Key visual SINUMERIK History

A new era of precision

Thanks to SINUMERIK ONE, Siemens has reached the evolutionary pinnacle of its digital control technology. The crowning glory of an innovation. What facilitated the emergence of the numerical control system and who set it in motion?
Overcoming the fear of the 'too new' with all its consequences is an essential aspect.
Werner Feist, 1960

Summits can be treacherous contemporaries. Only after an arduous ascent do they allow you to enjoy the magnificent view. It's often the same with history. It doesn't always lead you back directly from the result to its origin. If you look at the early development stages of SINUMERIK, you'll find more than one point of departure. Sixty years ago, in September 1960, Siemens presented its numerical control system for the first time probably with customer support at the machine tool fair in Hanover, marking the first major milestone toward SINUMERIK after years of research and development.

Making innovations visible

When humans and machines interact, the machine still performs too few tasks, warned Siemens engineer Dr. Werner Feist at a conference in the fall of 1960. The machine had to be constantly stopped during the production of single parts. Humans still had to assume the role of "information carrier and memory", acting as a "transducer and sensor", a "controller for the machine" and as an "actuator". This wasted time and required concentration. An innovation was needed to bring about a sustainable change in production: "automatic machine tool control systems", better known as numerical controls.

 

At the time, Feist described in vivid terms how tiring and error-prone contemporary production was and how it could be made more automated and precise in the future. Just a few months earlier, at the start of the new decade, Siemens developers caught the attention of the public. In September 1960, they set up "two mockup versions of the SSW" (Siemens-Schuckertwerke, merged into SIEMENS AG in 1966) at the machine tool fair in Hanover. The NC control, which Siemens probably presented in customer cooperation, is relay technology-based and geared towards point and route control. A little later, during his talk, Werner Feist enthusiastically shared in front of trade experts an idealized view of the use of numerical controls. "All the activities required for manufacturing the workpiece are contained in an information memory. The memory is no longer produced in the workshop itself (...), but is defined outside the workshop. (...) The machine must be capable of being influenced by signals in all respects. By changing the information memory and, if necessary, by changing pre-set tools, the machine can be immediately converted to another similar job with a minimum setup time."

The better the tool life response, the more the machine becomes an ideal automaton.
Werner Feist, 1960

Allow inspiration - and go your own way

The idea caught on about five years earlier. In 1955, Siemens was inspired by a machine tool exhibition in the U.S.A., and Werner Feist recalled the development stages in November 1960. At the fair, "some machine tools, including large-scale ones, were shown in operation, "working fully automatically without cams and templates."

They were controlled by means of an information memory in the form of a punched tape or magnetic tape. The machine tools worked – and that was the new thing – as a link in a chain of data processing equipment.
Werner Feist, 1960

The United States was promoting the technology, that was bringing about lasting changes to manufacturing processes, against the political and economic background of the Cold War. A prototype of an NC system for machine tools was introduced to the public in September 1952. It was the result of work by the "Servomechanism Laboratory (Servo Lab)" at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):

 a three-axis continuous path-controlled vertical milling machine controlled by punched tape. 

 

In the Federal Republic of Germany, Siemens was proactively seeking solutions for its own numerical control system. Werner Feist was closely monitoring trends on show at exhibitions in the U.S.A. and Europe. From about 1957, he set about developing his own numerical control system in Nuremberg with his department in the Central Works Research laboratory. The team also focused on American manufacturers and explored the needs of potential customers. His ideas soon began to materialize. At the 6th European Machine Tool Exhibition in Paris in 1959, a gear factory was probably the first to use a demonstration model with an NC control from Siemens.

 

This triggered a race against time. In 1960 Werner Feist compared the situation with regard to the U.S.A.: "As far as we know today, the technology of the numerically controlled machine tool is everywhere in the making, although we have a more difficult situation here in Germany and are lagging behind."

Become unmistakable

On August 1, 1961, it became official: With Dr.-Ing. Paul Volk from Erlangen as "inventor", the Siemens-Schuckertwerke patented the "numerical control of processing machines, especially machine tools". The potential for innovation lay in the combination of distance and time measurement. The patent specification of March 12, 1964 states: "The invention consists of the rough positioning being carried out by means of a digital distance measurement, whereas the fine positioning is carried out by means of the time measurement, to which the the rough measurement is switched after the distance setpoint is reached. The time measurement can be carried out, for example, digitally by quartz-controlled timers, e.g. high-frequency transmitters, whose current zero points are counted.

The Siemens numerical control system is known only by this generic term for a further three years. It was finally christened in 1964: Siemens launched a numerical control system for machine tools under the name SINUMERIK for the first time. Siemens engineers Werner Geyer and Siegfried Waller explained the transition in an article in the Siemens magazine:

The technological experience gained, as well as new impulses in semiconductor technology, led to the creation of a new system - the SINUMERIK.
Werner Geyer and Siegfried Waller, 1964

The new system is never dormant. Siemens gradually expanded the functionalities of SINUMERIK and brought out different control versions for the machining techniques of turning, milling, grinding and nibbling. In 1973 Siemens launched the SINUMERIK 580 - a "freely programmable numerical control" with the addition of CNC, i.e. Computerized Numerical Control. Another important landmark on the long journey to the summit.

 

Picture gallery of the beginning of SINUMERIK