Dr. Thomas Sesselmann
DR. JOHANNES HEIDENHAIN GmbH, DE
Geneva´s Special Contribution to Precision Manufacturing and Metrology in Europe: A Historical Perspective
Interchangeability of parts with utmost dimensional accuracy, no matter where they were manufactured, has been the most important condition of industrial mass production – first of weapons and later of high-quality consumer goods. Europe´s developing industries of the 1860s had been suffering from the inadequacy of the various existing length standards of the time. They laid all their hope in the advances brought forward by the International Meter Convention of 1875 which agreed on a new Meter Standard to be made of a platinum alloy. It was, however, so difficult to manufacture that it took until 1887 to produce the 30 sets of prototypes for each participating country of the Meter Convention.
Industry could not wait that long. Therefore, it was a breakthrough for the manufacturing community that a Geneva enterprise, the Société Genevoise d´Instruments de Physique (SIP), managed to build the replicas of the length standard earlier than the standard itself was completed, and even in far higher numbers and from a far more sophisticated material, INVAR. Only in this way was it possible to narrow manufacturing tolerances down to a range enabling mass production of goods using automated processes.
SIP continued to dominate the world of European Precision Manufacturing for the decades to come. In 1928, SIP was the pioneer to mount length standards for position feedback as integral parts into machine tools. Hence, SIP jig boring machines have laid the foundation for the closed-loop machine tools of the highest accuracy which can be achieved in our days.
Indeed, it is the Geneva of the late 19th and early 20th centuries which brought forth the high-degree of mechanical accuracy on which our modern-day products in the fields of mechanics, optics, electronics and many of the bioscience products of the future depend. As EUSPEN is meeting in Geneva this year to visit CERN, it might well be worthwhile to remind Europe´s modern-day precision manufacturing community of Europe of its local roots.
Thomas Sesselmann (Dr. rer. nat., Dipl.-Phys.)
is Chairman of the Supervisory Board of DR. JOHANNES HEIDENHAIN GmbH in Traunreut, Germany. He moved into this position in 2019, after 31 years of active duty for HEIDENHAIN, 24 years thereof as a Managing Director.
Since 1996, he had been involved in the founding process of EUSPEN and became one of the founding members in 1999.
Since 2000, he has been a Member of the Advisory Board of PTB, the German Metrology Institute.