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Research & Development

This department is mainly staffed by experienced building chemicals specialists. We primarily concentrate on the development of base coats, adhesives, sealants, levellers, and adhesive, screed and grouting mortars on the basis of different organic and mineral raw material combinations. Our mechanical engineers, designers and technical draftsmen are also kept busy with constantly improving the Wolff brand machines and tools we manufacture at Vaihingen.

Interviews

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Marion Widmann, Adhesives Developer

What do you do, what are your responsibilities, and how long have you been with the company?

I have worked as an adhesives developer in the adhesives laboratory, which has recently been renamed and is now called the 'Liquid Products R&D Department', for the past 4 years. I am mainly responsible for the development of adhesives. This covers the development as such, carrying out the requisite tests, including those we run together with the technical customer services department, and finally also the adhesives' move into production. We also continue to monitor the product subsequently in case of production-related problems or customer queries. Also, our existing products are always expected to meet constantly changing and new safety or environmental criteria such as EC1 plus or the 'Blue Angel'. Certain raw materials are sometimes no longer permitted or available, or there are new, cheaper raw materials that have to be tested in existing products. So there's always something that needs doing.

What qualifications to you have?

I studied chemistry at Ulm uni. My university professor established the contact with Uzin Utz, and I applied to join the company.

How does one develop a new adhesive for parquet flooring?

It is not all that easy. You are given a list of criteria, what the adhesive must be able to do, what competitive products there already are on the market, or rather, whether there actually are any competitive products on the market. If there are, then you take your inspiration from them. If not, the whole thing becomes much more difficult. Then you discuss the matter openly with the suppliers, take their ideas on board, and you see what binders and bulking agents they can maybe offer you. We also fall back on existing formulas that we can maybe modify to meet these new requirements.

And where do these new requirements come from?

They are mainly inspired by customer demand, for example if someone working on a building site says: 'Wouldn't it be great if we had something that...'. This information is then passed on to our applications engineers, who usually visit the sites as customer liaison is part of their job. Then it is passed on to Product Management, where everyone sits down together and discusses what would make sense and what wouldn't. And ultimately, the list of requirements is turned into a development request, which is then presented to the developers. So all in all, you work closely together with the customers and the applications engineers in order to jointly develop a new product.

How long does it take to develop an adhesive?

It depends, as an adhesive is so unpredictable. Although in theory, you do know beforehand which way it is going to go, once you mix the formula it can soon become clear that it won't work the way you thought it would, after all. The manufacturers provide you with data and suggested formulas, but these are usually not much good for our applications. As there is such a huge range of raw materials, it is a matter of trial and error. You need a lot of patience and experience to find out which raw material is the right one. It's not unusual to have to try out 200 different mixes. Which can sometimes take more than a year. Even after you have developed the right formula, the final checks for an adhesive take around six months to complete.  You have to test its shelf-life, as a adhesive must be storable for at least a year.

Do you develop for the German market only, or also for international markets?

Mainly for Germany, although our adhesives are of course also marketed internationally. Each country has different requirements. On the one hand, due to climatic conditions such as humidity and temperature, and on the other simply individual preferences. Some prefer a slow-acting adhesive, others want an adhesive that is almost odourless, and so on. We try to take all of these requirements into account when we develop products.
What is the working atmosphere like in your laboratory?
Excellent. We have a super, new laboratory, nice and spacious with room to move. It is lovely and quiet and you can concentrate properly.

How many people are there in your team?

There are only two of us in our team. There are usually three groups with three people each in the adhesives laboratory. The whole group covers the areas of parquet flooring adhesives, dispersion adhesives and epoxy, dispersion and base coats. We discuss everything with each other in laboratory meetings, despite the fact that we in the parquet flooring adhesives department are working on an altogether different basis.

Are you happy at the Uzin Utz AG?

I think the company is great. I think the way Dr Utz and Mr Müllerschön treat their staff is brilliant. They don't just think that the most important thing are the staff, they actually make sure that they are. You cannot take it for granted that an employer offers something like the 'Horizons' programme, for instance. When I tell friends that I am going to back training classes, they can't believe the kind of perks we enjoy here! The management board really does everything it can to ensure that the staff are well looked after.

What about your life-work balance?

In my position, it is easy to find the right balance between my family life and my job. I work flexitime, meaning that basically, I have a lot of freedom when it comes to deciding what I want to do when. So say my son has a sports event to go to in the afternoon, then I can leave in time to take him there. It would probably not be that easy to combine work and family life in another job.

Daniel Heinz, Design and Construction, Wolff Vaihingen

What do you do, what are your responsibilities, and how long have you been with the company?

I have been with the company since September 2011 and work for the Wolff brand in Vaihingen in Design & Construction. I am involved in the monitoring of new developments and improvements in the mechanical engineering field; at the moment, for example, we are developing a new kind of stripper. That is a machine that strips floors of existing flooring.

If a linoleum floor is to be replaced, then it is easiest to remove it with a stripper like that.

How do you develop a new machine?

First you produce a detailed design, i.e. you design the chassis and the casing, then you play with different drive systems, for example belt or chain. At the end, you go into the test stage and try everything out. Our new stripper will hopefully be ready to go into serial production in the spring of 2012. That is a great feeling, when you have developed the machine and only 'seen' it in your CAD, and then all of a sudden it is actually there, in front of you. That is even a wonderful experience when you are just working on an individual part for something, when you get to see the first casting from a cast that you have designed. When you see that a part that you have developed with the help of a CAD is finally there in reality, right in front of you, that just feels great.

What did you study?

I studied mechanical engineering in Heilbronn and joined the company straight from there. A newspaper advertisement got me interested in the Uzin Utz AG, so I looked at their website and applied for a job. Luckily, the whole process didn't take long at all.

What was it like to embark on your career, was the transition from university to working life difficult?

Although I had already worked in a company environment whilst writing my dissertation, it was still a big step to start my professional life in earnest at an unfamiliar company. It was simply a challenge of a completely different kind. But the department heads and colleagues were really supportive and welcoming. I am really pleased that I dared to take this step.

How many people are there in your team and are you happy there?

Our team consists of two managers, two engineers, two 'draughtspersons' (one male and one female colleague), and a colleague who is responsible for the technical documentation. We are spread over two offices, and get on extremely well with each other. And the relationship between the different offices and with the managers is also really good. The boss, the head of our branch office, for example, is really approachable. Everyone is very relaxed when dealing with each other and usually, you don't even realise you are actually talking to someone in authority.

What skills does a developer need to have?

It is important that you are extremely flexible, have many different skills so you can lend a hand wherever it's needed, you need to be able to contribute insights from a number of different disciplines. You need to be familiar with drive systems and electric engines, with hydraulics, and with the actual construction and assembly processes. It helps if you have a very broad range of skills and are thoroughly familiar with all of these areas. You have a lot of freedom in your work, and there is plenty of scope for creativity. You also have a lot of input, your ideas are immediately taken on board, rather than shelved for later. You can look into them and, if they seem worthwhile, realise them straight away. That is what is so special about my job, I guess, your hands are not tied, your creativity is given free reign.

What do you particularly appreciate about the Uzin Utz AG as an employer?

I value the exciting and congenial work environment, but also the many events. Last year, as soon as I had started, there was a brilliant event to celebrate the company anniversary, and then there are all these courses and lectures, and just in general, the company's generosity, you can feel how that guides everything they do. And the salary is also pretty good, although for me personally, that is a secondary aspect, because the working atmosphere is so brilliant here and I enjoy my job so very much. That is far more important to me. I also think that the chances for further career development are pretty good for me here. There are many prospective choices on offer.

What else would you want to tell a potential applicant?

For me, it was all coincidental, that I saw the advertisement, that I applied immediately, and that I got lucky straight away. But I am also very happy about the fact that this coincidence turned out to be such a lucky one. I can only recommend that it's worth a try, go ahead and apply! The environment, the way people treat each other, and the career opportunities are just great, honestly.