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Julian Mumme, Chemistry with Materials Science

Julian Mumme has a job that is more exciting than almost any other: he works as a detective. However, he doesn't work in forensics, but in industry: as a failure analysis engineer at TÜV Rheinland, he finds out why industrial components have broken.
julian_mumme.jpg (DE)

Contacting Julian Mumme was initially quite difficult: first the telephone number was wrong, then the connection was bad and finally the alumnus had to call himself to start the telephone interview. But he simply shrugged it all off: "Just a typical Monday." It quickly becomes clear that nothing can upset the damage analyst so easily. Because his job is to solve problems. To do this, he has to keep a cool head and not let himself get flustered so easily.

Mumme began with a Bachelor's degree programme in "Chemistry with Materials Science" at Hochschule Bonn-Rhein-Sieg. Even there, he chose to specialise in the field of failure analysis. The subject immediately captivated him. And so he focussed even more closely on the subject in his Master's degree. However, Mumme had to switch to RWTH Aachen University with a heavy heart - H-BRS did not yet offer a corresponding Master's programme at the time. (Incidentally, this has changed with the Master's degree programme in Materials Science and Sustainability Methods). However, he had really enjoyed his time in Bonn up to that point. "I would definitely have stayed there," says the engineer. He particularly appreciated the small study groups, in which the working atmosphere was very personal. The entire degree programme was very manageable in terms of the number of students. "The professors all knew us by name."

During his Master's programme, Mumme temporarily left the field of failure analysis. He joined the Institute for Materials Application in Mechanical Engineering, where he wrote a student research project and his Master's thesis on a high-temperature allocation for use in power plants. After graduating, he worked as a research assistant at RWTH Aachen University with the option of a doctorate. But after just one year, he realised that research and development did not appeal to him as much. So he returned to his old love, failure analysis.

Julian Mumme applied for a job at TÜV Rheinland in Cologne. And found the job there that offered everything he had spent his life studying for. He works as an engineer for failure analysis - or as he likes to call it himself: as a "materials detective". "I use scientific methods to find out how, and in the best case scenario, why metal components in industry have broken," explains Mumme. This could be a simple aluminium household ladder, but also a fault in a turbine in a power plant. The range of customers is broad. However, many come from the power plant or plant construction sector. Their operators usually want to know what the fault was in order to prevent it from occurring again. Very often, they also want to find out who was responsible for the fault and who may have to pay for the damage. Insurance companies are therefore also among the clients and sometimes also courts that require an expert opinion.

However, the main workplace of a damage analysis engineer is not, as one might expect, the laboratory. "80 per cent of my work is an office job." For example, when a defective component is ordered for examination, Mumme first has to get an overview. He phones the customer to find out the exact background to the problem. He draws up a quotation and plans the inspection. He allocates the tasks to the relevant departments. A component often has to be dismantled into its individual parts and analysed by specialists. Mumme then gives precise instructions on what they should do: "As a damage analyst, I am someone who makes broken things even more broken." He then centralises the individual results, puts them into context and sends the final report to the customer. He then goes back to the customer to find out the causes of the problem. In a nutshell: "If every claim were a project, I would be the project manager."

In the event of major damage, such as faults in power plants, Mumme often has to go to the site himself first and discuss the situation with the parties involved. It's not always a harmonious process, says Mumme: "Sometimes the different parties start by shouting at each other, and we sit there as uninvolved third parties, take out our popcorn and finish by saying 'But here's how we see it ...'"

As Mumme talks about his work, you can hear the passion he has for his profession in his voice; you can clearly see the sparkle in his eyes through his glasses: "I'm very happy that I'm one of the few people who ended up in exactly the job they imagined," he confirms. Especially as his job offers a lot of variety, including bizarre cases: "We once had a customer who had water damage to his bathtub. He suspected a material defect." In fact, it turned out that the screw holding the small strainer in place was corroded. "However, it turned out that the screw had rusted through due to substances that are present in urine, for example. You could almost say that the damage was caused by urinating in the bathtub too often ..." In another case, a lady fell off a ladder and then tried to sue the manufacturer for a material defect. Unsuccessfully, because it was her own fault, as the material detective was able to establish.

When Mumme is not solving such cases at work, he does a lot of sport. You can see this in his well-trained body. He has to go to the gym twice a week - and recently took up yoga.

And professionally? Does Julian Mumme have any other goals? "Actually, just to become an even better claims analyst," he says. "I'm happy with what I do." Especially as his profession is crisis-proof and the job is relatively secure. Because one thing is clear, says Mumme: "Damage always happens."

Text: Timo Zemlin


Timo Zemlin is studying technical journalism at H-BRS. He wrote this portrait as part of an alumni project on the Technical Journalism degree programme in the winter semester 2015/2016.