Many drivers fear it: road salt in winter. After all, it speeds up rusting. In automobile construction, electroplating is essential. The galvanizing process essentially involves an object being coated in metal using electricity and an electrolytic-enriched bath. In the case of a car body with zinc, the process is intended to protect against rust. Surface technology offers many more possibilities: it makes all kinds of workpieces not only corrosion-resistant and wear-resistant, but it sometimes also makes them electrically conductive, lends them very good sliding, or simply adds color. As a central production unit of the ZEISS Group, Carl Zeiss Jena GmbH uses surface finishing to adapt products for individual purposes – from the depths of the sea all the way to outer space. As a system partner for optoelectronic modules, optical and mechanical components and assemblies, the production unit works closely with the ZEISS business groups as much as it does with external companies. It impresses on account of its technology expertise and precision in both customized units and large production runs; not only does it provide support with manufacturing and finishing components, it also integrates and mounts these in the customers’ production process.
“I’m always surprised to learn how many day-to-day areas rely on surface technology,” says Heike Sperling, and tells us a story about a watch she received as a birthday present. “Everyone shook their head when I looked on in fascination as I saw surface finishing in action. I look at things from a different perspective – it’s an illness of the profession, I guess,” she smiles. And it comes as no surprise – after all, Heike Sperling is a champion in galvanizing and metal cutting and so she knows all about the complex processes behind things like high-gloss or dirt- and water-resistant surfaces.
Anyone who’d like to pursue a career like this today could do an apprenticeship as a surface finisher, which ZEISS offers in Oberkochen. This is a job where the description is clear. Back in the mid-1980s, when Heike Sperling was looking for a traineeship, galvanizers were being hired. “Technology always appealed to me, which is why I took a technology class at school – I was my parents’ only daughter. When I left school, I wanted to become a motorbike mechanic. But my grandmother told me: You don’t want to do that! Your fingernails will always be dirty,” says Heike Sperling with a chuckle. Her grandmother was very happy when she applied for a job at ZEISS. “My dad worked there and besides, back then ZEISS was the place to be if you wanted a great traineeship in the area. Just being invited for an interview was like winning the lottery, especially because apprenticeships were so few and far between at the time,” she remembers. She actually applied for a role as a precision engineer. “When I went for interview, it was suggested that I train as a galvanizer. I have to say, I didn’t really know what it was all about,” she says with a smile. After doing a lot of research, her dad became skeptical. “That’s when I started getting really interested,” grins Heike Sperling.
If you visit Heike Sperling’s office in Oberkochen, you can’t fail to notice a plaque on her wall presented to her by colleagues to mark 25 years of service at ZEISS. That was almost ten years ago. “It will be 34 years on 11 September,” she says. Heike Sperling has been a loyal employee ever since she began her apprenticeship in 1984. “Some people might find that boring,” she says. But when she tells us about all the things she’s experienced over the years, it’s anything but dull. It sounds like a very interesting career with a few moves within the company – from apprentice to manager. After completing her apprenticeship, Heike Sperling achieved a technical management qualification while working. Before she switched to Carl Zeiss Jena GmbH, she assumed different roles at Facility Management. Even though ZEISS always supported her further development, she had to have the right amount of ambition and the ability to get things done. “As a woman, I sometimes had to fight for my right to go the extra mile,” says Heike Sperling. In order to be taken seriously, she had to get herself noticed during her apprenticeship in particular, where most of her colleagues were men. Everything’s different these days: as a valued colleague and a manager responsible for several employees, she is often consulted as a specialist in surfaces and cleanliness. She’s certainly not shy when it comes to being proactive. “I think that’s what makes working at ZEISS so interesting for me even though I’ve been here a while: I can always contribute my ideas and help shape the future .”
Heike Sperling was also involved in the construction of the ZEISS Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology facility. “In the areas of waste management and waste water, I assumed a supporting role during the construction project. This was very exciting and I’m glad I got the chance to take part in a project like this,” she says. She believes ZEISS is a great place for personal development. “After my apprenticeship I got the feeling that I can really do this – and this ignited my inner drive,” she says. She’s so driven, in fact, that she doesn’t just look after ZEISS trainees, she’s also on the Auditing Committee of the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce and trains surface engineers of tomorrow. In her free time, she also teaches at the German Center for Surface Technology (ZOG). “I’m just as inquisitive as I ever was – and I’ve always sought out new challenges,” she says, telling us about her recipe for success. This applies to both her work and her home life. After running her first half marathon, which she completed by taking part in the ZEISS initiative “Lauf geht’s,” her next goal is to climb Kilimanjaro, which stands tall at 6,000 meters. She’s already seen a fair bit of the world: whether in her mobile home or on a motorbike, she loves spending time in faraway places. “When I stop to think about it, I realize I’ve had a pretty thrilling life so far. Even if I’ve always lived in Aalen and Oberkochen, ZEISS has supported my career every step of the way and I’ve always been able to develop,” says Heike Sperling proudly.