”Materials tell a story”
In daily dialogue with colleagues in manufacturing, Petter Lindblom combines his research and process engineering experience to improve the production of Kanthal’s ceramic heating elements.
After ten years at Kanthal, Petter took on the task of improving yield for Kanthal Super. In other words, minimizing the loss of materials during the production process. “Of course, we want as much of the materials that go into production to come out of it successfully as finished products ready to be delivered to our customers,” he explains.
At the Kanthal production site, located in Hallstahammar in central Sweden, Petter has spent the past year and a half doing research and speaking daily to the operators making the products. “They’ll share an observation, and because I understand how materials behave, I can figure out the mechanism behind it,” he says. “My first ten years at Kanthal taught me the language of the materials, which will tell you the story of what happened. All you need to do is ask the right questions.”
"Working as a research engineer during my first ten years at Kanthal has been essential to learn the language of materials," he says.
While studying at Uppsala University in Sweden, Petter did his master's thesis research at Kanthal, then joined the company upon graduation in 2010. “There’s a culture here of encouraging ideas. As long as you can explain the project’s value, Kanthal will invest in the required research,” he says.
“As a research engineer, I am involved in every step of the process such as weighing materials, measuring them, mixing, extruding, sintering, and evaluating their properties, which still is a huge part of why I enjoy my job,” Petter says. “I now use the experience gained from the laboratory in the production plant as a process engineer.”
While he’s never had to scale back on his ambition, he has had to slightly modify his definition of success. “It’s really easy as a research engineer to want 100 percent perfection, but then the people out in production add the cost and time perspective,” he says. “Sometimes you have to make compromises.”
“My job is to ensure stable and predictable processes that maximize quality and yield, but I can’t wave a magic wand to get zero losses. That’s not how it works,” Petter sums up.
Petter offers the analogy of making popcorn. ‘You know, everyone wants every last kernel to pop, but we all know what happens: You’ll end up with burnt popcorn instead,” he says. “It is better to stop in time to ensure that the ones that do pop taste amazing."
"You will never be able to get edible popcorn from every kernel, and that’s true for production too. However, it is what I strive for!”
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