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When passion meets opportunity: a mechanical engineer’s path to success at Waelzholz

She got her start in the steel industry working part-time while earning her degree. Today, in her early thirties, she’s deputy production manager in charge of a team of more than 60 specialists in Hardening and Tempering in Hagen, Germany. Mechanical engineer Karoline Piotrowski reveals what drives her, the standards she sets for herself when tackling daily challenges, and why she believes Waelzholz is the perfect employer.

Anyone who owns a car is almost certain to have them on board – special high-tech steel materials whose unique properties Waelzholz precisely adapts to the stringent requirements of the automotive industry, for example, thanks in part to its hardening and tempering facilities. The complex hardening and tempering processes required for this purpose are an extremely sophisticated field of activity – precisely the field of activity Karoline Piotrowski, among others, is responsible for today.

Since July 2021, the deputy production manager has been ensuring that hardening and tempering operations run smoothly at our facility in Hagen, Germany. “Knowing the technical features of the systems and processes down to the smallest detail is an essential part of my job,” says the mechanical engineer. After all, she has to make numerous foresighted decisions within a very short period of time during her daily work. “Technical system malfunctions are rare, but when they do occur, it’s important to fix them as quickly as possible. In addition, sometimes employees are out sick or delivery of the input material is delayed,” says Piotrowski and adds, “my job is never monotonous. Every day is different and I have to remain extremely flexible. But that’s exactly what makes the job so appealing to me.”

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In the field of high-quality cold rolled and heat treated steel materials, Waelzholz is the technology leader and the only company worldwide to operate dedicated facilities for the production of hardened and tempered steel strip with one of the three microstructures martensite, bainite, or sorbite. This versatility is another factor that Piotrowski appreciates about her employer.

Waelzholz manufactures bainitic and sorbitic hardened and tempered steel strip in Plettenberg, approximately 50 kilometers from its main facility in Hagen. These materials stand out for their excellent forming properties or high spring tension, among other characteristics.

In Hardening and Tempering at the Hagen location, together with her supervisor, Piotrowski is responsible for the production of martensitic hardened and tempered steel strip grades. These feature exceptional hardness with excellent flatness and are used to manufacture clutch plates for wind turbines, for example. The quality of this material is ultimately also a factor in the efficiency of equipment used to generate power from renewable sources, and the young manager views this as a unique opportunity to utilize her professional skills for applications in the industries of tomorrow.

In day-to-day operations, Piotrowski's responsibilities include monitoring the performance of the production lines. Another key responsibility in her field of activity is planning the ideal utilization of the hardening and tempering systems with regard to both profitability and material quality. Are the lines well utilized? How do things look when it comes to quality and occupational safety? And not only that – the engineer also has to keep an eye on the upstream and downstream production steps. The fact that Waelzholz is currently working on a sixth hardening and tempering furnace motivates Piotrowski, especially when it comes to initial operation in close collaboration with the technical department responsible. 

 

A dedicated employee takes the next step in her career

While pursuing her degree in mechanical engineering, Piotrowski already worked part-time at the narrow rolling mill. She did this job so well that after graduating with a Master of Science degree, she was offered the position of deputy production manager in the Stainless division. As a result, the student became the supervisor of 40 employees overnight – and she has mastered the transition quite well. Piotrowski smiles and emphasizes, “I’m a good listener. My goal is to take something away from every conversation. At university, it was conversations with professors; at work, it’s with coworkers and superiors. I also learned a lot from the company’s internal leadership seminar, which has helped me tremendously in my current job.” In order to stay on top of things and always keep her cool during day-to-day operations, the engineer also believes in the importance of reflecting on her own work. As such, she makes time for it at the end of every workday. What went well? What can she improve? How effective was the day overall? “To me, a good day is when we’ve made decisions that have benefited a current project or the company as a whole.”

Together we can achieve more – Waelzholz specifically fosters talented employees in the interest of the company

Karoline Piotrowski’s career path shows just how important it is for Waelzholz to support young, dedicated employees and the potential that this holds. As a technology leader, we are dependent on skilled and motivated employees and also delegate responsibility to promising young professionals. In this context, we rely on a combination of personal qualifications and targeted advancement through the exchange of knowledge and experience. After all, we can only manufacture innovative and state-of-the-art steel materials for our customers and create a viable company for generations to come if all these aspects are fulfilled.

Piotrowski can also confirm that the team constructively discusses ideas and opinions and that her employer supports employees extremely well. “My supervisors are always willing to share their knowledge. I’m constantly learning a great deal and very proud to have been entrusted with this responsibility.” Before taking on this position of responsibility, she received special training – on the one hand in the form of a seminar on the heat treatment process, and on the other hand as part of an initial training plan that lasted several weeks. As a result, she became familiar with all of the procedures and can now draw on an extensive network of coworkers from various departments.

Looking ahead, Karoline Piotrowski wants to continue to develop professionally and personally and become “an old hand” in her field: “I’m initially focusing on meeting the requirements of my current job in the best possible way. I have the opportunity to tackle exciting and challenging tasks, and I’m afforded the freedom to make my own decisions. I’m extremely grateful for this.”

When asked what makes Waelzholz so special for her, the young engineer concludes: “At Waelzholz, I work in a cutting-edge environment where I have both a lot of responsibility and at the same time freedom to make decisions. My work is appreciated and I’m continuously supported in my professional and personal development. A great deal of emphasis is also placed on teamwork here, which motivates me. In addition, sustainability is an important issue for me at Waelzholz. I feel right at home here.”