Driving new ideas and innovations
As a process engineer, Volker Kempe is responsible for optimizing assembly line processes in Mülheim. It’s a job that requires him to communicate constantly with his own team and others in order to continuously improve productivity. In this interview, Volker tells us about the role of digitization at thyssenkrupp Steering and the sustainability projects the people in Mülheim are working on.
What changes are you making in your role as process engineer?
I make sure that the processes and quality on our production lines stay on track. My job is to come up with new ideas to ensure we maintain our high standards and stay competitive. At the same time of course we also want to reduce our production costs as far as possible without compromising on quality. We are enthusiastic innovators, constantly working on further optimizations to keep productivity high. We succeed mainly through the many new ideas we keep adding to the agenda. I also act as a contact for our plants in Mexico, Hungary, and China. I generally take the lead, I’m always motivated and I’m sure that because of this I can also motivate my colleagues.
How has digitization changed your work?
We’re always asking ourselves what can we do better, how can we become even leaner, where do we still have potential? It’s a continuous process in which digitization helps us and is advancing all the time here too. It starts with the way we communicate: Collaboration within our team and with other teams is very important. Digital tools and interfaces allow us to maintain a good flow of information, to communicate across different locations. In addition, our plants today are all connected. That means we can access plant data in Mexico or Hungary and change process parameters in real time whenever necessary. That would have been unthinkable five or six years ago.
Can you name any concrete digitization projects you are working on to optimize production?
In one of our innovation projects, colleagues at our plants abroad can walk around their facilities wearing virtual glasses and send the images to us in Germany. That means they share their view and can show us any problems in a very concrete and visual way. We can then work together on finding a solution. That even goes as far as carrying out remote acceptance tests. Another exciting development are our new collaborative robot systems, in which humans and machines work together. They are used for example to package heavy steering systems. These so-called “cobots” are designed to provide ergonomic support for our employees and help reduce back and shoulder problems.
How do you contribute to sustainability in your department?
We have in fact several projects underway to promote sustainability and environmental protection. For example, this small but exciting project was based on an idea that employees came up with: In production we have a lot of waste from plastic packaging – many products are delivered in plastic bags. We asked ourselves whether these bags could be reused. The solution: we could use the plastic bags instead of trashcan liners in offices and rest rooms. For ideas of this kind we have a special improvement management tool for employees to submit ideas online. The tool assigns the ideas to the responsible departments to decide whether to implement them. In our case this was a suggestion submitted by some of my colleagues and myself. The suggestion then went to our environmental officer, Ms. Götte, who looked into the issue and coordinated things with the cleaning company. My colleague and I then took on the actual management of the project in production. For this we set up central collection points and developed procedures for handling the bags, etc. The project is currently on hold due to the coronavirus situation but I’m sure it will be continued.