The ZHAW opened the door to Asia for me

After his Master’s degree at the ZHAW School of Engineering, Matthias Bleibler worked in Dongguan, China, for two years. This experience made the world smaller for him.

Impact No. 32 - March 2016

Portrait Matthias Bleiber
After returning from China, Matthias Bleibler, a graduate of the Master of Science in Engineering programme, started working for Bühler, a group specialising in food processing machinery.

Dongguan is an important industrial city which lies north of Hong Kong. Its population, at 8.3 million, is approximately the same as Switzerland’s. It is the city Matthias Bleibler was drawn to after receiving his Master’s degree from the ZHAW School of Engineering.

“It had always been clear to me that I wanted to live abroad,” he says. “It was the ZHAW which opened the door to Asia for me.” He and his fellow students travelled to China for a few weeks as part of their studies. There, he had his first taste of the Chinese business world and established initial contacts. “The MSE-China Module was organised perfectly. We were able to learn about numerous regions, cities and companies in a very short period of time,” he adds.

Different cultures, different ways of thinking

Matthias Bleibler’s interest in China had been sparked. He was fascinated by how radically different everything was there. After his studies, he specifically applied for work in China and eventually accepted a job at Marti EPC Ltd. in Dongguan. The company manufactures belt conveyor systems for tunnelling.

“My job was to automate the production and quality control of these conveyor systems. This involved establishing an automation division in Dongguan,” he says. Here, cultural differences played an especially important role. “For example, I first had to learn how Chinese business partners and employees communicate and how certain expressions are to be interpreted,” he explains. He says that this was even more important than learning the language itself.

“Although I learned Chinese and was able to make myself understood, being open to people with a completely different way of thinking was even more important.” In total, he worked in China for two years. He describes it as a demanding time and an enriching experience. “I was able to realise pioneering ideas, and I expanded my horizons both professionally and personally during this time. This made the world smaller for me,” he says. He recommends a long stay abroad to anyone who has the opportunity – preferably outside Europe and as far away as possible.

Back in Switzerland

It is getting on for a year since the 29-year-old returned to Switzerland. He is grateful for the things he sometimes missed when he was in China. “Healthy food, fresh air and a comprehensive legal system cannot necessarily be taken for granted in China, which has made me appreciate life in Switzerland even more,” he explains. 

He is currently team leader in the automation department of the Bühler Group in Uzwil, Switzerland. Among other things, the company manufactures grain processing machines. Together with an international team – consisting of eight experts in machine control, software and hardware planning – he is driving forward the automation of these machines. It was the challenging task that excited him; returning to Switzerland was rather secondary. “I had been looking for jobs in several countries. But finally at Bühler, the job description, the possibility of change and the corporate values were all a perfect match,” he says.

“Fresh air and a comprehensive legal system cannot necessarily be taken for granted in China, which has made me appreciate life in Switzerland even more.”

Matthias Bleibler

Pre-schooler with a passion for engineering

It could be argued that his career in engineering began quite some time ago. “I remember being fascinated by technology from an early age. My way home from pre-school took me past a skip. I used to take worn-out electronic devices and scrap metal, lug them home and tinker about with them for hours – much to the displeasure of my parents,” he remembers. Then, after leaving school, he started an apprenticeship as an automation engineer in a small family-owned company.

“We didn’t produce large series; we manufactured custom-made items, special machines and prototypes. This allowed me to work with a particularly wide range of different technologies,” he explains. His interest in automation was aroused. After his apprenticeship, he wanted to expand his practical knowledge and also gain a deeper understanding of theory. This prompted him to study Systems Engineering at the ZHAW School of Engineering.

Master’s thesis as a milestone

After completing his Bachelor’s studies, and with his eyes set on an international career, Matthias Bleibler enrolled in the Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) degree programme. For his Master’s thesis - which focused on his area of study, industrial automation and robotics - he developed an assembly robot designed to carry out the fully automated welding of plastic membranes on flat roofs.  He explains that “this Master’s thesis was an important milestone for me. On the one hand, because I could incorporate all my specialist competences - from the creation of the concept and the mechanical construction of the robot to the controls and software.  And on the other hand because parts of my Master’s thesis could be carried out by younger students completing their Bachelor’s thesis, which enabled me to manage a small project for the first time.”

Matthias Bleibler explaining the functionality of a machine
Working with an international team, he is responsible for the automation of the machines. (Pictured: a flaking mill used to process oats.)
“It definitely requires perseverance. Whilst your colleagues from the Bachelor’s programme are already working and earning money, you are set to spend another one-and-a-half years on very demanding studies.”

Matthias Bleibler

Worthwhile investment

The skills he developed during his Master’s studies stood him in good stead in China.

“Specialist knowledge provides the foundation. Personally, my experience in project management that I had acquired during my studies helped me the most. It allowed me to gain leadership experience, as well as to learn how to use a structured approach to work, to lead efficient meetings and hold presentations and to quickly learn how to work in new subject areas and acquire knowledge. These skills were essential for my work in China.” He points out that a Master’s degree is essential to contend with competition abroad, explaining that the MSE itself opened many doors for him.

 “Completing further studies definitely requires perseverance. Whilst your colleagues from the Bachelor’s programme are already working and earning money, you are set to spend another one-and-a-half years on very demanding studies.” His first step on the career ladder, however, clearly shows that this was a worthwhile investment.

Author: Bettina Bhend