Dr. Thomas Sesselmann
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.
- Spokesman of the Executive Board of DIADUR SE, the shareholding entity of JOHANNES HEIDENHAIN GmbH and MD ELEKTRONIK GmbH
- Chairman of the Supervisory Boards of HEIDENHAIN and MD
PhD (1988): Spectroscopic Examination of Interaction Potentials in dye-doped Polymer Matrices
(pressure effects on high-resolution hole-burning spectroscopy)
Since 1988 Responsible for various tasks and subsidiaries
Since 1995 Managing Director
Since 2003 Chairman of the Management Board
Dec. 2018 Retired from active HEIDENHAIN duty after 31 years, 24 years thereof as a Managing Director
Since 1996 Involved in the founding process of EUSPEN
1999 One of the founding members
Until 2005 Council Member
PTB – the German Standard Laboratory
Since 2000 Member of the Advisory Board