Susana Armendariz

Process improvement in steel foundry

FundiciĆ³n en cascara, S.A.- MEIN / Spain

Susana Armendariz


The job

Describe your work.
I am currently working on improving production processes at Funcasa-; MEIN although I have previously worked in Quality, Fusion and R&D in another foundry. I have also been responsible for a laboratory in a forge and responsible for supplier quality in a railway company.
My current job is to analyze the processes and their controls, measure variables, minimize risks and implement improvements.

How old were you when you started?
27 years

What support did you have to become a foundry worker? And during your working life?
I went into a foundry in 1998 to do a very specific job (metallographic polishing in the piece) and received training for it at a technology center. Later I was training through different courses, since my university training was not focused on foundry. On the part of the companies in which I have been, there has always been a willingness to send me to the different courses that I requested.

Did you start in this sector by chance or was it a conscious choice?
It was by chance.

Do you like your job or do you work because it is mandatory?
I love my work. In fact, I have returned to the foundry after 8 years out of this field. I missed.

Did your family encourage you in your decision?

How did their opinion influence your choice?
I was pretty clear on things, but they supported me when the opportunity arises.

And your friends? What did they say?
At first, they didn't even know what we were doing in the foundry. I think some of my friends would have turned around before entering the door when they saw the amount of dust there was, but over time they saw it as normal.

Did you consider the implications of your choice?
Not me, but I know that it was difficult to incorporate a woman into the production plant (I was the first, in 1998).

Could you have more or less difficulties or advantages than men?
I knew I would have to prove myself, like anyone else, but I wasn't scared of the challenge. I didn't think about it too much and ignored the occasional men comment for not making a lot of "noise". They weren't used to work with women either, so it was a common apprenticeship, for they and for me.

Skill and competences

Specific skills.
Analytical capacity. Knowledge of materials / metallurgy / testing. Improvement techniques (Lean, KAIZEN, 5Ss, 6Sigma ...)
Transversal skills.
Good people skills, empathy, desire to learn.
Technologies 4.0.
Data mining. Statistics.

Courses & certificates

Environmental management (INGEBA)
Foundry course, various technical conferences (AZTERLAN)
Liquid penetrant and ultrasound courses
(AEND - Level 2)
Courses on standards and audits according to ISO 9001 (EUSKALIT) and according to ISO 17025 (TCMetrology)
Continuous improvement courses, problem solving, 6 sigma (EUSKALIT, AVANCEX, ...)
English (level B2 +)
Basque language certificate (EGA)
Computer courses (excel, access, crystal reports)


Formal education:
Bachelor of Chemical Sciences (UPV-EHU)

How did you acquire the skills to do this job?
In addition to the knowledge acquired during my career, I was sent to a technology center to be trained in polishing and metallography techniques. I also had to practice many hours in the company, since the polishing was done on the pieces, not on laboratory samples.

Have you previously received training on the technology you use in the workplace? Or did you learn by doing?
When I started working, part of the knowledge I had acquired during my degree (mechanical tests), after starting, they gave me specific training (metallography) but most of the knowledge I acquired on-site, doing, analyzing, training and informing myself.

Why do you think it is not easy to find women who study foundry or other technical professional branches?
Currently I do not think there is so much distinction on a technical level. There are more and more technical women. If I see less female direct labor, perhaps due to the physical harshness of those jobs, which make them less attractive (even for many men).

How long have you been an apprentice?
18 months. 

Do you think they selected learning based on whether you were a man or a woman?
No. The same period was applied to all technicians.

How was the experience?
Very positive. Although at first the environment (noise, fumes, dust…) scared me a bit, I saw that the work could meet my expectations.

Were there more women?
In offices there were more women, but on the production plant it was just me.

Did you find specific difficulties or advantages for being a woman?
Some difficulty (there were no women's changing rooms), some reluctance on the part of middle-aged men (they called me “girl”), and some other sexist comment that I overlooked and that today I would not miss. I also had to make myself heard arguing better and with more data than other colleagues.

Did the apprenticeships / internships lead to a work contract?
Yes. After 18 months with an internship contract I lead to a work contract.

Key challenges and success factors

What drives your motivation?
Learning something every day. Looking for solutions to the problems that arise.

Does your job make you commit to something or make sacrifices?
I am a person committed to results. In all jobs you have to make sacrifices, but if at the end of the day the balance is positive and you have achieved a goal that you had set, it has been worth it.

What does it take to be successful?
Try to improve a little every day. Be constant, persevering, and always thank your colleagues for their effort.

What challenges do you face working in a male dominated environment?
In the company where I am today, there are women working for a long time and equality issues are being worked on with great support from management, but in previous jobs I have had to deal with mansplaining in many areas (from colleagues to bosses). I have had to argue my decisions and opinions with more data and more vehemence than my fellow men and on more than one occasion they have appropriated my ideas. Currently I believe that society is more aware of issues of equality and gender gap and more progress is being seen in this area.

Why would you recommend your work to other women?
If you like to investigate, find the origin of defects and analyze many variables, this is your field. Do not be impressed by noise or dirt, the work can be very interesting.

Please give some practical advice (keys) to other women to help them enter this field / activity.
Work the multivariate vision. Learn to process data. But do not forget the great weight that people have in the processes, especially in the field of manual casting.

Do you think companies prefer to hire men for foundry jobs?
It depends on the job. If the physical component is high, men are preferred. For technical work, I do not think that today there are major distinctions.

Have you ever felt discriminated against or little recognized professionally?

Are you satisfied with your current working conditions (working hours, contract, salary, ...)?

Do you think there are differences according to sex?
Do not.

If you need it, are there changing rooms for women?

If you wear a uniform, do women have a specific one?
No, it is common to both sexes.

How are the relationships with your colleagues, do you notice any difference because you are a woman?
I have a good relationship with everyone. Maybe on occasion a colleague helps you with jobs that require more strength, but in general I don't see big differences.

Have you had to show more than you know to put yourself on the same level as your colleagues (men)?
Yes, in previous jobs my knowledge has been questioned and I have suffered from mansplaining.

How are the relationships with the management or directors? Are they male or female?
They are good. The manager is a man, but there are several women on the management team. My relationship with them is good.

Do you think that being surrounded by men leads him to develop more aggressive, harsh and competitive attitudes?
Not at present. In the past, I was perhaps more aggressive when it came to speaking (using bad language to try to be integrated in the team).

Do you have children or dependents under your care?

Do you think about having children?
How do you think it will affect your work life? It affects, but not more than in other jobs. I was able to request reductions in working hours with each of my children and it did not mean any reduction in my professional career.

Are there reconciliation measures in your company?

Do you think more should be adopted? Which?
I think my company is very flexible about it.

What are your expectations for the future?
To be able to continue learning and improving technical and working conditions in my company. Apply improvements and move towards cleaner and more competitive industries.

What would you recommend to foundries to incorporate more women into their workforce?
That they train their staff in gender equality. That they take advantage of the public initiatives that exist today in this regard, and that they give an opportunity to women who show enthusiasm to join their companies.

Do you see a necessary culture change in foundry companies?
In the one I am currently working on, I see great awareness, but in others I continue to see macho attitudes, as in many other areas of society. I don't think the foundry is more macho than other companies (my experience has been worse in others).

Would you go back to studying the same professional career if you had to choose again?