Q&A with Steve Schilling

Managing Director, NUM Corporation

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Tell me about your history with the NUM Corporation.

I began my career as a controls engineer working for an OEM that built gear hobbers. I joined NUM in the early 1990s, first as an applications engineer developing special PLC/Motion and HMI software for a variety of different machine tools. For many years I was application engineering department manager. Four years ago, I took on the role of managing director at NUM Corporation.

What kind of control systems does NUM specialize in?

We provide complete CNC control systems, including servo/spindle motors and drives. Over the years, we’ve focused on specialty machines, and a major “niche” we’ve always focused on is gear machinery. Within the NUM system, our customers have direct access to many complete gear application solutions for hobbing, shaping, and grinding, minimizing the client’s need for in-house custom development.

Globally we are involved in a wide variety of different types of machine tool control applications and processes with many opportunities for overlap. For example, features related to probing or dressing or graphical simulation from our NUMROTO line of tool grinding software may also transfer to other applications, such as gear grinding or gear hobbing. These opportunities of software synergy usually result in a better value for the customer with added functionality.

It seems CNC machines are being relied on increasingly.

It’s true. As time goes on, the ability of the CNC control system allow it to perform more intelligent operations behind the scene, while simplifying operator’s inputs. In many gear machines, shop floor personnel can walk up a CNC system and following a “Graphical Question and Answer” session, entering the data directly from their process sheet. The CNC system calculates the required motion and feed/speed for the machine. The interface may even show a graphic of what the end result workpiece will look like or measure, as well as where that workpiece is in relation to his offsets from the fixture base or the spindle face. In looking at the graphic images and entering data, he has a clear picture of how the data relates to the machine. He can also see pictures of the cycle line running in the system—the process and motion the machine will go through to generate the gear.

Do you think we’re approaching a fever pitch with this kind of technology? Can it go much further?

Perhaps the pace of change is slowing down, as we reach the limits of the system/machine, but change does continue. We see many ongoing enhancements to ease of use for the operator and data sharing within the factory, while the refresh rate of control loops within the CNC system—continue to improve. For example, recently our current control loops have improved by a factor of two as compared to the previous system. Improvements on speed in the loops, resolution of feedback devices, flexibility of the system to connect to third party feedback, an additional assortment of feedback (even third party motors)—all these things add to the performance of the machine. For gear products, there are areas for improvement in the electronic gearbox—new enhancements to allow a bit more adaptive control to get a higher speed, allowing for a more accurate synchronization between the grinding wheel and the worktable on the machine. I can’t necessarily say “the sky’s the limit,” but there are definitely plenty of opportunities for continued advances.

Tell me a little about NUM’s R&D department, as well as connections to outside research.

Our product development group is based out of our headquarters in Switzerland. Within our R&D, there is a team of specialists with focus to bring enhancements to gear product range. Outside of NUM we have working relationships with universities in both Europe and North America. For example, here in the U.S. we work closely with Purdue’s advanced manufacturing lab in Lafayette, where we supply equipment for their research labs and work together in developing new technologies.

Your website says, “NUM tends to be a little different than some other control vendors.” How do you qualify this statement?

We provide world-class hardware support globally, like other vendors. But we tend to get involved on the application level, working directly with machine builders and OEMs to develop complete solutions—in hardware and in software. That’s something we see as a central focus point of the company. It’s worked well for us for many years.

MORE INFORMATION: NUM CNC solutions provide machine builders with a competitive advantage. For more information, log onto www.num.com or call (630) 505-7722.