René Raaijmakers
13 December 2023

The “Design principles for precision engineering” training gave Koray Ulu a better understanding of mechanical design for high-tech systems. “It helped me connect the dots, so to speak. It provided insight into the critical aspects of a design.”

Seven years ago, Koray Ulu’s buddy told him about a remarkable company – an equipment builder where it was pretty normal to work with titanium. The mechanical designers of this prodigious organization could choose that metal if they felt it was necessary.

For Ulu and his colleagues at a Turkish automotive supplier, making such a decision in the design process was unthinkable. Cost was the top design priority. The expensive metal titanium was only considered as part of a standard joke. If a bottleneck showed up or the mechanics team was once again asked to do the impossible, they’d always laugh at each other and say: “No problem, let’s take titanium to fix it.”

Now suddenly, there appeared to be a company where mechanical designers could really choose the light and strong metal when needed. Cost was among the top priorities, but if functional requirements would dictate a more expensive material because it was the only way to get to specs, titanium was among the options.

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Ulu got to know the particular company through his buddy, whom he had known since elementary school and with whom he was still in contact. After his doctorate in the United States, that friend had ended up at ASML, an organization that manufactured lithographic equipment for chips. Ulu learned that these machines were the most precise production systems on the planet, and the company’s headquarters was in Veldhoven, just a few thousand kilometers north of Turkey. Thus was born Ulu’s dream: he wanted to go into precision mechanics.

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Ulu applied to ASML five years ago, but unfortunately, a job in Veldhoven wasn’t in the cards at that time. “I had no knowledge at all of precision mechanics in the high-tech industry,” he says. However, with his eleven years of experience in the Turkish automotive industry, he did get on board at an Eindhoven-based automotive player quite easily, and so he and his family moved from Turkey to the Netherlands.

Cards on the table

Two years ago, Ulu saw that ASML was stepping up its recruitment and he decided to make another attempt. “I really wanted to work in the high-tech industry because I believe that’s where the future lies,” he explains. “Also when it comes to fulfilling and inspiring work. Instead of focusing on purely serial production and cost, I can develop more in-depth engineering knowledge at ASML. In addition, ASML, with its position in the world, is also an intriguing company.”

For a year and a half now, Ulu has been working in Veldhoven as a mechanical designer on the heart of the ASML scanner. More precisely, on the wafer stage, a system that demands the utmost when it comes to accuracy and fine mechanics.

In his second job interview in Veldhoven, Ulu put his cards on the table. He was an experienced design engineer but admitted to having no knowledge of the high-tech industry and precision mechanics. Ulu: “They said they were aware of that. They were looking for capable engineers. They didn’t have to be precision engineers, but they had to be able to master that craft. The pool of those kinds of designers was just too small, so ASML didn’t want to limit recruitment to the high-tech market. It promised to arrange all the training needed to get me up to speed.”

World upside down

Ulu was relieved to be welcomed but gradually became more nervous. “I wanted to design at ASML but did wonder: can I do it?” His being on the mechanics team working on the wafer stage now is proof enough.

About his experience over the past two years, Ulu says: “First of all, I had to change, adjust my attitude quite a bit. In the automotive industry, manufacturability and cost are the main drivers, followed by reliability. You don’t want an assembly process that requires highly skilled people. Anyone should be able to make what you design.”

High tech turns the world upside down for a mechanical designer coming from automotive. “Using titanium is pretty standard because of stiffness and weight requirements. Same story for special engineering plastics. In automotive, those are pretty much out of the question. Within ASML, cost is important, but if it’s functionally necessary, you can use any material.”

Lightning speed

Asked about the top priorities for mechanical designers at ASML, Ulu replies: “The functional requirements have the highest priority. These depend heavily on the modules and components. If it comes to the choice of materials, issues such as magnetic properties, resistance to UV light and vacuum compatibility are important. In essence, it’s all about functional requirements. That’s the differentiating factor.” As a designer, if you have to focus on these requirements, you’re diving deeper into physics and engineering principles, Ulu says. “That’s the big difference. It expands your choices.”

It makes the work both challenging and attractive. “It’s not limited to the choices you have. Conceptual designs don’t change quickly. Not in automotive and not in lithography. But technology does develop at lightning speed. Market requirements change so quickly that sometimes we really have to develop whole new things to meet them. If changes are needed as a result, it can have far-reaching consequences for the entire design. Everything is interconnected.”

Business cards

To get up to speed in constructing for high tech, Ulu attended the weeklong training course “Design principles for precision engineering” at High Tech Institute. He’s especially complimentary about the team of roughly eight instructors. In general, technical trainers always know what they’re talking about, Ulu notes, but he says few trainers have the skill to convey deep understanding. “In this case, it wasn’t just about imparting knowledge and refreshing the relevant information from my mechanical background. I learned in the design principles training how to connect that knowledge to better see the relationships. With that, I understood how things really work. Now that I’ve gotten hold of that, I can use those principles everywhere. It’s called construction principles or precision engineering for a reason. Knowledge alone isn’t enough; it’s about understanding the principles.”

Ulu says the training helped him apply his existing knowledge from a precision mechanical perspective. “In the course, the trainers gave assignments with simple tools to make clear the fine-mechanical principles of structures with flexible and rigid parts. For example, we connected wood blocks to business cards and felt with our hands what was going on. This made it immediately clear what degrees of freedom the system had and how, in such a simple system, we could constrain some degrees of freedom and set others free. The beauty of it: the simpler the system, the better you learn to understand the basic principles.”

Connecting the dots

Ulu did have lessons about leaf springs as an undergraduate in mechanical engineering. “But I never felt the ‘aha experience,’ the moment of gaining insight so strongly. After the training, I knew: when I look at a design now, I impulsively feel how that system will respond to specific forces in practice.”

So how does that work? Is there a gut feeling when constructing or evaluating specific structures? Ulu says he can only speak for himself in that regard. “It’s first and foremost about knowledge. That’s the foundation. After that, it’s about connecting that knowledge. You connect the dots, so to speak. That provides an understanding of and insight into the critical aspects of a design. If you can’t connect the knowledge dots, then it doesn’t produce understanding. If I understand it, if I know the background, then somehow the gut feeling comes naturally.”

The knowledge Ulu gained in the training isn’t only relevant in his own designs, he says. “For example, it also helped me in team design reviews, where we discuss designs together. In a recent meeting, for example, I was able to convince my colleagues that a component needed a specific radius to prevent fatigue of the overall system. That wasn’t on the drawing, but it was added.”

Ulu found that he could apply the knowledge and insights gained anywhere in the design process. “At ASML, there’s a lot of history in the designs. Sometimes you have to adjust a design based on new requirements. Some features in a design are there for good reasons, but in my first year, that wasn’t always recognizable to me. When I adjusted a design, one of the architects sometimes might correct me later. Thanks to the training, I now have a much better understanding and see through the subtleties in a design much better.”

This article was written in close collaboration with High Tech Institute.