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“International cooperation makes my job more fascinating” – a portrait of the doctoral student Nicolas Meier

2017-08-07 It was the robots that led him to Mexico. He worked with European colleagues on an EU project, and his own institute is where people from all over the world meet every day. The doctoral candidate Nicolas Meier from the Institute of Product and Process Innovation dispels old stereotypes: "We do not descend into a world of intellectual isolation in our laboratories – international exchange is our everyday life."

Nicolas Meier’s office betrays little about the current object of his intensive study. The books and notes heaped on the desk impart an austere appearance. Yet a glimpse into the machine shop on Volgershall Campus makes the researcher’s work palpable: Some of the most modern inventions in the field of transport systems, including robots with articulated arms, are sharing this space with time-honoured tools, such as milling and band saw machines. This is where the future is being shaped, often by international cooperation. “The research on the IFaCOM project, concluded in 2015, has also taken place in this hall”, recalls the 32-year-old. “Together with partners from Denmark, Norway, Italy and Switzerland, we developed solutions for the production of highly specialised components in small series almost to a zero error level”. He gives the example of polishing within a manufacturing process: “Polishing generally starts by applying a coarse pad, then a medium one, and ending with a fine burnishing pad. With every diminishing level of coarseness, a different gage must be used. The operator makes the decision on grain size. However, these individual decisions involve deviations, therefore also errors. In the EU project, therefore, the researchers intensively collected production and process data, which provided the basis for the development of an intelligent sensor system. It accompanies processes with measurements that provide information on when the next stage of production can be initiated. “It is universally applicable”, says the engineering scientist, “this system is useful not only for machine tool manufacturers or the aerospace industry, but every company can also use it”.

The EU project changed not only production processes, but also Nicolas Meier’s individual life planning. “IFaCOM is the reason why I did not go get a job in the industry after completing my Master’s” says the Lüneburger, explaining that, unlike the university, a company such as Siemens also offers permanent contracts and thus a planned future – which is very tempting. However, while working on European research, the idea of a doctorate matured thanks to the interaction with colleagues. “We asked ourselves: How complicated is it to measure bearing clearance?”

Zero defect Manufacturing 

By this he means a rather inconspicuous prototype, which he developed, and which lies among all the inventions at the Volgershall industrial design workshop. It starts with a well-known piece of technology, a classic ball bearing, as it is used in fans, vehicles, or wind turbines, but also in inline skates. “The balls move between the outer and the inner ring, covered in grease and lubricants“ Meier explains. “But, for the movements to take place there must also be air”. “The amount of air or leeway is decisive for the quality of the product: too much causes vibrations and audible rattling; restricted movements lead to abrasion. In order to find the optimum play for each ball bearing, manual air measurements have been carried out in factory operations. During assembly, a skilled worker lifts the bearing onto the shaft, looking at a dial gauge. “But what force must be applied to lift the bearing? Does this action twist the outer ring? It is obvious that assembly tolerances arise during this process“

Within the framework of his doctoral research, Nicolas Meier has therefore developed a method and standard to measure the radial air in the ball bearing automatically. The measurements are carried out before and after assembly, free from individual deviations. “At this measuring stand, human strength is replaced by a magnetic actuator, which pushes the bearing upwards”, which he illustrates with the prototype. “The force and distance are measured. This data suggests how far the bearing can be pushed onto the shaft in order to run optimally. In addition, this method enables self-maintenance and integration of the ball bearing within the Internet of Things, as well as the transition to a digitised environment”.

Robotics world championship in Mexico

Another focus of his work led the 32-year-old to an international contest in Mexico of a few years ago. There, he and his team took part in the RoboCup World Championship in 2013. The idea was that robots delivered the right goods to the right place by intelligent means. “The autonomous robots we developed would ensure the flow of material within a simulated production system on a demarcated field” explains Meier. A test, which the contestants passed with flying colours – in the end, the Leuphana team came second. Now, even though the meanwhile more advanced robots are only a few rooms away, encounters between the inventor and his inventions only rarely happen. The reason for this is the dissertation that Meier would like to submit in the coming winter semester. “My big hobby, football, had to take a step back”. The Lüneburger has been an active player for the TSV Gellersen for about 20 years, but now there’s little time for training. In the near future, this will hardly change; the scientist has a specific goal: “After I complete my doctorate, I would like to have a job that deals with digital change, as well as with the question of how society deals with the associated challenges and possibilities”. And where family life is concerned, he is letting us catch a glimpse of his thoughts: “Of course, a steady employment would be the ideal solution”.


Dr. Nicolas Meier
Universitätsallee 1, C40.423
21335 Lüneburg
Fon +49.4131.677-5419

Author: Urte Modlich, University Communication. Please send news from and around the University, research, teaching and studies to