A Different Way of Working

The first characteristic which made my work so different was purely the dimension of the Glanzstoff Oberbruch factory. Spread over 100 ha this factory with more than 7000 workers was more than a production unit it was an entity for itself , an impression which was reinforced by the fact , that the factory was surrounded by houses for the managers and their families with  recreation facilities as  tennis courts.   

Not only the environment but also the way of working in the Glanzstoff factory was fundamentally different to what I was used to. Before I joined Oberbruch I started my professional career after my studies of physics as a scientific assistant with DFVLR at Oberpfaffenhofen, a center for aerospace research near Munich. My project was a theoretical and experimental investigation on spin stabilized  satellites. This analysis was  general research with a similar character as the experimental work I had to do for my diploma. There was no rigid organization concerning the timeline and I had a high amount of freedom for this scientific work.

The work of the Glanzstoff Physical/Mathematical lab was exclusively operational, i.e. providing technical assistance to make sure that the manufacturing runs continuously. So the rhythm and the planning of the tasks were dictated by the problems hampering the production process.

The daily starting point was the “white cloud”. Glanzstoff was dominated by chemists wearing white lab coats. Each morning they met in the factory forming the “white cloud”, adjusting production to the planning and identifying the quality issues. “ Sprinkled” into the “white cloud” were the people with the blue working coats, the engineers and the technicians, who together with the quality people and the Physics/Math lab decided how to tackle and solve the quality problems .

Already before the “white cloud” formed in the factory the Physics/Math  lab team met in order to make an update of the different ongoing measurements and projects. There was a wide range of measurements: temperatures, humidity, mechanical tensions, flow velocities, rotational speeds, usually  simple measurement quantities. The problem very often was to measure in the specific manufacturing conditions. For example to measure the temperature of the spinneret  demands either special spinnerets with a bore hole to use a thermocouple or  a contactless temperature measurement with a precise calibration of the system spinneret  surface and radiometer. More complex tasks were for example the analysis of the high speed spinning and drawing process with a high speed camera, analysis of oxygen partial pressure in the polyester  condensation autoclave, normally inaccessible, determination of the necessary climate conditions for storage of steel cord,…….various tasks covering a wide range of measurement parameters.

But common to all these tasks was to solve a production quality issue and consequently  it was paramount to obtain  the results fast. Furthermore  it was not acceptable to disturb  the flow of the production process. So the Physics lab people had a challenging job to do. They had to adapt the measurements and experiments ingeniously to the specific production environment  and to plan and organize according to a tight time table in order to eliminate the quality problems as soon as possible. After the completion and evaluation of the measurement, the results and conclusions were documented and the protocol dispatched to the operational people concerned.

Besides these operations with a certain troubleshooting character the physics lab was in charge of developing new working tools and measurement devices for the production and quality control. Examples are a robust but sophisticated handtool with which a steel cord worker could easily link the two ends of a broken wire rope or a contactless measurement method to determine the tangle distance of entangled yarn and finally an apparatus allowing to determine the amount of finishes (Lubricants, antistatic agents ….) of the spun yarn by measuring the electrical resistance of a yarn package. In my team there were excellent technical experts as for example Jupp Welfers, who was in charge of these more complex tasks and we filed several utility models. 

While the factory was working in 3 shifts round the clock 7days a week, the laboratory people worked from Monday to Friday with an alternating emergency service on Saturday morning. The working hours were 40 hours per week.

The Physical/Mathematical laboratory was part of the Physical Department , which included also the Measurement and Control Technology and the Spinneret Unit which developed and manufactured the spinnerets for the Enka Glanzstoff  fiber production. Max Schwab, a physicist was the head of the department and we met every working day between 6 and 7 pm to discuss the results of the measurement projects. Schwab was an “old hand” in the fiber industry  and from him I learned to work professionally  and to develop the right feeling for priorities. Every Friday the Physical department together with the top management from production met the Technical Director Ensslin to exchange information about the main issues of the week and the solutions which had been obtained or were on the way.