HeadLights: From a girls’ school to being a master production mechanic

I’m in charge of making sure things run smoothly in S-Class production, where 80% of the mechanics are old enough to be my father. In this blog and in our Daimler-Podcast HeadLights (this episode only available in German) I’ll tell you about my daily work at the body-in-white production unit, my career path to luxury-class car production, and what it’s like to be a 26-year-old woman managing almost 40 male colleagues.

If you’re a woman walking into a production hall, you’re likely to hear people saying, “Oh, there’s a woman running around over there!”  But would the reaction be all that different if the department consisted of 40 women and the new colleague was a man? Probably not. But no matter what your gender is, ultimately you have to be really good at this job. That’s the important thing.

I’m the master production mechanic in the body-in-white production unit for the S-Class. Like all master mechanics, I’m the leader of a team. In my case, the team consists of 40 colleagues, almost all of whom are men. Here in the body-in-white production hall, we manufacture the S-Class family — in other words, the sedan, the coupe, and the convertible, as well as our Mercedes Maybach. It never gets boring here. We do something different every day. What motivates me personally is the ability to constantly improve the production process and the anticipation of soon starting a new production series.

How does body-in-white production work?

Here we’ve got a highly automated production unit with lots of robotics and technology. Body-in-white production is divided into three construction phases: the undercarriage, the sidewalls, and finally the flaps. That’s why you’ll find us on three floors.

To begin with, the colleagues on the ground floor construct the flap parts — that is, the doors, fenders, trunk lid, and hood. After that, we receive the undercarriage, consisting of the rear floor, the front-end assembly, and the underbody, from the building opposite us. In our unit, we attach the inner and outer sidewalls and then, in the last step, the flap parts. That’s how the process works in general. Even though most customers want to have an S-Class convertible, there are also some who would like to have a roof. So we attach roofs as well.

(Not) a normal workday

This is how my workday starts: I have a cup of coffee, turn on my notebook, turn up the volume on my smartphone, and the day begins. The production line starts operating at ten minutes to six. At that point I’m standing up there in the production hall and discussing the status quo with the other master mechanics. What do we have to do today? Are there any special things to keep in mind? After that I say “good morning” to my colleagues. I consider it very important to talk briefly with each of my colleagues every morning. I’m glad to take the time to do that.

For us, there’s no such thing as a typical day. That’s unfortunate, because I don’t really like being unable to plan ahead. But this uncertainty is part of a master mechanic’s daily work. Sometimes I have to shuttle from one workstation to the next because of malfunctions. On the other hand, it never gets boring here. Our most important goal every day is to keep our production working, produce a large number of units, and have satisfied colleagues.

My path to the S-Class

I was 16 years old when I started working at Daimler. After graduating from a private girls’ school, I decided to start a three-and-a-half-year training program as a mechatronics specialist here at Daimler. In the second year of the program, it’s usual to send the trainees out into the production operations. That can be anywhere in the plant, depending on where your profession is represented. Oddly enough, I landed in the body-in-white production hall of the S-Class — my current workplace. Back then I worked here as an industrial mechanic, and this is where I still work today.

Lots of huge machines, robots, all kinds of technology, and me — I’m only 1.60 meters tall, but I’m good at what I do. This job fit me perfectly. After completing the training program, I decided relatively fast to qualify for a master mechanic’s certificate, and I received it after three years of working for it in addition to doing my job. After attending classes at the master mechanic school, I would come here and work as an industrial mechanic. It was a tough schedule, but it was manageable.

So far not very much has changed for this model series. We’re still building the same S-Class we were building six years ago. But that’s about to change.

Do robots represent the future?

Of course we now have lots of robots in every part of the facility — that’s not a secret. For example, we’ve got grippers that move the big undercarriages through the facility and add the individual components to the body. Locking pliers attached to the robots help with the gluing. The robots pick up the tools they need and start to work on the body. That makes lots of our work steps much easier.

But we’ve also got lots of processes where a robot couldn’t replace a human being — for example, in quality control.

A hen among roosters

I’ve been doing this job for a year now, and I have to admit that in the beginning I couldn’t do everything perfectly. But you grow through your challenges. For most of my colleagues, having a young supervisor wasn’t a problem. There were actually some colleagues who said, “My boss is 26 years old — that’s really cool.” But for a few of them it was a bit more difficult. You should define clear goals and clear limits from the very start.

For me, it’s always been important to have an open atmosphere where people don’t hesitate speak up. I have to be able to say, “You’ve done a great job, guys” or “There’s another way to do that.” It also has to work the other way around: My colleagues want to be heard, and they have to be able to sometimes say, “I think the way things are going right now is all wrong.” That makes sense, because things don’t always go the way you want them to. But my regular responses to feedback strengthen the team. After one year on the job, I can now say with confidence that everyone has accepted the situation and we work together well.

Here’s my tip concerning the “man versus woman” debate: Don’t make it such a big issue! Of course it’s always uncomfortable to start working in a new unit. Your first thoughts are “Who’s who? What is each of these people like?” But you and the people around you eventually get used to the situation, and then things work automatically. Whether you’re a man or a woman doesn’t matter. All of you have to be able to work together. That’s important.

Because whenever I see an S-Class on the street, I think, “That’s funny — at one time that car was in my section of the production line.” That really makes me proud.


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Stefanie Noll has been working for Daimler since 2008. After she previously attended a traditional girls' high school, she then opted to train as a mechatronics engineer in S-Class body-in-white, after which she took further training as an electrical engineering foreperson. Incidentally, where she was a trainee ten years ago she now leads a team of 40 employees. Stefanie's car for personal use is an A-Class and one day she would love to have her own S-Class.