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Carmen Piller, Strategic Buyer Au­to­mo­tive, Standard Fasteners and Metal Parts

Carmen has been a strategic buyer in our team since the very first moment. This specialist for fastener elements counts the last year as one of the most turbulent in her career. This is because she experienced the global material shortages slowly setting in with suppliers and customers. In this interview, she reports how cooperation has changed in this situation and why even the smallest parts shouldn’t be missing from the supply chain.

04 November 2021

Hi Carmen, feel free to introduce yourself briefly.

Sure! I’m Carmen Piller, 33 years young, a trained purchasing and logistics specialist and strategic buyer at Meraxis for fastening elements such as screws and all kinds of metal parts. Privately, I like to travel - I’ve been to almost every continent. Last year, of course, that was only possible to a very limited extent. Instead of faraway Africa or America, I went hiking in Switzerland - that was new for me. But that’s also what it’s all about for me: Discovering new things, no matter where.

What’s your professional history? How did you come to Meraxis?

In 2004 I started my commercial apprenticeship at the sister company REHAU. That company was very close to where I lived. As a permanent employee there, I went on to do further training to become a specialist in purchasing and logistics. Later I moved to Switzerland and I’ve been here for ten years now. When Meraxis was founded two years ago, I found it super exciting and wanted to help shape the new company.

I’ve been in the profession for a total of 17 years now, and I’ve always been able to evolve. During this time, I’ve been responsible for different tasks in various positions. These are experiences that I can draw on in my current position. That’s why in my current job it’s often easy for me to understand what information my colleagues, but also customers and suppliers, need from me so that processes work well. I was particularly grateful for my experience last year when supply chains became more volatile and raw materials like plastic and steel were becoming increasingly hard to come by.

What impact did it have on your customers in the automotive sector that certain parts were difficult to obtain?

Everything was more complex. This is because common coordination processes and material orders in the automotive sector are normally automated. Suddenly that wasn’t possible anymore, because we first had to get an overview of which orders could be served at all. But for processes to work smoothly and production to run, all the parts have to be on site at the right time. Even the smallest parts are enormously important and it has major consequences for our customers if they’re missing. For example, if the screws needed to fix a light in the bumper aren’t there, the whole bumper can’t be delivered. Then we’ll have missed a delivery. No matter how small the part is: If it isn’t available in sufficient quantity, the entire supply chain is thrown out of wack.

How did Meraxis ensure the procurement of the required materials despite bottlenecks?

In one word: Coordination. We scheduled a lot more meetings with our customers and suppliers and coordinated on a smaller scale. This way we were able to make adjustments when we had to. Regular inventories were carried out at the suppliers and in the factories, and the individual call-offs and demand figures were checked manually on a daily basis. This allowed us to find discrepancies quickly and then pass on information. Currently, I’m also in price negotiations more often than before. This is necessary because we can’t fall back on framework agreements like we used to. As a buyer, my suppliers surprised me during the crisis. Although they’re each other’s competitors, they stuck together and helped each other. You could tell that everyone was aware that we were in the same boat; everyone needed material. There have been some cases where suppliers have vehemently sought material and other suppliers have supported procurement to prevent downtime costs. Currently, as an individual company, it’s almost impossible to assess which material is really in short supply at the moment and where deliveries are only delayed. That’s why at Meraxis we rely on a broad network of partners and suppliers. As a result, we can usually always find a contact person who can provide or procure reliable information about delivery quantities.

The developments in the last year have certainly changed the way you work. Do you still have a typical working day?

On a normal day, I’m involved in a number of negotiations and discussions with global suppliers. It could be about contracts, for example. But since the supply problems in the plastics and metal sector had started to creep up and the circumstances had constantly worsened, I had to talk to everyone involved at much shorter intervals and more frequently; internally as well as externally.

With the pandemic, my work has naturally shifted a lot to working from home. In the meantime, I’m back in the office and working from home alternately, depending on deadlines and projects. Overall, my tasks are very varied, which is very important to me personally. With time and each new position, I’ve realized that I’d like to take on more tasks. Especially because I want to share my knowledge and experience with my colleagues. That’s why I work closely with the interfaces in the company: We’re organized as teams to work efficiently. In our team, the strategic buyer, purchasing assistant, material manager and supplier quality engineer work hand in hand.

You don’t just get involved with our customers’ concerns; you also volunteer for Meraxis employees in the KOM team. Is there a current project?

Yes, actually. In the past two years it wasn’t really possible. Unfortunately, the pandemic put a damper on it. Normally we organize an event once a month. In the last few years, we’ve met for mini-golf, ice cream or bowling, for example. These kinds of events are especially important for new colleagues so that they quickly feel part of the team. That’s why it’s even nicer that we can kick it off again in the communications team. We’re currently organizing smaller events and team events at our location for the pre-Christmas period. I don’t want to give too much away, though, because I want it to be a surprise for my colleagues.

Thank you, Carmen!