25 Years of Labor für Messtechnik (Laboratory for Metrology)

In 1989, the Institute for Metrology, which had formerly been part of the Institute for X-ray Fine Structure Research, left the parent organization of the Graz Research Centre (today Joanneum Research). Thus Dr. Hans Stabinger founded the private research and development office “Labor für Messtechnik”. He had already moved into the newly erected building in Dr.-Robert-Graf-Straße 6 in Graz two years before.

A group of researches around Dr. Stabinger has worked on inventing and developing new measuring methods in the field of liquid properties since 1967. Starting with the epoch-making invention of a new method of measuring density (oscillating U-tube) we invented, explored, and developed new and until then unknown measurement procedures for other measurands while, at the same time, permanently improving the measuring devices for density. Thus, an instrument for determining the speed of sound in liquids was invented and developed. Among other applications, it is used for continuously measuring the original extract in the production of beer and for treating renal insufficiency by means of dialysis. Both projects were distributed all over the world and thus generated corresponding turnovers through our licensees. A device that we had built was even used by the “Austronaut” Dr. Franz Viehböck in the Mir space station.

During the last decade, a completely new invention for measuring viscosity was a main area of our research. There are classic measurement methods for density and viscosity. For density, it is the thousands of years old Archimedes’ principle, and for viscosity the capillary viscometer for more than one hundred years. If a completely new method is to be put on the market, it is only natural that the customers expect to achieve the same precision as with the classic method. Moreover, the new measuring device must show compelling advantages in order to stand its ground on the market against the classic methods. This is the only way one can expect commercial success. Along with elaborating the construction of the devices, tens of years of exploring the influences that reduced the precision of our methods was a main task. This required us to be in close touch with state-run metrological laboratories in order to learn the traditional methods on their highest level of precision for our comparative measurements. In this regard, our collaboration of tens of years with PTB – The National Metrology Institute of Germany, Brunswick, and the calibration laboratory H&D Fitzgerald in the UK have to be mentioned. Development up to present-day perfection would have been impossible without these contacts. The technological leap in density and viscosity measurement on the basis of our inventions was comparable to the transition from the old Merchants’ scales to digital scales. It is understandable that these developments—after all, we have always entered new territory—were only possible in small goal-oriented steps, whereby—which is often ignored—we often had to cope with severe setbacks. If you want to stay on top, you always have to face new—and for the most part self-imposed—challenges. The sky’s the limit with regard to precision in metrology and you intend to diversify your business (e.g. construct measuring devices for specific applications), the opportunities for development are unlimited. So it is not surprising that we have intensively pursued the density project for more than 40 years, and the Viscometer for 18 years. If, beside scientific curiosity, the economic aspect is considered, we are looking forward to tens of years of a work-filled future.

Until 2002, we shared our resources with the Department of Sensor Technology of the Graz Research Centre of the time, which mainly provided the complicated electronic components of our measuring systems. Both density and viscosity are only meaningful combined with the precise measuring temperature. So Prof. H. Leopold, head of the Department of Sensor Technology, assumed this task at an already early stage, and invented and developed a new kind of thermometer in tens of years of work which shows precision of more than down to a thousandth degree. Only this formed the basis for conducting measurements of density and viscosity at the highest level. After the Department of Sensor Technology was discontinued in 2002, we were able to employ its entire highly qualified former staff at our Labor für Messtechnik. Many of these new colleagues had already gained experience in our field for tens of years and were thus able to seamlessly continue to work on our projects.

In the time we developed the measurement methods that had been invented in our house (since 1965), there have been great leaps in electronic technology and production processes. This period covers the entire development of digital electronics, from the first transistors to the highly integrated circuits of today. Mechanical production, which once started with simple lathes and milling machines, is done by automatic machines today, which make sure a then unimaginable degree of precision. New machining methods have been tested in our workshop, and have been refined to suit our specific needs. For example, we put the first laser welding and cutting machine in Styria into operation and have been exploring its optimal use for our products down to the present day. The technological basics for high vacuum soldering, transforming titanium parts without cutting, and semi-automatically manufacturing complicated glass parts have been worked out by the engineers in our workshop over years, and form the indispensable basis for industrial serial production today.