Founded in 1982 on the basis of the Institute of Mechanical Engineering and of Construction of Machinery, born in 1951, the Department of Mechanical Engineering is one of the foremost departments of the Politecnico di Milano. Actually, mechanical engineering represents one of the main disciplines as for learning, research, cooperation and exchange with the surrounding area and the industrial sector since the establishment of the Politecnico di Milano. That is the main reason for the Department excellent reputation in its academic context and in the scientific, industrial, national and international one.
In 1951, the Institute of Mechanical Engineering and of Construction of Machinery was established by merging the three sections (group of lecturers), which until that time, had been separate entities. The first of these sections encompassed the lecturers of Meccanica Applicata alle Macchine (Applied Mechanics), whose subjects had been taught to the students of Industrial Engineering during the compulsory course of Meccanica Industriale e Disegno di Macchine (Machine Design and Industrial Mechanics) held by Prof. Giuseppe Colombo. As time went by, the name of the subject taught changed several times (in the academic year 1880-81 the subject of thermodynamics was added) together with its position within the course of study. In 1914-15 the lecture course was finally named Meccanica Applicata alle Macchine (Applied Mechanics). Prof. Giuseppe Colombo was Rector of the “Istituto tecnico superiore di Milano” (former name of Politecnico di Milano) from 1897 to 1921. In 1921 the role of Rector was assumed by Prof. Cesare Saldini, who had also been full Professor of Mechanical Technology since 1899 and Emeritus Professor since 1921.
Following the nomination of Prof. Ottorino Sesini to the chair of the Institute of Mechanical Engineering in 1935, the teaching programme was changed. The subject of thermodynamics was eliminated – becoming the subject of other courses – and particular emphasis was placed on the kinematics and dynamics of machinery.
The second group of lecturers were teaching the subjects of machine design. These topics had been initially taught during the lecture course given by Prof. Colombo, but then from 1875-76 the lectures of Elementi delle Macchine (Machine Elements) became the subject of a separate course with the institution of a chair initially tenured by Prof. Giuseppe Ponzio. In 1895, the name of the course was changed to Costruzione delle Macchine (Machine Design). On the death of Prof. Ponzio in 1908 the course was taken over first by Prof. Federigo Giordano and subsequently, during the post Second World War period, by Prof. Italo Bertolini.
The third group of lecturers were dealing with another subject. In 1870, Prof. Giuseppe Colombo decided that it was worth instituting a lecture course, where first year students could learn the morphology of machine elements together with their graphical representation, before addressing the dimensioning of machine elements and their dynamics in the other courses. The chair of Mechanical Design and Drawing was then so instituted.
In 1951, as previously mentioned, the three Institutes that offered the above mentioned courses merged, giving life to one of the first Italian multi-subject Institutes under the directorship of Prof. Ottorino Sesini, who held this position until his retirement in 1961-62, when it was taken over by Prof. Italo Bertolini who held the position until 1969.
The departments of Automotive Construction and Agricultural Mechanics – falling under the umbrella of the same course of study – together with Technologies and Industrial Plants, became a part of the Institute and were directed by Prof. Antongiulio Dornig, nominated director of the institute, following the retirement of Prof. Bertolini. In the meantime, in 1965, most of the Institute had moved to a new building referred to as “la nave” (the ship), situated in Via Bonardi. The new location meant that there was now more space, especially for the laboratories, thus serving as the first example of a modern, efficient economy of scale. At the end of the three year period, the directorship was handed over to Prof. Giovanni Bianchi who was subsequently succeeded, for two mandates, by Prof. Emilio Massa until his election to President of the School of Engineering in 1980, when Prof. Bianchi was once again asked to complete the remainder of the three year mandate.
Following the entry into force of law no. 382 of 1980, it was finally possible to implement the long-awaited departmental structure to which reference had been made in the centenary book published fifteen years earlier. Prof. Dornig was elected director of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and it was, in fact, under his aegis that the somewhat complex transition to administrative autonomy took place, being finally completed under the auspices of Prof. Andrea Capello, who served as its new director during the three-year academic period between 1984-1987. The transition was finally completed following the appointment of Prof. Giuseppe Bernasconi to director for the three-year academic period between 1987-1990, an appointment that he was unable to complete due to his failing health. In 1989, he was replaced by Vice-director, Prof. Giorgio Diana, who was also re-elected for the next three-year period from 1992 to 1995 and who started the process of the Department’s move to the new Bovisa campus.
The task of organizing and implementing the Department’s move to the Bovisa campus fell first to Prof. Sergio Sirtori (1995-98) and subsequently to his successor, Prof. Marzio Falco (1998-2001). In fact, it was at the Bovisa campus that the IV School of Engineering (Scuola di Ingegneria Industriale) was established, thus marking the creation of those “separate Politecnico di Milano Schools” clearly envisaged seven years earlier. However, misfortune struck once again when the director of the Department, Prof. Falco, died after a long illness.
In 2000-01, Prof. Giorgio Diana was called in to complete the task started by his colleague, bringing it full cycle during the next two mandates which lasted until 2007 when he was forced to resign following the entry into force of new laws which prevented him from performing different institutional roles. During these years, the Department opened new laboratory facilities and a wind tunnel and increased its participation in European Union research projects. The research budget boosted the Department to the top-level ranking which it still holds today.
Prof. Diana was succeeded by Prof. Ferruccio Resta who opened the new head office. The Department then went on to inaugurate new laboratories (Mechatronics, Micromechanics). In 2008, based on an international peer review of the Politecnico di Milano, the Department of Mechanical Engineering obtained one of the highest ratings in the overall ranking.
On November 2016 Prof. Ferruccio Resta was elected as the Chancellor of the Politecnico di Milano and, in 2017, Prof. Marco Bocciolone became the new Head of the Department.