28 March, 2010

Life as an intern

That's right, it's the moment you've all been waiting for: I am sitting down to write a post! So much has happened in the past two months that I almost don't know where to start. And I'll have to be careful not to reveal any company secrets along the way.

On Feb. 1 I started working at WAFIOS AG in Reutlingen. WAFIOS is a fairly old company which is in the business of making machines for the production of wire and tube. It is a world market leader in this niche. The machines produced by WAFIOS are top of the line and everything is done to match customer specifications. WAFIOS has two plants, a logistics center and a training facility in Reutlingen. It has another plant in Wuppertal, Germany, distribution/service centers in Connecticut and Brazil and numerous partner companies in Germany and Switzerland. And it's all privately owned (that's what AG means). WAFIOS machines are used in a very wide range of industries to name a few: automotive, furniture, consumer goods, electronics, construction and home appliances.

I started working in the Sales Media department. Pretty much any document that has anything to do with sales goes through our department: brochures, flyers, presentations, you name it. There are currently three other workers in the office, one of whom is responsible for the photos that are published in the brochures and the videos that are displayed at trade shows.

Almost everybody speaks German with me and on top of that, most of it is Schwäbisch, the local dialect. I still have trouble following along with conversations, but I'm getting better.

Right now things are hectic because everyone is preparing for a big trade show held in Düsseldorf in April. It's the biggest show for the wire and tube industry and a lot of sales and deals are made there. We've been making new material for the machines to be premiered at the show and updating old documents too.

I started by learning CorelDRAW, a computer drawing program. That was pretty easy. It's a really straightforward program. After a couple weeks, I guess people started realizing that there was an English speaker in the office, because I was brought a few English documents to look over and German stuff to translate. It turns out the official translator who would usually take care of all of that is away on maternity leave.

I learned a lot by translating. There was a lot of terminology in the brochures that I never learned in school: mostly machinery terminology, but also marketing-style words. Only a couple weeks ago I started recording every word I had to look up in a spreadsheet and I already have 100 words (here's a copy if you're interested).

During my first week, my boss made it clear that I was not allowed to sit at my desk the entire day, so I got into the habit of grabbing a cup of coffee/hot chocolate every hour or so and going for a walk around the production floor. I really enjoyed seeing most of the concepts we've learned about in Engineering classes in practice. I got to the know layout of the factory after a while. It was cool to watch the progress of the machines getting built.

One of my other assignments was to get to know all of the products that WAFIOS offers. That is no small task because WAFIOS produces something like 200 different types of machines. There's machines for making springs of all sizes and shapes, bending tube into pretty much any shape imaginable, twisting barbed wire, weaving chain-link fence, making nails/rivets, bending and welding chain and for simply straightening and cutting-off wire. Most of the machines start at a base model, but are modularly expandable, so there's also tons of documentation on what options are available for which machine.

Just the principle of producing from wire was new to me. In school we learned how to make things by cutting away material from a block or rod, but bending wire and tube is a completely different concept. The wire is shipped in a coil, but in order to work it, you have to straighten it first. You don't want to squish it too much or else the profile will change, but you still have to feed it to the forming tools at a reasonably high speed and force. Well, whether we were aware of it or not, engineers have been finding solutions to these questions for centuries and they're still coming up with innovations now.

As you might be able to tell, I am very happy with my internship so far. WAFIOS is a great example of German excellence and I am proud to be a small part of it. I'll be in the Media department until the trade show, then I'm scheduled rotate a little bit through other departments just to see how things work. I'm also looking forward to going on a company-sponsored bus trip to the trade show on April 15.

That's all for now. Keep an eye out for another post about by non-work related activities.

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