A brave new work world

With a lot of creativity, good ideas, and a new way of thinking, Siemens is changing its factories from the inside out – and making them future-ready.

Digitalization is turning markets inside out, and startups are driving the change. They’re bringing innovations to market at breakneck speed using a lean approach. To remain competitive, traditional companies like Siemens also have to forge new paths. At Messgerätewerk Berlin factory, the technology group is relying on a brand-new understanding of work – and it’s succeeding. No one there is afraid of the future: Instead, they’re overflowing with good ideas for more efficient processes and new products.

Entering the factory premises at Wernerwerkdamm 5 in Berlin, you see people smiling, patting each other on the back, hugging, giving one another a high-five, a thumbs-up, or even a kiss on the cheek. And while it’s just a couple of posters that are exuding all this warmth, they’re a clue that many employees at Messgerätewerk Berlin are being driven by something special, something that could point the way to the work world of the future.

Mutual appreciation

For 100 years, Messgerätewerk Berlin has been developing and producing protection devices for power transmission and distribution systems. A good portion of the almost 1,000 employees have been working there for many years and have experienced first-hand how the market is growing and conditions are changing. For example, Anja Mack, a commercial manager in the development department, and Tanja Schmettlach from order processing: Neither woman is afraid of change. Instead, they see the technological transformation as an opportunity and are embracing it. In addition to their own tasks, they voluntarily initiated the poster campaign as an appeal to their colleagues to show appreciation for other people’s work and to occasionally say “thank you.”

 

“Digitalization is creating a new work world, one where we need lean processes and where we have to focus on the things that can’t be replaced by a robot: empathy and good relationships,” says Mack, and Schmettlach adds: “We spend one-third of our lives at work. This means that work and our colleagues are a sort of family – and of course we want our family to do well. That’s why I participate in the campaigns.”

Messgerätewerk Berlin

Siemens has been developing and producing protection devices at the Messgerätewerk Berlin factory for over 100 years. The device series known around the world as SIPROTEC controls, monitors, and protects power transmission and distribution systems. About 920 people are currently employed at the factory, 550 of whom are in manufacturing. The factory also has its own Development department.

Focus on people

The “campaigns” are the many initiatives, ideas sessions, colleague workshops, and events that bring factory employees together, give them a taste of ownership culture, and help them face the future with confidence. “We want to make our location future-ready, that’s the goal,” says Stefanie Klicks, the factory’s culture change coordinator. “We believe that this is only possible if we create an environment that encourages our employees to grow and develop by creating an open work culture and shaping our work together.” “The focus is on people, that’s the key,” adds Andre Wienert, Chairman of the Works Council.

 

Two years ago, management, the Works Council, Klicks, and the first volunteers started working together to break down their colleagues’ inhibitions and create more open spaces for personal initiatives – and to make more and more people enthusiastic about the technological transformation. Many colleagues at the factory have since caught the bug. The result isn’t just a more motivating work atmosphere, there’s also been a measurable increase in efficiency and productivity.

Lots of good digitalization ideas

“We don’t digitalize because it’s fun for us technology freaks, we do it because it improves capacity utilization and, for example, enables us to produce our bestselling product, the SIPROTEC 5 protection devices, in larger quantities,” explains Gerhard Lang. After 33 years in Development, he now coordinates digitalization at the factory – so the concept of a culture change from the inside out plays right into his hands.

 

“Since we’ve been advertising that everyone can contribute – regardless of their department or hierarchical level – the idea has really taken off,” he says. “I collect good ideas in-house and make sure that colleagues put the good initiatives into practice,” he adds with a grin. He goes on to describe some of the many smart solutions that have been developed on the employees’ initiative: for example, a smart voice-controlled assistant that answers questions about production data, an app for automatically generating quality documentation and performing quality analyses, and a cloud-based solution for visualizing plant efficiency. But the culture change is also taking place at the heart of production.

Robot colleagues as an asset

It’s 2:30 in the afternoon in Siemensstadt Berlin, and Frank Specht is just starting his shift. He works in housing assembly. This used to be a purely manual, physical task. “Some of the work was completely mindless,” he recalls. Today several robots handle the tedious jobs. One detects the correct back panel for each type of housing, the next attaches retaining clips, and a third connects the current transformer and voltage terminals. A laser robot station also labels the components. “We used to have to stick a label on each individual terminal. It was extremely time-consuming,” he says.

 

But this hasn’t rendered Specht superfluous. On the contrary, he monitors, calibrates, and services the robots. “It’s a lot of fun. My work is now much more stimulating than it used to be. It’s very exciting to be one of the first people in the factory to work with a robot,” says the trained mechatronics engineer. From the very beginning, Specht and his colleagues were kept in the loop and had a say in the design of the robotics project. This alleviated many people’s fears. “Those of us from the assembly cell decided on the tasks we wanted to have supported by robots. We described how the new workstations should look and where we needed freedom to intervene.”

 

A corporate culture that motivates

Bosses and employees who communicate as equals, who see the potential in others, who express appreciation, and who not only permit new ideas, processes, and technologies but actively help shape them – this could be the work world of the future. And not just at Siemens. “Behavioral patterns that have long been fixed and deeply entrenched are slowly starting to change. This requires courage on all sides,” says culture change coordinator Klicks. “You have to be able to relinquish control. But it’s worth it, because if you place your confidence in people, you won’t be disappointed. The proof is in our fantastic projects and employees,” she beams – an ideal opportunity for another poster motif.

Pictures: Siemens AG

12-12-2019

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