Three Men Witness the Changing Times - Wacker Chemie AG


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Three Men Witness the Changing Times

Established in 1961, the WACKER plant in Cologne is where Ludwig Wittek, Hartmut Guhr and Anton Schmitz have given a total of 132 years of service to WACKER. Over the course of their three 44-year careers, they have witnessed the transformation from machines to high tech.

Three 44-year careers at the Cologne plant: (from left to right) Hartmut Guhr, Ludwig Wittek and Anton Schmitz.

Ludwig Wittek was introduced to WACKER in 1969, back when the name of the German Chancellor was still Kurt Georg Kiesinger. Thirteen-year-old Ludwig had completed an internship for secondary students and had really enjoyed it. When his mentor led him through the plant, Ludwig stood on one of the plant bridges and could look down on the piping from a height of 40 meters. He could hear the hiss of steam and the hum of machinery. Ludwig was fascinated. One year later he began work as a WACKER trainee, and has remained loyal to his employer for a lifetime.

Those first years were really hard, however – just like they were for Hartmut and Anton, who also finished their trainee years in 1970. The training as such was interesting and offered a lot of variety. “But the official language at the plant was Bavarian,” Wittek remembers. “Nearly half of the employees were from Burghausen – and when the locals get talking, you really have to be on your toes to follow them when you’re a Cologne native like me.”

The three young workers were on their toes in other ways too – all three began as mechanical systems technicians and worked their way up over the years to become high-tech specialists. In the early 1970s, the plant was still using canaries for safety monitoring. “Before we set foot in a container, we would lower the bird down in its cage first,” says Wittek. “If it was still singing after two minutes, we would go in.” Even though none of the canaries ever came to harm, the animals were replaced around 1974 by a gas chromatograph that checked oxygen and nitrogen levels.

Hartmut Guhr, Anton Schmitz and Ludwig Wittek (left to right) began as WACKER trainees in 1970 – and have remained loyal to the Cologne site ever since.

That was only one of many changes. The Cologne site was growing: an acetaldehyde plant started up and was later followed by a polyethylene plant, both of which were shut down in the 1980s. The Cologne plant was a major PVC producer at the time – a business that has now been transferred to Vinnolit GmbH & Co. KG and remains a dominant feature of the site. The VINNAPAS® E dispersion plant came on stream in 1990 and now produces vinyl acetate-ethylene copolymer (VAE) dispersions for WACKER POLYMERS.

Ludwig Wittek, Hartmut Guhr and Anton Schmitz have been there every step of the way. Schmitz advanced from technician to software engineer, and today the 58-year-old works in process control engineering for the VAE dispersion production facility. Applications for these products include their use as binders for the adhesives industry. Hartmut Guhr, 59, is responsible for safety issues and maintenance. And Ludwig Wittek, 58, works as a technical administrator and foreman in Electrical I&C. All three are in what they call the “troubleshooting business,” helping prevent or eliminate problems arising within technical systems.

Professionally, the three have spent more years with each other than they have with their wives. Privately, however, each goes his own way. Wittek, for instance, spends his free time with his family, and, when time permits, he likes to take his motorcycle out for a spin. Guhr is involved in a Carneval society, and Schmitz enjoys traveling through Europe. “We all sit at the same table at the Christmas party, of course,” Wittek points out. “And we’re a seasoned team in other ways too – each one of us can absolutely count on the others.” All three intend to stay with WACKER until they retire. “After all, 44 years at WACKER is more than just an honor,” says Wittek. “It’s a commitment too.”