Professional Instruments Company

Professional Instruments Company

= Professional Instruments Company =

Last updated: May 2008

Professional Instruments Company, or PICO, is a privately owned family business founded in 1946. The owners are sons of the founder and have worked many years in all areas of the company’s operations.

PICO currently operates five plants in Minnesota: Four in or near Minneapolis, and one in Rochester, Minnesota. PICO has a total manufacturing floor space of more than 100,000 square feet, all of which is modern, fire-resistant, air-conditioned construction. The company is ready to handle substantial future growth and has no significant financial liabilities. PICO has a skilled group of craftsmen, many of whom came up through long-standing, company-operated training programs.

In addition to PICO's product line of air bearing spindles and slides, they offer a wide range of sub-contract manufacturing including tools, gages, prototype parts, precision cams, special machines and production parts. PICO is also actively working in the field of diamond machining. We make a strong effort to handle a wide variety of work which enables us to do jobs that many firms cannot handle without sub-contracting.

PICO regularly does business with IBM, Etec, SVG Lithography, Palomar, Corning, Applied Materials, Rosemount, Moore Tool, Nikon, Dover, Carl Zeiss, Cranfield Precision, Allergan Medical Optics, 3M, Timken, Seagate, and many others. PICO is a certified vendor for several of these, and also have Confidential Disclosure Agreements to facilitate our working on important R&D projects.


Professional instruments Company, or "PICO", was founded in 1946 by brothers Ted and Harold Arneson.

PICO began manufacturing beauty shop hair dryers in 1946. However, the dryers were eventually taken off the market with the introduction of the Toni Home Permanent, which decimated the beauty shop industry. PICO's only sales of hair dryers went to Bangkok and Caracas and PICO soon turned its talents to other projects.

PICO co-developed an adjustable speed drive in 1947 that has become a world wide success. The company continues to manufacture drive components for the motion-control precision company Zero-Max.

Nautilus Project 1957- Standard Precision Navigator/Gimbaled Electrostatic gyro Aircraft Navigation Systems (SPN/GEANS) grew out of work in the 1950s by Professor Arnold Nordsieck of the University of Illinois on a novel gyroscope design, the Electrosatically Suspended Gyroscope (ESG). In the ESG, the rotating mass is a spherical ball supported in a vacuum by an electrostatic field. The corporation that took up Nordsieck’s work most actively was Honeywell of Minneapolis.

Professional Instruments Company lapped super-precise spherical rotors for Honeywell’s ESG. With these highly-favored gyros, the Navy’s nuclear-powered submarines could remain submerged for 30 days at a time, without requiring a star-based recalibration.

At the request of IBM, PICO established a plant in Rochester, Minnesota in 1958 to provide tooling, engineering and prototype services to their new factory. The shop was built on an old farmstead just out of IBM's backdoor; the 100 year-old barn remains in good shape and is used to store equipment.

A spherical air bearing built by PICO in 1964 supports a 9-ton free-floating simulator platform. Control systems for the Project Apollo moonship were developed and tested on the simulator. PICO machined the 17" (43 cm) diameter stainless sphere to less than 10&nbspmicroinches sphericity. Their early air bearing spinders were crucial parts of the special gaging they built for this project.

Among the first customers for the BLOCK-HEAD air bearing spindle was the University of Virginia where Dr. Jesse Beams and others used its friction-free rotation in 1968 to seek a more precise value for the force of gravity.

More recently, PICO as built an all-aluminum model 10R BLOCK-HEAD bearing for the University of Washington, where researchers hope to define “g” to several more decimal places and, perhaps, find evidence of the theorized “fifth force”. These scientists worship at the shrine of symmetry; it is crucial that any lumps they see are in the external world, not in the spindle.

Air bearing laser-scanner spindles and film transports built by Professional Instruments Company bring unprecedented clarity to the digital images. Mirrors (cut on air bearing lathes developed by Professional Instruments Company) spin at 40,000 rpm as the film smoothly advances completely eliminating “banding”, “raster lines”, and other mechanical phenomena that obscure the fine details. The enhanced clarity revolutionized both commercial and military intelligence use of earth images.

Professional Instruments Company designed and built the alignment gauging for the Hubble Space Telescope in 1984. Using their model 4B BLOCK-HEAD air bearing as the reference axis, they assured that the 7’ long instrument packages could be attached in orbit to an accuracy of .001”.

The Points “A” Alignment Fixture certified the position of eight locating balls relative to the Telescope’s optical axis. The complex alignment system incorporated a broad range of metrology principles and devices found in the Professional Instruments toolbox. The payoff came with the successful installation in orbit of the scientific package modules which incorporated the famous “fix” that saved the day for this wonderful and immensely valuable instrument.

Fluid bearing

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