenger safety. What is daunting you in this context?
Berghof Testing is one of the pioneers concerning functional testing and calibration of smart mats with sensors signaling seat occupancy and launched the first test systems on this topic already in 2006. Since then, the company has continuously optimized the technology behind it. Our “Force Application Machine“ (FAM) tests and calibrates these components with fast, monitored and highly precise force control. In doing so, our FAM systems ensure that seat-belt pretensioners and airbags function in countless vehicles from different manufacturers. They adapt individually to the respective passenger weight and so provide their optimum protective effect in the event of an accident. We all have the deepest respect for this testing task, because it literally involves saving lives in the extreme case.
6. You said that you are also very interested in graphic design in your private life. In what way? And what else do you like to do in your leisure time?
I really enjoy taking photos on professional and private trips and using them to design photo books, for example. For my family and friends I also like to design calendars, cards, invitations and flyers on the computer. In the past, I used to be active as a wedding photographer, but now I simply don't have the time for that. Because today, my son, with whom I spend as much time as possible, comes first. To stay fit I regularly hop on my mountain bike and enjoy the beautiful landscape around Reutlingen. This year I plan to add a racing bike – because this summer I am going to cross the Alps within one week with Venice as the final destination. And of course I'm looking forward to going on tour with the Berghof cycling group as soon as the Corona pandemic situation allows it again.