Thought Leader Profile: Rick Kaatz, General Manager of KBAutosys America

Orlando, Fla. – Rick Kaatz is General Manager of KBAutosys America, a leading OE brake-pad supplier headquartered in South Korea. He retired from General Motors two years ago after 32-plus years working in various brake engineering and management positions. Kaatz is chair of the Brake Linings Standards Committee, member Executive Committee for the Brake Colloquium, and participates on several other committees and task forces.

Kaatz’s broad experience makes him ideal to postulate on some of the trials facing the industry as it goes through evolutionary – and revolutionary – changes:

What are the top three issues/challenges facing the brake industry?

– Understanding and designing the optimal brake system for electric vehicles. The brake usage and performance requirements are much different. I doubt future brake systems will resemble what is currently in production.

– Increasing awareness of our environment and the things that affect it. This includes understanding and addressing the byproducts of friction braking.

– The world is getting more connected and customers are less isolated by region. This will continue to impact customer expectations and I think drive toward more common global brake design solutions.

What will be the impact as OEMs get further and further away from being comprehensively  integrated operations and rely more and more on suppliers to do their own development?

This trend has been going on for decades and will continue. I’m not sure what the future balance will be between OEM’s and the supply base, it seems to see-saw back and forth over time looking for that optimal balance. That optimal balance changes as new technologies are developed and implemented, and vehicles become more complex.

Will the above, and the global economy, lead to a consolidation of the brake industry (like it has in the OEM world)?

For the established technologies, I expect to see consolidation to a few large global brake companies with no regional companies remaining. This should be offset by an increase in new companies associated with the new technologies. The names of the biggest brake companies 5 or 10 years from now will be different from the leaders today.

What does electrification (BEVs, HBEVs, plug-ins, hydrogen mean to the future of the brake industry?

I expect a significantly different optimum brake system design strategy to evolve with these vehicles. This is due to a combination of regenerative braking and electrification of historically mechanical systems and components. Regenerative braking significantly reduces the use of friction braking which should lead to smaller, lighter components. At the forefront of electrification are the park brake apply systems and power assist units. We should see electrification continue to the rest of the brake components.

What’s the best career path in the brake industry: OEM, supplier, engineering school, etc.?

I think the brake industry is full of opportunities and don’t have an opinion on which segment is best. I think it’s important to find alignment with your personal strengths and interests with a career that nurtures and grows them. Some of us prefer having a broad experience with shallow expertise. Others value deep expertise in more narrow fields. Some are introverts, others are extraverts. The best career path gives you fulfillment and purpose, but also challenges you and helps you grow. In any company, I think those who add value and have a positive impact on those they work with, while providing personal fulfillment and growth, can have a rewarding career.

Mike Geylin
Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Editor-in-Chief at Hagman Media. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.