Technician Spotlight: Rick Handberg, Westfalia

MHMRO spends 60 seconds talking to a senior field service technician about the state of the industry.

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Rick Handberg; Westfalia
Senior field service technician

California, covering the West Coast, central South America and Canada

Duties: Install and support storage and retrieval systems, educate technicians and end-users of automated equipment before, during and after commissioning

MHMRO: How did you get into this field, and what do you like about it?
When I got out of the Marine Corps, I went to work for a company that designed and built commercial airline and military vehicle simulators. I focused on electronics and spent a year in Germany working with the Army on Abrams tank simulators and F15 sims. When Westfalia started in 1993, they were looking for a mechanic who spoke German and was willing to travel. I didn’t even know how to spell PLC when I started. I had electronic experience, but I’d never seen photo eyes or proximity sensors.

For the first 10 years, I was the only service guy. We now have more than 20 people across the controls department and service side. I’m in my 23rd year and was one of very first employees when Westfalia came to the United States.

I have really enjoyed what this job has provided for me. There’s a lot of traveling, I don’t have to go to an office every day, and I meet lots of different people. Every day is a new challenge, and even after 20+ years I see problems arise I’ve never seen before.

MHMRO: Who were some of your mentors and influences along the way?
I met one of my good friends and mentors in Switzerland in the 1990s. He helped me understand a lot about this business, the pursuit of knowledge, and how fun it can be to find and solve a problem. He taught me that’s what this job is all about. These people depend on us. He also encouraged me through many difficult times. When you’re out there in the field by yourself or get a phone call in the middle of night to get on a plane at 5 a.m., you make sacrifices like missing birthdays. It can be a frustrating aspect of the job, but he was there to make sure I knew I was appreciated.

I also have to thank my coworkers these past several years. They have had a direct influence on me becoming better at my job. For years I was the only person at Westfalia responsible for the service, installation and customer interaction. As we brought in new people, I fell into the mindset that my job was threatened. I found it a relief and a threat to my workload. I soon learned that I had been so independent for so long I could not see past the way I had always done things. These younger guys came in and started asking me why I did it this way or that way. Over time, I watched and listened as these guys did the same job differently and in many cases faster, safer and with less effort. They made suggestions, we tried them, and low and behold my life changed.

I now encourage all my coworkers to listen to even the newest guys on board. I have learned that everyone has good ideas at different levels of service whether it be administrative, customer interaction, mechanical, electrical or making up jigs or tools to help our job. New eyes are never a bad thing.

MHMRO: What technologies have helped you become more effective?
It used to be that I only had a box of tools and multimeter. Even carrying a laptop around only started 10 years ago. Now we can get online, download programs, write reports, get help from the main office, track parts and view work order status. There’s a variety of equipment out there, some that the service guys have never seen, much less worked on. By having VPN access to all customers, we’ve created a help desk that consolidates information on corrective actions for various system faults, and every technician and customer can benefit from that bank of knowledge.

About the Author

Josh Bond, Senior Editor
Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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