Precision Engineering

B40A very full week this week with very little time to work on our previous assignments from Cambridge University.  All week is 9am until 5.30pm but most lecturers ran over eating into our breaks and lunch time.  We are only scheduled 45 minutes for lunch anyway which is not normal for Universities.  Two days we couldn’t even buy sandwiches so survived on cakes and tea.  Its even difficult to buy tea as Building 40, where all the lectures are this week, is only close to the Stafford Cripps Building that has Costa Coffee which is not only expensive but, more importantly, takes forever if you have a couple of people in front of you.

Dr Paul Morantz

Paul Morantz, the top man in Ultra-precision Engineering at Cranfield University took us for the majority of our lectures this week. Cranfield University which is the only University in England that only has only post graduate students and therefore is comparatively quite small. As a result, they have as many staff as they have students.  This ratio is as good as any top cruise line and it surprises me why we don’t have a similar service.

boltzmann-acoustic-resonatorPaul started by talking about some of the prestigious projects that Cranfield have been involved with, that I wasn’t aware about.  They have made so many mirrors for the best telescopes in the world, I could hardly believe it.  When Paul took us around the ultra-precision engineering laboratories, it was a feast for the eyes, but you are not allowed to take pictures.  There is one part that Paul designed and made for the project with NPL to modernise temperature using the Bolzman acoustic resonator method,  that was beyond belief.  It is around 100 mm diameter sphere with holes, that sensors are inserted into that will change one of the 7 fundamental SI units next year.  To do this, the sphere had to be made to an accuracy of 1 nm on its internal diameter.  How is this possible?  That’s about 10 atoms accuracy over 100 mm.  Paul has held dozens of world records for accuracy over about 3 decades.  He has unbelievable knowledge and experience which became more and more evident with every lecture he gave.  We found out that Paul will be leaving Cranfield in November so won’t be able to mark our assignments for this week.  I caught him outside to ask him where he was going but was amazed to find out that he was being made redundant.  Since our interviews, he was as shocked as me, to find this out.  Whet a massive loss for the University and for us for the next 4 years. “WTF”.


We had our first lecture from Claudiu Giusca, Tuesday lunchtime about Calibration.  He was so enthusiastic about his subject as he had been working for NPL but I found it hard to hold concentration for more than 10 minutes.  We had Saurav Goal again first thing Wednesday morning talking about single point diamond turning which I found much more interesting.


Because diamonds are anisotropic, they can only be polished in a certain direction.  Also, water is a better coolant than oil based coolants with diamonds.  When diamond turning, its possible to take 1 nm cut off with each turn.  Obviously, this makes the progression time very slow.  Who would have thought that turning would beat lasers and ion beams hands down?

The Chinese guy in our group that I call Hugh because I cant pronounce his name, or even remember it.


Other than Paul Morantz, we only had Xavier Tonnellier talking about abrasive processes  and Renaud, talking about non-conventional machining processes on Thursday. I was surprised to hear that Kodak were first to produce and develop a plasma ion beam.  This is Renaud’s specialty.


The final thing on Thursday was the group presentations that we only had a few hours to prepare.  Also, they split groups up randomly, with 3 or 4 to a group.  Our presentation was about the current state of ultra-precision engineering.


They seem to be so keen on embarrassing us this year, as we had another impromptu presentation on Friday where we only had about an hour to prepare. To make things worse, we were allocated what we would be talking about when the presentations were made.  We hadn’t time to research our subject, so it was done while we watched other groups presenting.

Our group

The big German refused to help and the Chinese guy did his usual shrinking so poor Marta got up on her own.  I couldn’t leave her to do it on her own so I got up with her, even though I hate this sort of thing.  I know that they hit you hard at the front end of MSc type courses, but I’m not sure that I am really enjoying this as it much too frantic.


I spent very long hours working on the Cambridge assignments at the weekend but I am nowhere near finishing while writing this on Sunday evening, while watching the USA GP with a drink.  They must be in by Tuesday evening, and we have lectures Monday and Tuesday so I have set my alarm for 4am in the morning.  The only other time I have is after lectures Monday evening or at 4am Tuesday morning.  Happy days!  Maybe I’m getting too old for these silly games.


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