Highly automated plants and a family working environment
Christoph Soßalla has been working on steering components since 1998. He started working at Mercedes-Benz-Lenkung GmbH in Dusseldorf, which was acquired by thyssenkrupp in 2005. Today, the steering pro works as a team leader for thyssenkrupp Steering in the Automotive Department in Mülheim an der Ruhr. The qualified industrial mechanic reveals the following in the interview: why thyssenkrupp is the perfect employer for him, how the 40-year-old came to thyssenkrupp and which role his uncle played in all of it!
What do you move at thyssenkrupp?
It’s hard to say what I really move on my own. But as a team we are moving a lot. Together with 23 employees, we produce steering gear in a 3-shift-system. These form part of the whole steering system, in other words they are the connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels of a vehicle. This happens at a top-modern, highly automated plant. Put it simple: my task is to ensure that the plant is running properly.
How did you get started at thyssenkrupp and how did things go from there?
Everything started in 1998 when I did my training to become an industrial mechanic. It was Mercedes-Benz-Lenkung GmbH in those days, which is also where my uncle worked. I found out about the training programme from my uncle. He definitely put in a good word for me, but I think that my application wouldn’t have been rejected on its own merit either (laughs). In 2003, thyssenkrupp took over the majority of the corporation and then it took it over completely in 2005. And my workplace has been this site in Mülheim an der Ruhr since 2013. After my apprenticeship, I worked in production. In the Hydraulic Department at the very beginning and then in Electrical later on. And then at some point I became team leader. A top job - I couldn’t think of anything better for me in the production department.
So, what are your tasks as a team leader and what does your day-to-day look like?
The first thing we do at the beginning of a shift is the handover with the other team leaders. Then, I distribute the tasks among my colleagues at the plant. Once I've finished doing that, it is important for me to keep a close eye on the plant. I am also responsible for converting the plant if we want to produce other types of buildings. In the event of an issue or disruption, and these do happen from time to time, the first thing my colleagues do is come to me.
There are now and then exciting projects going on, for which I am responsible. For example, we were a ten person team at a manufacturers’ site in Austria. We familiarised ourselves with a system for a new assembly line, discussed initial optimisations from a production point of view, and finally commissioned the plant on site. Projects like these are always good fun.
What does your shift model look like? Do you work seven days a week?
No, we only work five days a week, and there are three shifts that run from 6am until 2pm, 2pm until 10pm, and 10pm until 6am. So, our day-to-day is pretty normal. We usually get the weekend off. And, in the event that there is more work to do, we split the work up between our three shift teams. That way it stays within the confines of our working week. We can also choose between being paid overtime or using our overtime to count towards a free shift account - in other words, we can “work it off”.
What has changed at thyssenkrupp in the last few years?
Everything has become much more digital. Even the rate at which the plants are automated is getting faster and faster. This is a very positive development. Each process step is monitored by the plant, but we can also produce and implement our teams’ own ideas during this period. For example, I had the idea of combining a compression tool with an automatic greasing station. With the help of our 3D printer and a team of process engineers and maintenance staff, we managed to make improvements to the assembly line, which was a brilliant achievement for the team!
How is the working environment at the site in Mülheim an der Ruhr?
The working environment here is great. This is nice and makes it special for me working here at our site. This even starts in the canteen: We only have a small canteen, but the working environment is super familiar. And I can fully recommend the food that our chef Mike makes. So far, I have always had good people around me, in other words: colleagues and superiors, with whom I’ve got on excellently. The way that people are with each other is simply great. Of course, that has a big impact on the working environment. That is why I have never had any reason to go and apply somewhere else or pursue a different career.