“We leave our calling card behind with a customer every time”
My Unisign story: This time we are joined by Final Assembly Engineer John Dielissen. After finishing his national service, John found a job with Unisign in 1989. For the past 34 years, John has been assembling our CNC machines all over the world.
Every mechanical part in a CNC machine that has already been or is yet to be assembled passes through the hands of John and his colleagues in Final Assembly. “We take all those individual parts and build a complete machine out of them. Once the machine is ready and has been approved by the customer, we dismantle it and then rebuild it at the customer’s site, which is often abroad.”
Tricks of the trade
John studied at technical secondary school: first metalwork at a junior level and then mechanical engineering at a senior level. After completing his national service, he applied for a Mechanical Service Engineer post and was taken on at Unisign. “I just didn’t jump straight into that position,” he recalls. “I started off operating the radial drill for a few months because they didn’t have anyone else who could. From there, I moved into the Mechanical Assembly department. I spent three years working alongside an experienced assembly engineer, learning the tricks of the trade. At the time, my then-boss said I‘d make a great assembly engineer myself in 10 years or so. Looking back, he wasn’t wrong. It just takes time to understand everything and get to know how it all works.”
Just as John was mentored by a more experienced colleague when he was starting out, he now does the same himself. He likes to pass on his knowledge to the younger generation, but he can also learn something from them too. “Especially whenever electronics are involved. But apart from that, there’s not much else they can teach me,” he laughs.
John started at Unisign in 1989 and has been here ever since. “It’s a wonderful working environment. I really love working here. Of course, I don’t know what it’s like working anywhere else because I’ve been here for so long. But wherever you work, you have to enjoy what you do and get on with your colleagues. What I like about Unisign is that you can make something out of nothing using your own hands. In fact, you can even build a whole machine from scratch. The work is tremendously satisfying. I used to build all kinds of things with technical Lego. Here, I basically do the same thing, only with bigger parts and more of them.”
South Africa, Australia, America, Russia and most countries in Europe are just a few places where John has been to assemble a CNC machine for Unisign. John: “You get to visit some unique places and meet new people, and you also get customers who appreciate you for the work you do. But you shouldn’t romanticise it any more than it is. People sometimes think I see a lot of the world. And occassionaly I do have time to take a trip for a day, like the time I got to go to the Australian Grand Prix or watch a football match in Barcelona. But often, you don’t have time to see any more than the inside of a factory and the hotel.”
Thinking on the spot
Although the team does a lot of advance preparation to put together a CNC machine abroad, things don’t always go as planned. John: “Sometimes, you are faced with unexpected challenges on site. The machine might not fit through the entrance to the factory hall, or a crane might not have enough tonnage to move the machine. In that case, you have to think on the spot because you have a schedule to stick to, after all. But we at Unisign always find a solution in the end.”
The year 1989
The Cold War comes to an end after 40 years. The Berlin Wall falls and along with it the communist regimes in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. In Iran, a fatwa is placed on Salman Rushdie for his book, The Satanic Verses. George H.W. Bush succeeds Ronald Reagan as the 41st President of the United States. In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers’ second government collapses in May. After an election, Lubbers forms a third government in November. The legendary Dutch children’s series De Fabeltjeskrant is broadcast on television for the last time in 1989.
John: “We used to build mostly smaller CNC machines, but nowadays, all of our machines are big ones. That’s what we specialise in and have made a name for ourselves with. Of course, our assembly methods and techniques have changed and improved over the years. And while each engineer has their own way of working, the end result is always the same. The quality of every machine we build has to be second to none. After all, the machine itself is the calling card that I – along with my fellow assembly engineers – leave behind with a customer every time.”
Goalie, referee, runner
John can often be seen on the football pitch in his hometown of Panningen… specifically underneath the crossbar, as he has always been a goalkeeper. John: “When I was 35 to 37, I was the reserve goalie for the first team that played in the top league at the time. I then spent another six months in the starting line-up. That was professional football, with a lot of former pros on our team. Such a great experience.” John still takes to the pitch almost every week, only now as a referee.
Running has also been a big part of John’s life for years. John: “I would even train during my trips abroad in the run-up to a race. I would travel from the hotel to the factory in the minibus with my colleagues and then run back on my own in the evening.”
23 August 2023