The unseen technology powering our worldIt’s not every day you can say that your work is responsible for almost every manufactured good; or that your career is vital to the success of most machines on Earth. But for one team at Siemens working all around the world, it’s just another day at the ‘office’.
The cranes lifting thousands of our newly-built laptops from factory trucks, to place them on container ships; the machines making up the assembly line turning wood into thousands of sheets of crisp, white paper – they all have the common ability to move. To spin, to cut, to push, to lift, to stretch, to catch: whatever the movement, the humble industrial drive hidden within the machine makes it all possible.
And there’s a big team of people who make sure those industrial drives don’t stop. Making sure they are cutting and spinning and lifting and pushing. Making sure our paper gets milled, our energy gets generated, our laptops are delivered. Making sure our world keeps moving.
Jürgen Gernhart is the Head of Service Engineers for Industry Drives at Siemens in Germany. His team looks after industrial drives across several industries, working on projects ranging from days to months to years.
“Every technology has its own challenges, from cranes to paper machines. You’ll have smaller motors for things like newspapers, and larger drives for mining or powering the cooling pumps of big power plants. We can engineer and service drives as big as this room. They are in every industry because without them, nothing will happen.”
With projects taking the team members to places such as Korea, Algeria, Brazil, Nigeria and Chile, they really are powering the global economy with their expertise. Björn Kredel, a Commissioning Engineer and Developer, travels for about 50% of his work: “At the start of a crane project, we’ll travel to Shanghai. At the end, we might finish off in Saudi Arabia. We service machines that use industrial drives all over the world.”
At the start of a crane project, we’ll travel to Shanghai. At the end, we might finish off in Saudi Arabia. We service machines that use industrial drives all over the world.Björn Kredel, Commissioning Engineer & Developer
Keeping commerce moving
With machines from all across the globe being powered by industrial drives – from the huge levers that open Tower Bridge for passing boats, to the robots that meticulously fill your coffee machine pods – the team works closely with their thousands of customers. Iuliu Vlaic, Commissioning Engineer for Electrical Drives and Automation, works on call for a few weeks a year to ensure the smooth running of paper factories. “Think about a paper mill, for example: if the production stalls, the loss can be up to €5,000 per hour. So for 10 hours of standstill, that’s €50,000 gone.”
Global commerce relies heavily on the team’s aptitude for thinking creatively while under pressure. Jacqueline Pramana works in Business Development and knows all too well the importance of her speedy problem-solving abilities. “You are the representative from Siemens, you are there to make it work.”
Powering the future
But in a time of fast moving technological advancements and big changes in our planet’s make-up, the team doesn’t simply continue to engineer, commission and service our industrial machines. They have to develop new innovations for new technologies. Jacqueline explains:
“In the last few years, electrical drives have been used more and more to buffer energy, so you can capture and regenerate the movement created by the drives into energy. Years ago, they used to let the machines burn energy which was just wasted.” For example, if you could capture the energy from the heat produced by your car brakes, that energy could be transferred back into powering the car itself.
Thomas Lehmeyer, a Commissioning Engineer, adds: “Nowadays you can install sensors everywhere so you can analyse the system and perform predictive maintenance. You can take a look and say ‘in one month, this motor will fail’, allowing time to be saved by preparing ahead. A small increase in efficiency has a huge impact on costs.”
This team of people are keen on moving with the times and the freedom to choose between projects has kept their work fresh and tailored to their preferences. “You can develop into the direction you want,” Jacqueline says. “I’ve decided all of the steps I’ve taken in the last six years. That’s the good thing about a large company, you can change your activities without having to change organization.”
Jürgen knows that to attract the best talent, the full breadth of Siemens must also be available to new recruits: “We have access to several technologies and departments right across the industry. For people coming out of university, it’s a great opportunity to get broad experience and try out various different technologies.”
We are in this phase of automation. We want things to be done faster and better, so this field is enhancing the living standards of people.Iuliu Vlaic, Commissioning Engineer, Electrical Drives & Automation
Despite the team’s sizeable impact on the movement of the world, most of their work is done behind the scenes. At best, people take industrial drives for granted, but most won’t even know they exist.
Björn Kredel, a Commissioning Engineer & Developer on the team, speaks about the hidden nature of the technology: “No one really recognizes the role that industrial drives play in the world. Nobody knows there are thousands of industrial drives involved in producing smartphones. With more drives, everything will become automated and it will get less expensive to make products like smartphones – but people will only see the price reduction, not the reason behind it.”
Lots of people are worried that their jobs are at risk due to mechanical replacements. As a result, the work of the team is becoming a hot topic for discussion, and could be seen as both a blessing and a curse. As Iuliu laments: “We are in this phase of automation. We want things to be done faster and better, so this field is enhancing the living standards of people. Everyone is thinking that automation is killing jobs, but it’s not true. You create other jobs by making things smarter.”
What can be said for sure is that the team plays a huge role in crafting our future. Whether that’s powering the cranes that carry our goods, or building the robots allowing us to eradicate dull work, these international problem-solvers aren’t just keeping our world moving – they are powering the creation of what comes next.