“The vital component is successful transfer - the hallmark of Steinbeis!

A discussion with Petra Ohlhauser

Ms Ohlhauser, knowledge and technology transfer – mirroring markets, based on business practice – is a hallmark of the Steinbeis Network. It’s something that small and medium-sized enterprises benefit from particularly. Your Steinbeis enterprises, TQU and IQU – what services do they provide to specifically help SMEs in the Schwarzwald-Baar-Heuberg region, and beyond?

Given the constantly evolving nature of customer-specific demands, laws, guidelines, methods and social structures, a basic prerequisite for successful work is lifelong learning. So a lot of our work revolves around training and professional development. Two of our other main services are our measurement center and our consulting. We offer a variety of staff training programs, especially to SMEs in the region – including one-day seminars specially tailored to SMEs. We also offer university-level certification through Steinbeis University Berlin (SHB), plus a Bachelor of Engineering project competence degree. This runs in parallel to work, so even people without a university entrance qualification (Abitur) can study. So it’s particularly appealing to staff at SMEs in the region.

One of the assumptions underlying the services we offer through our accredited measurement center is that modern manufacturing methods, cost-efficient technology and innovative testing equipment go hand in hand with the development of new products. The days of defining precision with calipers and plug gauges are long since over. As machines and production lines have become more and more high-tech, the demands placed on testing and measurement technology have also intensified. As an accredited testing laboratory with the German Calibration Service (DKD-K-30801), our customers in this service area are also mainly SMEs from the region. We support them with an increasing number of tasks, including providing professional advice and a variety of flexible services centering on quality assurance, measurement and testing.

We also provide consulting services, tailoring each solution to the specific needs of the company. This involves a lot of work in the automotive industry, but also for firms in the power and medical sectors.

The TQI Innovation Center can be proud of its status as an “old hand” in the Steinbeis Network. It started out as a pilot project in 1990, as a regional Quality and Measurement Center supported by the state, the district, the local authority and a group of backers made up of regional companies. You took over as director of the center in 1997 and have been extremely successful. Have the demands placed on your center shifted over the years? What does every day work life look like for you?

There’s currently a strong trend among successful companies toward setting up improvement processes, at all stages of the value chain. The key to success is the ability to systematically involve people in processes – with the emphasis on “systematically”. In 1997 we were already setting up integrated management systems by involving management and workers in process definition. At the time, the focus was on defining process controls, responsibilities and general methods. Now it’s about establishing these within companies and making them as efficient as possible and as effective as necessary. The key idea here is to optimize costs and productivity without affecting quality, as this is determined by customer needs. When I speak to sales and product managers, I often notice that quality expectations at SMEs are based on achieving the non-existent economic principle of “maximum quality at the minimum price”. You’ll never get consensus on this.

For us, the priority is to use tools and methods efficiently and effectively – in sales, design, construction, purchasing, process planning and along the value chain of a product series. The methods we use depend on the company.

Consulting, training, employee development, all kinds of services relating to production and quality... your center in Gosheim is broad-based yet highly specialized. For example, you also carry out Six Sigma projects, as well as offering measurement and calibration services. So where do you think company demand lies at the moment? What projects and services are firms most inquiring about?

One area of interest is methods for preventing errors and highlighting and solving problems. There’s also strong demand for systematic implementation of continuous improvement programs, raising material efficiency by redesigning components and processes, and projects to reduce waste and improve factory infrastructures. Another hot topic is process analysis – auditing processes in line with the new VDA 6.3 standard. This has been signed off by the automotive industry and now serves as a standard for suppliers. Analysis highlights plenty of room to improve in this area, especially in supplier and project management. As a licensee, the TQI is an official partner to the automotive supply industry regarding issues like these, although we also advise companies in other sectors. The key issue here is involving managers and workers in industrial projects and improvement processes, always based on the premise that a project can become a continuous improvement process. These kinds of topics are also in strong demand when it comes to professional development. It’s not just about the knowledge, it’s about successfully translating things into practice through transfer projects within the company – the vital component is successful transfer, the hallmark of Steinbeis!

Steinbeis in Gosheim is an established part of the technology infrastructure in the Schwarzwald-Baar-Heuberg region. What challenges do you anticipate in the future? What targets have you set yourself?

One thing we’re keen to do is expand our services relating to methodological skills, by working with others in the Steinbeis Network, the German Society for Quality (DGQ) and the Association for the Automotive Industry (VDA). On the one hand, this is about knowledge, and on the other, successful transfer: making use of knowledge and applying it successfully to practice. For us, this means working with clients to develop company-specific concepts – in process development, product development and serial production. It’s important to have the right methodological skills and to know how to manage teams and moderate groups.

Future challenges for us include training and certifying testing and measurement engineers, using effective measurement processes, and calibrating testing equipment professionally yet economically. Another important step in transferring knowledge will be to keep expanding our engineering degree, by adding new areas of emphasis such as production engineering, measurement technology, component design and internal logistics – both at the Steinbeis Center and at clients. This is a good way for our clients to retain good staff keen to gain more qualifications – through a local program that keeps them in their profession and in their company.

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