Process developer

I AM: Process developer


Dr. Timo Ott
Grillo-Werke AG

After a year-long postdoc abroad, Dr. Timo Ott joins Grillo-Werke AG. Initially as R&D project manager, he is now Head of product and process development and is now responsible for managing the R&D chemistry laboratory and the chemical technical center.

Why did you choose your specialty? What attracted you to it?

In the field of chemistry, I have always been fascinated by the actual process of converting substances. Observing chemical reactions, developing explanatory models, adding to them and applying them in new ways, was a special attraction for me in chemistry very early on. That is why I found my interest in the field of "synthetic chemistry". I do not see myself as a classic "organic", "organometallic" or "inorganic". Rather, I see myself as someone who develops new concepts and applies proven ones in order to supposedly outsmart nature on the way to new materials and new synthetic approaches.

Developing a new synthesis is an exciting journey that can take years - and in the end there may be a small contribution to a sustainable future.

How did you start your career?

After completing my doctorate, I was a postdoc at the Center for Catalysis Research and Innovation in Ottawa, Canada for one year. Grillo became aware of me via the GDCh's applicant database * and brought me back to Germany with a job offer before my originally planned application phase. I accepted the offer without great expectations. Looking back, I am very surprised and also very grateful for the opportunities, the trust and the flexibility that were shown in me in the medium-sized family company.

During my studies it was suggested that research at a high level was only available at "the chemical giants", research institutions or at universities. That turned out to be fundamentally wrong.

* Editor's note: The applicant database is no longer active

Did you know that you wanted to go into your current professional field? Or were there other stations that brought you there?

At an early age, I "zeroed in" on two options: a university career or research in industry. I now know that

the profession of chemist can take on so many facets and the job descriptions can be so diverse - in a wide variety of industries.

I didn't take enough time to find out more about it and I sometimes regret it because I simply blocked out many possibilities without being seen. Ultimately, however, I always had a clear picture of how I would imagine my future work and although I got the position at Grillo by several coincidences, this idea has so far been fulfilled.

What are you doing today? What are your tasks as a process developer?

I am currently the "Head of Product and Process Development". In this role, I am in charge of the R&D chemistry laboratory and the chemistry pilot plant. Furthermore, I am the plant manager of a pilot plant for the production of a "green acid" for applications in electroplating, the pharmaceutical and cleaning agent industries. In these functions, I lead the employees of the pilot plant operations team as well as the technical center and laboratory team. These are engineers, chemists, laboratory technicians, mechanics and chemists.
The tasks cover three subject areas: a) Support of production companies & optimization of existing production processes b) Answering chemical questions c) Development of new and advanced production processes.

What knowledge and characteristics should you have for your professional field? Describe a typical working day.

In addition to in-depth knowledge in all areas of chemistry are

Knowledge of English, perseverance, tolerance of frustration, creativity and the willingness to learn and think outside the box are important.

It also helps to think outside the box, to show openness, tolerance and empathy. Willingness to travel is also important.
A certain "practical" talent in the laboratory and technical center is also important if you may no longer "work practically" yourself. In conclusion, one can say that one cannot expect a "9-5 job" for success. Ideas usually arise outside of working hours and are lost if you don't think them through immediately. Flexibility is therefore very important.

Describe a typical working day. Are there any unforeseen events that require your attention? How do you work with colleagues? Do you work in a team?

After the first processing of accumulated e-mails, I usually take a tour of the laboratory and technical center to discuss the latest results and other processes and to clarify questions. Then it goes back to the desk to process inquiries and messages. I usually use the lunch break to talk to colleagues.
The afternoon is initially reserved for discussions: I discuss evaluations and analysis data with the laboratory team. I then inform my supervisor about the status of the projects, we discuss budgets, personnel matters and other procedures. Then it goes back to the desk: planning budgets, placing orders, delegating tasks and so on.

At a later hour we discuss the latest results with colleagues from other departments and superiors and I work on other open tasks. When I get home, I dedicate myself to ideas or other chemistry topics. I am on call for the technical center on a weekly basis.

To what extent does your day-to-day work differ from that during your studies / doctorate? To what extent did your studies / doctorate prepare you for your current job?

In general, it can be said that the work environment has become more diverse. Not only through content outside of chemistry such as personnel management, controlling or project management. Communication is also more important and more demanding than before - especially communication with non-chemists in a wide variety of areas (engineers, business administrators, lawyers, patent attorneys ...). It is important to "pick up" colleagues in terms of content and to inform them about the status of the projects without going into too much depth. Even with large-scale meetings, it can be challenging to reach all colleagues without boring one half and overburdening the other half at the same time.

The practical work in the laboratory has been reduced to a minimum.

However, since we often carry out demanding syntheses, it is necessary that I occasionally provide support in the laboratory, check certain things or try them out myself.

What do you love about your work? Are there any special challenges?

The possibility also after graduation

Testing new chemical reactions, developing them, implementing them in the technical center - and ultimately "just doing chemistry" gives me a lot of pleasure.

Working with a productive, well-trained laboratory and technical center team is very motivating. Likewise, the trust that superiors place in me. Because the money and resources that are invested in research + development (R + D) today lead to reliable results in the medium term at the earliest and these usually only bear sweet fruit in the long term. Without this trust, as well as the necessary perseverance and confidence on all sides, successful R&D is not meaningful.

Has your area of responsibility changed over time?

My field of work has expanded over the years. At first it was mainly limited to one project, then other projects, competencies and responsibilities were added. The team has also grown. At first there were three of us, today 17 employees work in the laboratory and technical center. In this way I was able to grow along with my tasks over time. Often, R&D is just a start. After a few years, many colleagues in most companies go into a wide variety of areas, which is necessary and absolutely sensible. However, it is overlooked that professional experience also pays off in R&D. Especially when more extensive projects have to be worked on.

What are career opportunities in your professional field?

If you think of the "classic Career" in an industrial company, in addition to the opportunity to become a research director, there may also be the opportunity to take on responsibility for other analysis or research laboratories. A later exit from R + D is also conceivable, e.g. B. to manage or develop your own business field or even an area.

There is also the opportunity to pursue a career as a specialist. This is not possible everywhere and is viewed as a "siding" in my opinion. However, this also depends, among other things, on the division. Ultimately, personal development is always an opportunity to move forward - be it in industry or at a university.

If someone wants to pursue the same career path, what would you advise them to do?

First of all: Get a picture of what you actually want and find out extensive information.
From my point of view, it is helpful to hide all prejudices and well-intentioned advice from friends, family, university teachers, etc. for the time being.
Then: plan the application phase.

Don't just apply to the large chemical companies, include small and non-industry companies in the spectrum.

Development of materials e.g. B. Almost everyone needs it - and who knows the properties of polymers or metals better than a chemist ?! Even if companies formally address other addressees with their tenders - as a chemist you definitely have the chance to convince! But also give the companies the opportunity to find you themselves using appropriate profiles.

Note: For reasons of readability, the simultaneous use of gender-specific language forms is not used. All personal names apply to all genders.

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last modified: 10.05.2021 15:09 H from