“Process stability is my favourite topic“

Natascha Wolski, Global Quality Paderborn at BENTELER Automotive, about shared responsibility, our quality assurance processes and how to design rules that allow room for innovation.

Our top priority is to always deliver first-class quality to our customers. You are the Director Global Customer Quality, Advanced Quality Engineering (AQE), Warranty and Risk Management and are therefore responsible for exactly that. Does this responsibility rest heavily on your shoulders?

(laughs) No, I don't actually bear that responsibility alone. Every involved department, from development to manufacturing engineering to production, is taking its part of responsibility. We at Quality Management have an overview of all process stages.

What does quality in the production of an automotive supplier mean to you?

Quality is interdisciplinary, that's what I like so much about it. On the one hand, it's about always consistently meeting specifications – if a customer wants a certain surface, it's our job to make sure that it's always delivered consistently and correctly. On the other hand, quality management is also a lot about trust – because in life, not everything always runs smoothly, and that also applies to a production facility. This can sometimes be due to planning or to the machines. But it is always important to know how to deal with these challenges. If you do not trust your counterpart, you will try to find something to complain about – and find it, even in a perfect environment. If there is trust, you can immediately work together on a solution.

But for me, quality does not only mean to solve a problem efficiently – which is basically not bad. Our job is to make sure that, if possible, there is no problem at all.

BENTELER is a global player, the Automotive Division has about 70 plants in operation: How can you prevent problems in a company of this size?

Anyone who produces two parts a day can check them by hand. Of course, this is no longer possible with quantities in the double-digit million range per year. Well thought-out and stable processes are needed to ensure quality here. This process stability is my favourite topic. If we continue to focus on it in the future and consistently adhere to our processes, our quality will continue to increase. This strengthens our position in the market – and we also produce more cost-efficiently.

It is important to me that we constantly improve and meet our standards as a metal process specialist every day. We have 140 years of experience in metal processing: we know how to form and join metal like nobody else. We use this expertise to develop cost-efficient and first-class manufacturing processes – and this is also the basis for our quality standards and quality specifications. To ensure that these specifications are based on the production reality, I also spend a lot of time adjusting our rules and processes: it is of no use to anyone if we develop rules in an ivory tower that are then impractical. That's why it's essential to exchange ideas with those responsible for production on site, in our regions.

In which time horizons do you work in quality management?

On the one hand, there is a long-term perspective: this is the forward planning of what we do and how we do it over the next three years. Every thought that we invest here makes our life easier in the long term. But sometimes speed is required: If there is a problem during production, we will also step in. We analyse and solve the problem, improve the process if necessary and pass on the new knowledge to our development department.

How can you ensure that the quality standards you have set down on paper are also achieved in production?

There are training courses and concrete quality principles for our employees: Make no mistakes, do not accept mistakes, adhere to rules and so on...

...doesn't "sticking to the rules" prevent innovation in the area of processes?

That depends on how the rules are formulated. You can describe a process with 20 defined rules or with three – if the goal is clear, you don't have to prescribe everything in the smallest detail. That would stifle any form of pragmatism and spontaneity. Rules should therefore be formulated flexibly enough.

BENTELER is an international company. Do the cultural differences have an impact on your work?

We have made the experience that the different regions deal with our guidelines differently. In America and Asia, for example, there is a need for process specifications that are as detailed as possible. Employees there sometimes change employers more frequently. That's why it's important that they are informed about the rules as quickly and comprehensively as possible after starting work and can read them at any time. In Europe, there are longer training periods, during which one can also build on knowledge from the past.

You have completed a technical degree and work in a male-dominated industry. Do you believe that gender has an influence on working life?

Yes, of course. However, I have never been explicitly asked about my gender. Our field is all about facts and figures. But subconsciously there is a certain role attribution – often it is women who clean up the room after meetings. Conversely, women are the first to be served coffee. That probably applies in all industries. As a woman in our industry, you stand out – if I sit in a meeting with ten men and only say something twice, I'm more likely to be remembered than if one of the other ten men interjects something. That is neither an advantage nor a disadvantage. It is just the way it is.