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“Every submarine is unique” – A conversation with Dr. Anika Stein of Marine Systems

13 March. 2020

To date women are underrepresented in many areas - including in industrial companies such as thyssenkrupp. On the occasion of international women's day, we spoke to Dr. Anika Stein about her passion for special machinery. As head of Defense Systems at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems in Kiel, she heads a team of top-class engineers and technicians. Together with her colleagues, Dr. Stein builds submarines. She explains why each submarine is a unique result of technical expertise and teamwork - and why she pursues her career in a male-dominated industry.

Why did you decide to become an engineer?

“To me, mechanical engineering combines mathematics and physics in a wonderful way: I chose to study mechanical engineering because it shows both sciences in application. Because of this tangible concentration on the real, physical world, I finally decided to pursue a career in engineering. Understanding complex interrelationships, recognizing and solving technical problems are the fields of activity that I particularly enjoy in my profession – as a mechanical engineer I can create and develop something”.

Dr. Stein, Head of Defense Systems at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, explains why each submarine is a unique result of technical expertise.

What does the work in the field of special purpose mechanical engineering look like?

“In the special purpose mechanical engineering department at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems we develop and build state-of-the-art defense systems. the technical aspects of my work are still those of mechanical engineering – although I have to say that the work as a department head differs from my previous job in that I now increasingly take on strategic tasks.“

What do you, in a leadership position, have to pay particular attention to?

“In addition to specialist management topics, I am primarily concerned with the further development of my department. The demands placed by customers on our products are constantly increasing, and for this we have to be very flexible in terms of content, but also strategically. That’s why it’s very important to me that every single team member is further qualified through professional training, but also through coaching and targeted change management to make us fit for the future. That includes myself, of course – after all, you never stop learning.

What significance does the team composition have in this?

"One of my tasks is to put the team with its broad profile in different disciplines together in a meaningful way. To name just a few of the engineering fields represented in our team: Electrical Engineering, Control Engineering, Thermodynamics, Design and Systems Integration. Putting the team together so that the disciplines are sufficiently covered and work well together is my responsibility. For me, this means knowing my team well and being able to assess it correctly. In order to be able to do this, I must have technical know-how in various fields.”

In your opinion, what is the recipe for success for successful teamwork?

“Approaching each other and working out the best solution together! Of course, one’s own strengths and a clear line of approach help, but all my colleagues bring that with them anyway. It’s a team sport where all players complement each other ideally and everyone gives their best. Goals are usually always prepared by others, a striker alone cannot decide a game in the long run.

 What makes the development of submarines particularly exciting for you as a mechanical engineer?

“Building a submarine is a technical challenge, and as an engineer I am excited about my work every day. Every boat is unique, and my team and I get to explore new technical territory with every project. For engineers whose profession lives from technology, curiosity and the desire to learn new things, so to speak, the daily work in special machinery construction at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems is a very special field of activity.”

How does the work on submarines differ from other engineering projects?

“There are very few products that combine as many engineering disciplines as submarine construction. Integrating the systems throughout the submarine is a challenging task – especially considering how complex and diverse the systems and components are. From the fuel cell for submarines, propulsion technology, shock calculation, electric motors, complex battery systems and signature optimization on board, radar and underwater telephone or even the armament itself – all these are components that are part of our submarines. “

“The development process has to be good so that the systems run as smoothly and efficiently as possible, as we cannot perform multiple prototype loops. Because every submarine is custom-built. For further explanation: In submarine construction there is no series production as in the automotive industry. Of course, there are smaller series, but even within these mini-series submarines there are various innovations that are built into every submarine.”

How do you as a team deal with these specific challenges?

“In order to keep the prototype loops short, a lot of coordination work takes place in advance within our team and with the customer. In addition, the experience and exquisite know-how of our engineers and technicians contribute to the creation of a good and fully functional submarine right from the start. This makes working at Marine Systems a dream job for any ambitious engineer. Our team consists of engineers who must be very good in their field. Because of the short prototype loops, every calculation must be correct and every technical operation must be performed with absolute accuracy – right from the start.

Which of the technologies you have worked on do you consider to be truly innovative?

“That would definitely be IDAS: “Interactive Defense and Attack System”. IDAS is a defense system for submarines against air attacks. The scenario in which IDAS is used is: a helicopter throws a search buoy into the water, which tracks the submarine and attacks it with light-weight torpedoes. So far, there is no technical solution to counteract such attacks. “

In this picture you can see a helicopter with peaceful intentions. In the opposite case, however, there was until now no defense system for submarines with which the underwater companions could protect themselves against attacks from the air.

“With IDAS we have now developed a defense system that enables submarines to protect themselves against such attacks – ideally before they come under fire. Using certain detection methods, enemy attackers are detected from the air and IDAS fends them off. The missile is launched underwater, penetrates the water surface and is guided to its target, for example the helicopter. This protects the submarine and also gives it time to submerge and hide in order to avoid further attacks from the air.“

IDAS gives submarines enough time to submerge and escape from airborne attackers.

Apart from the exciting product you are developing, what do you enjoy most about working in your current team?

“What particularly contributes to my satisfaction with my work as an engineer at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems is working for and with technically experienced, informed and interested customers. That’s why engineering is not only carried out in isolation from the customer, but also together with the customer. This makes my work and that of the people in my team very pleasant. Our customer contact is characterized by a common enthusiasm for technology”.

How can a woman hold her own in a male domain?

“In my opinion, acceptance and assertiveness have nothing to do with gender. Given the high complexity of our products, there is little room for the ego – whether male or female. What counts is professional skill and know-how. Because success is only possible in a team. We must deliver together, regardless of gender. In addition to technical competence and individual know-how, the will to perform, the ability to implement and a necessary degree of commitment are indispensable. We must trust each other and be able to rely on each other.

The various engineering areas involved in the construction of a submarine enable Dr. Anika Stein, Head of Defense Systems at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, to work together in a team of top-class engineers from various disciplines.

“I like to compare our teamwork with equestrian sport: This becomes particularly clear in show jumping. If rider and horse are not in harmony, it quickly becomes very painful. However, if both pursue the same goal and work together, great success is achieved. If everyone enjoys it, all the better!

Why should other women follow your example?

“Because it’s a great job, which, by the way, has nothing to do with gender. Our products consist of hundreds of thousands of individual parts and components, kilometers of cable trays and highly complex systems that have to be perfectly coordinated, both spatially and functionally.”

“We are constantly moving in a field of tension between proven maritime shipbuilding solutions and innovations in the high-tech sector. In the submarine, everything is safety-relevant. There is little room for error under water. We bear a great responsibility, and this has a major impact on the design of our systems. If you are interested in the art of engineering at the highest level and like to take on responsibility, then a job at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems is just the right thing for you!”