NUM, a company with one of the most influential heritages in CNC machine tool automation, is currently celebrating 50 years of technical innovation. Its technology underpins many of the world's most successful specialist machine builders, and today the company views continued innovation and customization of CNC as crucial to the maintenance of a healthy machine tool sector.
Those 50 years started with the development of the first numerical controller by mother-company Telemecanique in 1961. The first NUM-branded NC controller was launched in 1964, and NUM itself was spun-out as a separate company in 1978. Innovation after innovation has followed, from hardware breakthroughs such as the world's first 16-bit CNC controller in 1983 and the first all-digital servo drive featuring digital current control in 1991, to groundbreaking software such as the first support for rotation tool center point (RTCP) in 1986 and the launch of the pioneering NUMROTO tool grinding software package in 1987.
A technological highlight of current times is NUM's ultra-powerful CNC kernel, Flexium. This provides open programmability for easy customization, together with an exceptional scalability that can be applied economically to control machinery ranging from the small and simple to the most complex - with more than 200 interpolating axes. NUM has customers in the rotary transfer machine market who often need to control more than 100 axes for example, and in one application the control requirement is in excess of 140 axes!
NUM is as keen to emphasize its people as its CNC technology, and its partnership ethos is the backbone of the company's business philosophy. As a result, for large numbers of specialist and small-to-medium sized machine tool builders, NUM technical support is an intrinsic part of their technical edge in their markets. NUM is also renowned for its work in specialized machinery segments including tool grinding, woodworking, gear cutting and rotary transfer, where it holds leading positions.
Perhaps the clearest difference between NUM and other CNC players is its ability and willingness to customize. NUM's open CNC systems - and a decentralized R&D structure which locates engineering staff all round the world - allows it to customize CNC software for specific machine tool builders, even for a handful of machines or a one-off special.
"We have the complete range of CNC technology including controllers, drives and motors, and our business is 100% CNC," says Peter von Rueti, CEO of NUM. "Effectively, our staff become a part of the machine builder's own R&D, and that's how we help to give a machine tool builder a unique competitive advantage."
This technical partnership approach also means that NUM also receives clear signals about the control technology demands and challenges in the machine tool business, feeding its core R&D program.
Among the technical trends that NUM is currently seeing in the CNC sector is an emphasis on energy efficiency, with more use of drive systems with a shared DC bus for recovery of power. The use of direct drive configurations is also increasing in the push for higher performance and quality. This approach, along with other techniques such as drives with anti-resonance capability, is featuring in a growing number of machine builder strategies for maintaining precision while saving on the scale of the machine's underlying metal-based framework and rigidity.
A longer term trend that NUM sees is some movement away from the G-code programming language and towards more direct linkages between CAD and CNC control. A more direct path from design to manufacture is something that NUM has already pioneered for more than 20 years with its NUMROTO software for tool grinding machinery. This package features an integrated modeling-simulation-interpolation chain that provides a true WYSIWYG output. It avoids today's sequential CAD-to-CAM and CAM-to-CNC translation stages with data format changes, emulations etc, which almost invariably have to be followed by an optimization phase before a part is able to enter production.
"Some 25-30% of our staff are technical and engaged on development, applications and support tasks," adds Jan Koch, Chief Sales Officer of NUM. "Continuing to make technical CNC innovation a core element of the business success of small to medium sized machine tool makers is where we see NUM's role over the next 50 years."
A potted history of NUM...
Today's NUM business has its roots in three companies: control systems developer Guettinger - founded in Switzerland in 1957; motors and drives developer Servomac - founded in Italy in 1967; and the control systems vendor NUM SA - launched by Telemecanique as a product brand in 1964 and as a separate French company in 1978. Here are a few of the key corporate developments:
1957 - Guettinger develops first analog calculator
1961 - Telemecanique starts developing the first NC, laying foundation of today's CNC
1964 - first NUM-branded NC is released
1972 - Servomac starts selling servo drives
1975 - Guettinger launches Gipsy family of NC controllers
1978 - Telemecanique starts NUM SA business in France
1981 - Guettinger is acquired by NUM SA
1983 - NUM introduces first CNC - NUM760, with groundbreaking 16-bit control
1987 - NUM introduces NUMROTO tool grinding software
1989 - mother company Telemecanique is acquired by Schneider Electric
1990 - NUM SA acquires Servomac Spa
1991 - NUM launches UAC - the first all-digital servo drive, including digital current control
2001 - NUM launches Axium Power CNC kernel
2006 - NUM sold to Verdoso and NUM management
2007 - NUM launches Flexium CNC kernel
2007 - NUM co-operation agreement with Foxnum Technology Co Ltd (subsidiary of Foxconn)
Today, NUM employs over 250 people directly in its worldwide network of 14 corporate, development and technical support centers. It also has a global network of representatives, including several exclusive agents who employ well over 50 staff purely for NUM. www.num.com