Digitalisation and quality management meet passion
Daniel Thiele had established early on that the most important innovations in the automotive industry come from its suppliers. Therefore, after graduating from university, the young industrial engineer started his career by working at thyssenkrupp's steering business unit – a leading supplier for the automotive industry. Today, Daniel is responsible for Quality Assurance at the company’s site in Mülheim an der Ruhr, and invites us to glimpse behind the scenes at the work done by the steering system specialists.
Daniel Thiele can still remember the so-called ‘Dreischeibenhaus’ skyscraper well - a 94-metre-tall office building that served as thyssenkrupp’s regional office until 2010. “As a boy growing up in Düsseldorf, I could not walk past this building with its large thyssenkrupp logo without looking up at it,” remembers Daniel. “I was fascinated by this high-rise building and the countless employees working within it.” Eventually, the glass building faded into obscurity for Daniel, but it would only be a few years before thyssenkrupp would return to the forefront of Daniel’s mind.
From Porsche to thyssenkrupp
Daniel had already developed a great passion for the automotive industry from a young age. That is why he was drawn into the industry while he was still a student. The soon-to-be industrial engineer completed his semester in industry at Porsche’s Weissach site, and even wrote his dissertation while working for the sports car manufacturer. “While working at Porsche, I had figured out that the most important innovations are those that come from automotive suppliers,” reveals Daniel.
After graduating, the newly-minted industrial engineer remembered the high-rise in Düsseldorf's city centre. The one with the unmissable logo positioned at a dizzying height on the building’s façade, comprising three rings positioned below an arch. As a teenager, Daniel had "only” ever associated thyssenkrupp with steel, but by 2008 he had known about its importance as a leading supplier to the automotive industry for a long time. And so he applied to work at thyssenkrupp Steering and soon became one of those employees by whom he had been so fascinated as an teenager – the only difference being the location.
In 2008, Daniel started working as a Supplier Quality Engineer at thyssenkrupp Steering, and by 2015 he was responsible for quality assurance at the plant in Mülheim an der Ruhr. “As the current Head of Quality Assurance, I lead the supplier quality and production quality teams as well as the measuring and cleanliness labs at the plant,” reports the engineer. “Planning product audits and implementing error proofing (i.e.: processes designed to detect and identify potential errors) on assembly lines also fall within my remit.”
With passion for the automotive industry
Daniel does not regret his decision to start his career working for the steering specialists. On the contrary: At thyssenkrupp Steering, he is able to combine his passion for the automotive sector with his affinity for quality management and assurance. Another advantage for him is the company's willingness to innovate: “thyssenkrupp gives you the opportunity to contribute to the business by showing your commitment and expressing your own interests - even if they fall outside your own area of activity.”
“For example, I launched the initiative Fahrzeug trifft Lenkgetriebe (Vehicle meets Steering Mechanism) so as to strengthen the way in which our employees identify with our products.” I worked alongside a small team which exhibited vehicles such as the BMW Z4, the NIO ES8 or the Mercedes Benz G-Class at our production facility. I was even able to drive the electric NIO ES8 with more than 800 HP myself. These experiences are simply unforgettable. After all, we only produce individual components at our plant. That is why we rarely see the final processing work done to the car.” Daniel and his colleagues also work on a variety of projects centred on being more efficient and sustainable in future.
Digitalisation and looking towards the future
Digitalisation, which has long been one of the most important topics at thyssenkrupp Steering, is also proving to be useful in this respect. The corona pandemic served as an additional driver for this development, as Daniel reveals. "The pandemic also presented us with a set of special challenges. All of a sudden, it was no longer possible to support our international suppliers on site in analysing the causes of errors or implementing corrective action. Even customer audits at our plant had been massively restricted as a result of the pandemic.” However, the pandemic turned out to be an opportunity. “We had to adopt new approaches. One of these new approaches involved introducing so-called remote audits, for example,” explains Daniel. The greatest advantage of these remote audits was that the physical presence of an on-site auditor was no longer necessary. “A virtual tour is carried out for the purpose of the audit using a mobile terminal such as a smartphone, tablet, or even using smart glasses,” explains Daniel. “It is even possible to implement cross-site joint analyses successfully in this way.”
Smart glasses and remote audits: What might seem like science fiction to many outsiders, has since become common practice for employees at thyssenkrupp Steering. However, Daniel thinks they still have a very long way to go in terms of exploiting the full potential of digitalisation: "The potential for digitalisation is massive and not only lends itself to production, but to business administration too - particularly when it comes to wearables, low-code apps or Big Data."
Daniel is convinced that digital processes can even be used to predict the future – at least to some extent: “For example, different data can be combined in a model to draw conclusions about correlations as well as to provide insights into the future behaviour of products and processes.” But one thing does remain constant: The most important innovations in the automotive industry continue to come from its suppliers.