"My project is driving lean management implementation in production operations." Fabiola Vásquez, participant in the Knorr-Bremse international trainee program (MEP)

Field report. Trainee program in Italy.

In training for leadership: after taking a master’s in industrial engineering, Mexican-born Vásquez entered the Knorr-Bremse Management Evolution Program (MEP), an international trainee program. She spent six months with subsidiary Microelettrica at its rail center at Buccinasco with the task of optimizing a production line along KPS principles.

My day: Enjoying my work from 8 am to 5.30 pm

Fabiola Vázquez hails from Mexico and took a master’s degree in industrial engineering in Karlsruhe, Germany. She joined the Management Evolution Program in May 2017.

7:15 – I jump on my bike and head for the Buccinasco plant. It’s twelve kilometers from the center of Milan, but luckily I don’t have so far to go. My route takes me alongside a canal, so I can escape the traffic. Cycling to work is pretty unusual in Italy; only a handful of my Microelettrica colleagues do it apart from me.

7:50 – The first essential when I get to work is an espresso. We’re in Italy, after all! I enter the open-plan office, which I share with around 15 colleagues, and open my laptop. What’s on today’s agenda? The project I’ve come here to complete is driving lean management implementation in production operations. Microelettrica Scientifica is a global market leader in electronic and electromechanical control systems for rail vehicles. Its Buccinasco production facility opened in 2013; the workforce of almost 300 produces circuit breakers, disconnectors, and braking resistors.

8:30 – I put on my safety footwear and head over to the production facility, saying good morning to Andrea Priolo, my mentor who is supporting me in my project. My objective is to optimize a production line which makes high-tech braking resistors for rail vehicles––components that rapidly dissipate excess electrical energy when the train driver switches to generator mode for frictionless braking.

9:00 – I need to reduce the throughput time on my line, so I have to conduct a detailed analysis of the workflow. But most of all, I have to talk to the people on the production line. They explain every step, every manual action, and every process to me. Everyone willingly takes the time to do it, and it’s also a great way of getting into conversation about more personal topics like interests and family. Communication is sometimes challenging, because not all the workforce speak English and my Italian is not yet up to speed. But luckily, Microelettrica enables me to take two private Italian classes a week after work, which I’m really grateful for.

Material flow analyses and efficiency tests at the lifter table

10:00 – I put stickers on some parts at the start of the process and track their progress with a conventional stopwatch. I’m focusing on a resistor that’s the size of a closet and weighs up to 500 kg in its finished state. A crane moves it along the line from one station to another. First, the line workers cut and shape sheet metal into a kind of cage to produce a housing with excellent thermal conductivity. I analyze the material flow throughout the process. Where do the necessary parts come from, and are they available in time?

11:00 – The colleagues on the assembly line suggest setting up a lifter table for some parts, to improve assembly ergonomics and make resistor transport more efficient. They also point out bottlenecks where wait time could be shortened. They know their processes like the back of their hand! It’s crucial to include suggestions from the people involved to ensure the success and acceptance of the project.

12:50 – Lunchtime! A dozen or so colleagues from Supply Chain and Engineering usually get together over a lavish Italian spread that could include spaghetti, fish, lasagne, or piccata, with fruit and salad. It’s followed by the obligatory espresso, and maybe a walk around the factory.

Check on the laptop: What is being scrutinized today?

Afternoon: Telephone appointment and 5S workshop

14:00 – A telephone call is scheduled with Munich; I discuss the project with my Lean Management contact. After the annual KPS World Meeting, held here recently in Buccinasco, an assembly line analysis was held and improvement proposals were developed. I got a lot of inspiration for my project.

15:30 – 5S workshop with four colleagues from Metalworking. After I brushed up my 5S theory yesterday with my colleagues, this is the first hands-on workshop in the metalworking department. Knowledge of English is less widespread here, so I’m happy to have the support of my colleague, lean production expert Alberto Bianchi. We start with identifying parts and tools at the workplace that are rarely or never used. To achieve our goal of standardized workplaces, we note further suggestions for improvements for our Metalworking colleagues. We end by defining the next steps for full-scale implementation of 5S over the long term.

17:30 – Time to leave. Today we’re joining colleagues from Supply Chain and Engineering for a beach volleyball tournament at a nearby sports center. There’s a lot of laughter and the atmosphere is great––as long as you have enough insect repellent to drive off the mosquitoes! Afterwards I cycle home, tired but content.

Arriving at work after a half-hour cycle ride.

Lunch with colleagues. A rich Italian menu and nice conversations, here with Andrea Priolo, bring the forces back.

Fabiola Vázquez has to analyze every action to spot ways of simplifying the process.

All observations on the assembly line are recorded directly.

Alberto Bianchi explains how the entire flow of information from order and planning to the collection of the finished braking resistors by a forwarding company runs.

A team that‘s never short of good ideas: Fabiola Vázquez (center) with (from l.) Ioan Morosanu, Antonino Amato, Andrea Priolo, Stefano Pinelli, Alberto Bianchi, Alberto Fanari, and Petru Clopotel.

Management Evolution Program for trainees:

Members of the company interested in taking up responsible management positions over the medium term are given the chance to join international project groups at an early stage in their career. To help them develop their professional and social skills, they receive support from their technical unit and are assigned a mentor. Only highly committed applicants with above-average specialist expertise are accepted.

  • The program can be joined at any time to suit the trainee
  • Total duration of the program is 18 months
  • The program comprises participation in 3 different projects (6 months each) at 3 different locations
  • The second project assigned is at an international Knorr-Bremse location
  • The third project is at a German or European location

During their traineeship, young academics complete project work to familiarize themselves with the Rail Vehicle Systems and Commercial Vehicle Systems divisions at Knorr-Bremse and with a variety of specialist departments and international locations. The MEP program fast-tracks highly qualified employees to a stage where they are ready to take up key positions in a wide variety of fields. But not only Knorr-Bremse benefits from their expertise. Customers and business partners do too, working from the outset with these contacts who are familiar with their needs concerning customer orientation, products, process expertise and just-in-time solutions, and who are able to implement their requirements.

Learn more about Knorr-Bremse's Management Evolution Program for trainees.

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