In my blog series ‘What does…actually do?’, I (Arne Bauer) give readers an outline of the jobs that certain people at MANN+HUMMEL do. It is my job as a roving reporter to look over the shoulders of employees at the locations in Germany. At Marklkofen, it was production engineer Thomas Sieber’s turn to have me following him around.
What does a production engineer at Marklkofen actually do?
Turin, Fayetteville, Marklkofen. Thomas Sieber is always on the move. Whether purchasing individual machine parts or planning complete production lines, he and his technical know-how provide support to MANN+HUMMEL locations around the world. This didn’t come about by chance: Sieber started an engine fitter apprenticeship almost 30 years ago, working as an adjuster and in resource design. He has now been a production engineer for more than 15 years and says: “My course was set from a young age.”
His mother and father had both worked at MANN+HUMMEL since the year dot, although in the spin-on filter area of the business. Thomas Sieber is more passionate about air filters, though: “Glue and polyurethane are my world.” As one of six production engineers for filter elements at Marklkofen, he plans and develops for production on-site, but also travels to different places around the world on request to give advice to overseas colleagues. Sieber knows that his experience is key to this: “My work in production has given me a lot of detailed knowledge of setting up machines. I grew up with it.”
At Marklkofen, he has been instrumental in the development and optimisation of certain equipment and has come to have a kind of ‘personal relationship’ with some of the machines. During a tour of production, he stops in front of a batcher, leans on a safety guard and sighs: ‘This one really has given me quite a few grey hairs.’ Complex, expensive and, above all, tailored systems can really cause headaches. “They’re not washing machines; there’s no standard version of them,” Sieber explains, making clear the scale of the challenges he faces. Fitters, electricians, programmers and engineers have to work together closely if machines are to be reliable and work properly, so production engineers do act as project managers to some degree. “It’s a very interactive job; that’s what makes it so exciting,” Sieber finds.
500 emails soon collected in his inbox during a discussion Sieber had with his colleagues in Asia regarding a new polyurethane batcher and a bellows production line. At the beginning of a project like that, the planners check whether purchasing is absolutely necessary. All data and figures are collated in one specification, along with requirements for the machine. Once quotes have been submitted by the suppliers, the project team evaluates them together. After negotiations have finished, Sieber then travels to meet the supplier for initial acceptance. He has a few stories to tell from his experiences of machine installation and set-up. “Once in India, a ceremony was held before start-up for a priest to bless the machine. It was adorned with flowers and fruit!”
Insights into foreign cultures also have a character-building effect according to the production engineer: “When you see the shanty towns in certain countries, you suddenly take a different view of your own problems.”
A few kilometres from the company premises, this football-loving production engineer also trains the SV Steinberg ‘A’ youth team. “I need that for work-life balance,” he tells us. A “strong bond with the company” and “many years of experience” are the crucial factors for employees at the Marklkofen location, many of whom have been part of the MANN+HUMMEL family for decades. As for his own work as a production engineer, it is the creative tasks and variety that he loves: “You rarely come across the same thing twice.”