Wherever Melanie goes, action is sure to follow. The space hums with the sound of very heavy motors being revved up. The smell of oil and cooling fluid hangs in the air. Warning lights flash while screens cast a blue hue over everything. The control panel shows that X = 50,000, Y = 63,735 and Z = 00.
In other words, everything is OK. Melanie nods and presses the Start button. A chamfer milling machine approaches a gleaming metal block, cutting through its surface in an almost effortless motion. Shavings fly in all directions. A component is coming to life that will feature numerous bevels, boreholes and edges. Two hours later, the machine's work is done and Melanie is still in her element. She uses an altimeter to inspect various points on the ring, documenting her results in the measurement report.
She repositions the sizeable ring in the CNC center, then makes a correction here and performs a check there. Three repetitions later, she's happy. There are 34 measuring points within the tolerances. Very strict tolerances. That's because this metal ring is destined to form part of a highly sophisticated and precise ZEISS product: the latest-generation EUV optic. ZEISS' partner ASML will integrate these optics into their lithography systems. These machines use extreme ultraviolet light (EUV) at a wavelength of precisely 13.5 nanometers to expose photoresist-coated silicon slices (wafers). This creates nanofine structures that contain several billion transistors per square centimeter. But, that will only work if Melanie's metal ring can deliver the utmost precision. And the ring – crafted by this trained metal cutting engineer, does just that.
"I've always been fascinated by machines," gushes Melanie. "Technology has intrigued me since I was a kid, and at age 17 I was delighted to get to work on my first car. A technical career was the only thing I could really imagine doing." An automotive mechatronics engineer? A car mechanic? An army maintenance engineer? "After leaving school I applied for many different things – and that's what led me to ZEISS. I guess it impressed my interviewer that I was able to take apart a metal puzzle and put it all back together. By the time the final piece clicked into place, I knew I had the job," she smiles.
You can tell she loves what she does. "I really enjoy my work. Working with people, machines, and metal is very much my thing, it's my calling."
A person's hands and eyes, and knowledge and experience, are simply irreplaceable – at least in the leagues we're playing in.Melanie, metal cutting engineer
In this world, team spirit plays a crucial role: “If everything's ticking over with my machine, I'm happy to go over to a colleague in need. And they're happy to do the same for me. I enjoy the precision and the variety my job offers. During my apprenticeship at ZEISS I first focused on turning, and then I moved onto milling. These days I work on a variety of different materials like steel, aluminum, copper and glass. Sometimes I'll work on small batches comprising just four parts, and that's a task I can finish in a single day. Other orders can easily take a week to complete."
I really enjoy my work. Working with people, machines, and metal is very much my thing, it's my calling.Melanie, metal cutting engineer
Each and every order is a complex process, and they all begin with a written description of the task at hand. Melanie uses this as a basis to gather raw parts from the warehouse. She then selects her tools, configures the controls, monitors the production and concludes the process with a quality inspection. Her checklist includes key criteria such as surfaces, dimensions, coatings and threads. Once the measurements have been taken, the part is normally returned to the CNC center for the finishing touches. So where does all this precision come from? Melanie has a theory: "It's a combination of practice, experience and expertise. We receive the support and the training we need. For example, when we receive a new machine, we spend a week at the manufacturer's learning how to use it. And we spend another week being trained as soon as the machine is up and running."
So what does the future hold? Will machines still need teams to operate them? "Of course," says Melanie with confidence. "A person's hands and eyes, and knowledge and experience, are simply irreplaceable – at least in the leagues we're playing in."