From state-of-the-art driver assistance systems to multimedia onboard computers: sophisticated electronics in vehicles ensure greater safety, comfort and a superb driving experience. As a senior electrical engineer in the Quality and Systems team at the South African Mercedes-Benz plant in East London, Abulele Zaga ensures that everything runs smoothly when the electronic assemblies are installed in the new C-Class. In her interview, the quality specialist tells us why her job sometimes has some kind of detective work about it and how helping to shape the future of mobility is simply her "thing".
Ms Zaga, the production of the new C-Class started at the Mercedes-Benz plant in East London, South Africa, in summer 2021. What are the challenges?
In the start-up phase for the production of the new model, we naturally have a close look on every detail. To ensure that everything works perfectly in the vehicles we deliver to our customers, there can be made no mistakes in the many complex production steps. My team is responsible for the quality assurance of the electronic assemblies. The first vehicles we produce here in East London in the initial phase are therefore being tested right down to the smallest detail. If there is a problem, we will find a solution. By the way, please feel free to call me Abulele (laughs).
Thank you, Abulele. How do you and your team go about finding solutions?
The first step is to find out why a certain issue arises. It is like detective work and I learn something new every day - it's very exciting. I often work very closely with the colleagues who build our vehicles in the plant. Thanks to their experience, they frequently provide the decisive clue. For me, it is therefore important to be very close to the production line and to exchange ideas with the teams on site.
How would you describe your team?
Very dynamic and diverse. There are 50 of us, all from very different disciplines. We have a great team spirit and also a lot of fun at work - and are almost like one big family. What makes us special is that we are a good mix of experienced team members and younger colleagues who come straight from university. We learn a lot from each other. By the way, when I started in the team, I was the youngest.
How did you actually come to join the company?
That was right after I graduated. I studied electrical engineering not far from here, in Butterworth, and discovered that Mercedes-Benz offers a trainee programme in East London. I applied and was invited to an interview. When I arrived at the plant, I was totally thrilled: the state-of-the-art facilities, the atmosphere. There are luxurious vehicles on display in the reception building. I said to myself: this is the company you want to work for. Of course, that motivated me even more for the assessment centre (laughs).
What was the trainee programme like for you?
A really good start for my career. A lot of things were new because I came straight from university and had no experience in the automotive industry. I then started in quality assurance in electronics assembly, with a colleague working alongside me. That helped me a lot, especially in the beginning. Trainees really get a lot of support, in terms of their personal development too.
What do you mean by that exactly?
I had regular meetings with my team leader and my supervisor. We discussed what my goals and strengths were and where I could improve. I then received further training and coaching to support that process. The company has given me the opportunity to forward my personal career from the very beginning. That is really special here in the company.
And what do you plan to do next?
I would like to reach next steps in my career, develop as a manager and lead my own team one day. My line manager is very supportive about this. I also quite like the idea of an international position. For example, I would like to work on the development of the future mobility at the company's headquarters in Stuttgart, like other colleagues from South Africa, who came to Stuttgart. That is why I am currently learning German, which is really enjoyable, but very challenging (laughs).
Lastly, one personal question: if you had to give a talk about a special moment in your life, what would you talk about?
I would give a motivational speech for the many young, talented people who have so much potential but often have little confidence in themselves. I would talk about how my very first day in the Driver Assistance team was a complete eureka moment and changed my view of autonomous driving and the future of mobility. Today I see what is possible, what I can contribute, and I would tell those young people: 'It's in your own hands. Be bold, it's worth it!'
Abulele Zaga (27) is a quality engineer and ensures that everything runs smoothly during the assembly of the electric vehicle components for the new C-Class at the Mercedes-Benz plant in East London. As one of ten ambassadors for the fifth generation of vehicles, she works to inspire her colleagues at the site and get them excited about the new vehicle model. She acquired the foundations for her professional career at Walter Sisulu University in Butterworth, South Africa, where she studied electrical engineering. After her trainee programme, she gained experience in the field of driver assistance systems and quality management. Besides her passion for electronic systems, Abulele Zaga is an enthusiastic sportswoman - she can relax best in the gym and with yoga.