Ian Tolan's firsthand knowledge of in-house production and engineering excellence at a top German Mittlestand company
Ian Tolan exploring the Bavarian Alps and countryside in southern Germany

Internship project

Heidenhain is a Mechanical Engineering company that focuses on precise measurement instruments such as linear and rotary encoders. They also produce some small-scale electric motors and the necessary components that these entail. One thing that the company prides itself onis producing everything in-house. Almost none of the parts required for the products it creates are outsourced, but rather produced somewhere in the firm by Heidenhain employees.

I designed a few rotary encoder experiments, collected data on numerous parts and reference pieces, and tried to discover the root of a particular problem. In the second phase I recommended ways that it could be improved for the future.

The German language

The first day I arrived in Traunstein my boss picked me up from the train station and spoke almost exclusively English with me. When asked about this he said he would speak only English today, but come work tomorrow, he would not speak another word of English for the rest of the internship and he held to that. Many of the other workers did not speak any English.

With the help of translation software and lots of explanation, however, we were able to always get the point across eventually. I believe that this summer has equipped me well to work in a German company with little difficulty.

Within the community

Bavaria is a caricature of Germany. When one thinks of Germany, often images of Lederhosen, Dirndl, oversized beer and Pretzels, and scenic countryside dotted with cows comes to mind. All of these are commonplace in Bavaria. I was surprised, on my first week of coming to Bavaria, to school-children, on the way to school wearing Lederhosen. I thought that they were more a traditional garb that was reserved for special volksfeste. Apparently, there is still a minority of Germans in Bavaria, at least in the rural areas, that still wear Lederhosen on a semi-regular basis. Beer and pretzels were also ubiquitous in the area. 

Traunstein is located in a beautifully scenic area of southern Bavaria. Within easy biking distance is a lake called the Chiemsee, the second biggest freshwater lake in Germany, and a popular German tourist destination. It was a great place to go with some of my co-workers after work; sit on the beach, watch the sunset and listen to live music.

10 miles in the other direction is the beginning of the Alps. I spent many of my weekends clambering up the mountains and getting to know the local cows.

Lasting Impressions

The experience I had in Germany helped me to not only to learn about working in another country, but also helped me question the efficacy of the methods that I normally take to approach problems. By being surrounded by another culture, I was able to evaluate some of the reasons I do things and some ways that I might change my habits that would make me a better employee in the future. The internship also helped me to discover what kinds of jobs I might be interested in in the future, and what I want to further pursue.

Why MISTI Germany?

This experience helped me learn more about German culture, but also more about my own culture and some of the things I take for granted. It has also given me a better idea of what I want to do with my life after college. The MISTI program for Germany is really something I would recommend to anyone. It will help you realize more about yourself, and the world.

  • Germany
  • Internship
  • MechE