PSI Blog

Detlef Keeps People from Working – Today Heiko Wolf

08 Oct 2019 - Industry 4.0

Detlef Schmitz and Heiko Wolf in an interview ©PSI Metals

Since starting at PSI in 1981, our business has changed dramatically. Back then like today, people made the company what it is. Let me introduce some of them to you! Today Heiko Wolf, who runs the FutureLab at PSI Metals, helped set up our American office, and still manages to find time for his two children.

Heiko, "FutureLab" is the most exciting topic at PSI Metals. If I understand you correctly, you are ensuring the future of PSI Metals customers and my pension plan?

Yes, I always knew I was responsible for the first part. The second part, though – this is the first time I’ve heard of it.

It all depends on the way you look at it, I guess. Let's start at the beginning. You were born in a small village? 

Our “pipe specialists” will love this: I was born in a small place in Thuringia, Germany, with about 1000 people with the word “Pipe” (German: “Rohr”) in the name.

And how did you get out of the “pipe”?

Even as a boy, I loved natural science. I was very proud of my first computer. I studied IT. The dual study program at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Gottingen helped me finance my studies. For my bachelor thesis, I learned to deal with large amounts of data. I presented and analyzed the results of flow tests on engines, long before anyone had heard the buzzword "Big Data".

What took you to New Zealand?

Since I had been raised in a very small village, I wanted to see the world – or at least a part of it. I finished my Master’s at the University of Otago. I chose New Zealand at the time because of how inexpensive it was, not because of the amazing scenery.

Heiko in New Zealand ©PSI Metals

But there were also some nice women in New Zealand?

You probably mean my wife, who I met and fell in love with there.

And the young New Zealander was dying to come to Berlin?

To convince my girlfriend to come to Berlin, I had to have something to offer. We both really pictured ourselves living in a big city. So the package PSI offered me was the perfect fit, and the hiring process, which focused very closely on the applicant’s personality, really spoke to me.

I didn’t know much about steel, but the idea that my software would impact a real-world pro-duction plant appealed to me.

Moving to the US

What was your first experience at PSI?

My first project was a logistic project for a non-German customer. The project leader knew how to motivate and lead his team. He gave me a pretty challenging job right off the bat, op-timizing the sequence preceding a furnace.

But then came your parental leave?

My wife writes children’s books and had made it clear from the beginning that we would raise the children together. I could make it up to the project team by doing the maintenance for the customer from home. The switch between changing diapers and optimizing a steel factory was... interesting! Today Joshi is 9 years old and I’m so proud of the little guy – he really takes great care of his little brother Noah.

How was coming back to work?

It was a readjustment, but PSI supported me with flexible working hours. My next project was commissioning a local service provider in Russia. That worked amazingly well. We chose an agile approach and created a new system every 14 days. That was very successful.

Then you moved your family to the US?

That’s right. We always wanted to live in an English speaking country, and PSI had just gotten a huge project over there, but didn’t have enough experience to complete it, so they were very happy that I could support them.

The project wasn’t easy, was it?

PSI had taken over AIS, with offices in Linz, Brussels and Leoben. Ours was the first big pro-ject that used the new release based on PSI and AIS software.

The new user interface and the improved planning was a big and successful step forward for our company.

Yes, for the company it was great, but our team suffered a lot. Luckily, the customer gave us a lot of support. Today we can learn a lot from our colleagues in the US, and I’m proud to have been part of building the American office.

So you experienced the effects of changes in the product on the projects first hand.

That’s why when I came back to Berlin, I was very happy to go into the product development division.

Our parent company, PSI Software AG, has created an IT platform with the basic functions for the applications of the PSI subsidiaries. Basics like user interface, integration of subsystems, etc. are developed and shared centrally. This is how we, in metals, benefit from the de-velopments of the 1,900 PSI colleagues.

The PSI board is pushing the topic hard.

It’s the right thing to do. The PSI units obviously want their customers’ requirements to be taken into account in this framework to build the optimal solutions for their markets.

I’m proud that Metals advanced this difficult process. Today our products and the new releases would be unimaginable without the PSI platform.

Establishing PSImetals FutureLab

When will we finally get to the “FutureLab“?

Over the years, PSI Metals has perfected the process of keeping our product up to date and introducing innovations. Now we’re having a separate group – FutureLab – just for that. These colleagues determine which changes and extensions make sense for our customers not only next year, but in five years as well. Then we build pilots, or the application right away, that will be used in the next release.

How do you know what will help the customer – now or in 5 years?

We involve our experienced consultants - they are very familiar with the challenges we face today. To find the visionary idea, we do workshops with colleagues and customers.

For example, we had a workshop with over 40 customers in Canada. In these workshops, we come up with many ideas that we’re now evaluating and prototyping, and some of which will drastically improve our customer’s production management.

Just between you and me, what’s going to be the big hit for the 2020 release?

I can’t tell you that yet – we have many exciting developments in the pipeline, but as always we will be driven by our customer’s requirements to deliver the most value.

What does PSI Metals do well, what can we improve?

The communication in our company is great. The newcomer talks to the managing director. Discussions are relevant, open and clear. Even if I’m not always happy with the result, I know where I stand. Right now I’m reading a book on the subject: “Radical Candor” that describes the potential in open communication.

The best way to promote something in PSI is to take responsibility for it. It’s fun, motivating and the basis for innovation. I hope it stays that way. 

Heiko, thank you very much for the interesting conversation and say hi to your strong New Zealander!

Interested in working with us?

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Detlef Schmitz, PSI Metals Director Business Development

The graduate engineer in electrical engineering has been working in various management positions at PSI for almost 30 years. Today he is responsible for Business Development at PSI Metals. Detlef enjoys interviewing customers and colleagues and writing exciting articles on the topics of digitisation and industry 4.0. In his spare time he enjoys the quiet moments of sailing on the North Sea.of Business Development.

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