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In advance development at Vorwerk

"Engineers are more creative than their reputation lets us believe"

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Engineers are frequently held to be technicians who focus on details. However, for Niklas van Teeffelen, it quickly turned out that in advanced engineering at Vorwerk, the occupation offers more than a strictly technical career. People who bring new ideas to market maturity and series development cooperate with many different departments and also require a healthy dose of persuasiveness, as Niklas revealed to us during the interview.

Niklas, what does an advanced engineering specialist at Vorwerk do?

I look at how people live and shape their day-to-day lives. At first, that doesn’t sound like a typical job for an engineer. However, it’s only possible to develop useful technical products if you understand how they can help people and/or offer added value. As advanced engineering specialists, we supply the initial ideas for a product and develop them together with colleagues from other departments until we later bring them to market as series projects. In this respect, advanced engineering is the very first step of a process through which we develop products.

That sounds like a creative task. How much conceptual work does your job involve?

A lot. At the beginning, we try to develop an idea and promote it within the company in order to realize it. Once that has happened, we quickly transition to the conceptual work. Because we are a technical advanced engineering department, it is also up to us to create the technical basis for the products. Once it is clear, for example, that customers no longer want to do the vacuuming by hand, and we develop a robot vacuum cleaner, this gives rise to many technical questions such as the form of propulsion or the brush geometry.

To find a corresponding solution, we frequently create initial prototypes and different variations of a product idea. To this end, we may quickly consult other departments so that we do not lose sight of other important aspects and the big picture. Most recently, for example, we immediately worked together with the design department on a new concept.

Sooner or later there will be an interface to all departments.

Who are your other cooperation partners within the company?

Sooner or later there is an interface to all technical departments. In the beginning, interaction with market research and innovation or product management is important. When the concept is on the verge of implementation, we talk to controlling and purchasing as well as production and assembly. It also can’t hurt to have a conversation with sales.

However, I begin a typical working day by exchanging information with colleagues in advanced engineering. While we all have different projects, we frequently face similar challenges. We use the meeting to learn from each other and keep from making any mistakes a second time.

What has your career path been thus far and why did you decide to take a job at Vorwerk?

It was clear to me very early on at school and later in a technical unit of the German Federal Armed Forces that I wanted to develop technical things, whereby I was undecided whether it should be big systems like airplanes and cars or smaller ones like consumer electronics. Then I began studying mechanical engineering and discovered that what interested me the most was conceptual development of products, at which point I deepened my knowledge in initial practical projects.

Then I came into contact with Vorwerk for the first time at the end of my bachelor's program and wrote my thesis in the advanced engineering department. I really liked the practically oriented problems and the creative approach. In my subsequent master’s program, I focused heavily on the topic of industrial design. This interface between design and technology deals intensely with customers and their lifestyles. Ultimately, after an overseas stay in South America, I returned to Vorwerk thanks to an unsolicited application I submitted. I wanted to reconnect with the pleasant period I spent at the company.

What do you especially appreciate about Vorwerk as an employer?

On the one hand, of course, the tasks: as an engineer, I can do creative work here on products that are something special, because we have a very high standard of innovation and technology. On the other hand, the work atmosphere is highly informal; we have a great feedback culture and I feel valued because a lot of trust is put in me. I’m glad that I can be responsible for a product and I take this job very seriously. That’s because I see that here I have the opportunity to advance within the company.

I feel valued because I am trusted very much.

Which special skills does one need for your profession?

There are physicists, information scientists, and electrical engineers working here. That means you don’t necessarily have to have studied mechanical engineering in order to develop technical products. However, one should have a solid basic understanding of technology.

In order to work well with others here, you should be open-minded and willing to learn. No matter how good you are in your area of expertise, projects will always have interfaces to other departments within the company. You must appreciate your colleagues’ experience in order to carry out a successful project.

In addition, advanced engineering specialists need a healthy dose of assertiveness and persuasiveness because not everyone at the company is enthusiastic about every idea right from the start. You have to be able to handle and categorize criticism in order to design the product even better or just differently.

Getting colleagues excited about a new idea: is that also the biggest challenge from day to day?

Yes, and it is also a challenge to take critical counter questions seriously. One challenging aspect in this regard can be representing all departments when defending an idea. Say, for example, the designer wants the product to look sleek, but the engineer needs more space for his electronics. As an advanced engineering specialist, you have to understand the arguments of both sides, discuss them together in the team, and also gather information about how the solution identified will influence controlling, purchasing, and so forth.

The ability to categorize the received information properly is also important. What information should be given priority treatment and what do you do when cost constraints increase? To steer the project in the right direction, it helps if you sometimes solve these problems independently.

You have been at Vorwerk for one and a half years now: is there anything of which you’re already particularly proud?

It is nice to see how quickly I can have a hand in shaping things at Vorwerk. Some of the ideas that the team and I initiated when I started out here are now approaching market maturity – it makes me proud to have been part of that. Another high point that we experience here is the way customers react to the product. Feedback from the sales department or direct from customers enables us to make the product even a little bit better the next time.

The reaction of the customer to the finished product is a real highlight of my work.

What do you hope to achieve professionally over the next few years?

For me, the next step would be the position of a junior project manager, who assumes responsibility for a product when it emerges from advanced engineering. In general, my ambition is to put cool products on the market. Of course, it is possible to pursue this ambition in many different positions here at Vorwerk. What is vitally important to me is to maintain an interface with technology, because I wouldn’t ever want to be without the technical aspect of my work.

What occupation would you pursue if you weren’t employed in advanced engineering?

I will probably always tend towards product development, since you can do that in various sectors. By that I don’t mean vacuum cleaners or airplanes, but a marketing strategy is also a product that has to be developed. In any case, I want to do creative work and always advance ideas and promote things. I can imagine any occupation that encompasses precisely that: putting ideas into action.

Personal details: Niklas van Teeffelen has been employed at Vorwerk since 2017 in research and development / advanced engineering. The 28-year-old studied mechanical engineering at RWTH Aachen University and was able to acquire initial experience in the company’s advanced engineering department within the scope of his bachelor's thesis. After earning his master’s degree and spending time abroad, he returned to Wuppertal.