“Unisign knows how to do measuring, down to the smallest detail.”
My Unisign Story: Dennis Clephas is a Geometry Assurance Engineer. He verifies whether our machines meet our accuracy standards, a job he has done for the past 25 years.
Having graduated in automotive engineering at technical college, Dennis had a brief stint with DAF Trucks in Eindhoven. In 1997, he joined Unisign as a trainee through an acquaintance. ‘In those days, all new colleagues began working at a CNC machine,’ Dennis begins. ‘Our managing director at the time, Bart van Ruth, believed that everyone first needed to understand what milling was about, whether they were technicians or part of the sales team. Truth be told, I had never seen a CNC machine up close. As a trainee I spent time in few departments, getting a feel for everything from work planning to servicing. Quality control was my final stop. I was offered a job once I had completed my traineeship. Unisign was growing quite fast in those days and needed people. So, I was offered a start in the Quality Control Department.’
While working in that department, Dennis learnt all about measuring and quality control on the job.
Dennis: ‘Measuring machine components and checking whether everything matched the machine drawings – those were my main tasks at first. The Quality Control department effectively provided quality assurance at Unisign. Nowadays I am part of the Commissioning department and my job title has changed to Internal and External Geometry Quality Assurance Engineer. Manual tasks are now carried out using advanced digital measuring instruments. And where we might have used yellow sticky notes in the past, each measurement report is now done on a computer. That’s how things were, those were different times.’
Working as a geometry specialist, Dennis measures the accuracy of individual components as well as entire machines. Dennis: ‘Squareness, straightness, the angles of moving parts, my job involves checking it all. We carry out geometry checks for both newly delivered machines and defective machines that have undergone repairs. And before the warranty expires, if a client asks us to.’
Never a dull moment
Making things is what engineers love doing best. Yet Dennis’s work is all about CNC machines that have already been completed. Dennis: ‘Because of this, engineers often consider my work tedious. I have to disagree. I think it’s great. If my checks show a deviation in the machine, it is also up to me to propose a solution to the client. That makes the work interesting. I tell clients how they can resolve a deviation. So, in this sense, my work directly contributes to the quality and accuracy of the CNC machines we deliver.’
On and off-site
Dennis on his brief spell with DAF Trucks: ‘I soon worked out that a big company wasn’t right for me.’ ‘Unisign has also grown, that’s certainly true, but it doesn’t feel like a large corporation. What I like about this place is that our products are unique, however you look at it. I wouldn’t know of any other company either where I could do this specific work. There’s a great atmosphere here and I enjoy the variety that comes with working on and off-site. I spend half my time in Panningen and half with clients, who are based all over the world. Most of them are in Europe but I’ll also visit other countries from time to time, like China and the US.’
The year 1997
Dennis joined Unisign in 1997. The Elfstedentocht (a long-distance skating event on natural ice) was held for the first time in 11 years and the Spice Girls burst onto the international scene. In September 1997, Google became available for the first time and we were introduced to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a tragic car accident in a tunnel in Paris. In a fight against Evander Holyfield, boxing champion Mike Tyson bit his opponent’s ear.
Even though the world has moved on, there was one project in Russia that Dennis will never forget. Dennis: ‘We had a Russian client some six years ago who bought a gantry machine from us. When a colleague and I arrived for the delivery, it was like we had stepped back in time to the 1950s. The city used to be a closed city in the Soviet era, meaning it was surrounded by fences. People there were subject to strict travel and residency restrictions in those days. The fences were gone but some of that strange atmosphere was still around. It was a curious experience. A good example of a place I would not have visited otherwise.’
Dennis celebrated 25 years of service at Unisign in 2022. Has he seen any major changes during that time? Dennis: ‘The CNC machines we build these days have increased in size and complexity. And it used to be that most of the machine was built by a single worker. Now we manufacture components that are assembled to form a composite whole. This modular construction is probably one of the biggest changes I’ve seen. Whereas most of our machines used to have 3 axes, we now also build 5-axis machines. This creates new challenges for geometry checks, which keep my job interesting. And of course the controls have been modernised. The fun thing is that my role still requires knowing about older controls. That’s because there are still plenty of old Unisign machines in use out there.’
Cars and machines
It was no coincidence that Dennis chose to study automotive engineering at technical college. His passion for cars was passed on to him by his father. And just like him, Dennis loves to spend his spare time working on classic cars or going to watch car races. Dennis also feels that a higher technical degree like automotive engineering sets you up well for working at Unisign. Dennis: ‘Looking at my work, there are plenty of similarities between cars and CNC machines. One example is that technical college taught me how to calculate the deflection in a truck chassis. That is not so different from calculating the deflection in a machine frame. In school I’d determine what part of a dump truck would bear most of the load. At Unisign I do the same for a CNC machine.’
A discipline in its own right
Just the fact that his role exists says a great deal about the high quality standards Unisign sets itself, says Dennis: ‘There are plenty of companies out there that don’t have this role. They have service engineers carry out geometry checks every once in a while, or they might bring in a contractor. Measuring is a specialist task, genuinely a discipline in its own right. Unisign knows how to do this, down to the smallest detail. The major advantage we offer is that we build everything in-house and know our machines inside and out. It is this expertise that helps our clients save money.’
May 25, 2023