Blum-Novotest celebrates anniversary
Blum-Novotest celebrates anniversary
Freedom for innovation
50 Years of Measuring Technology and Machine Tool History
From a one-man engineering office to a technology and global market leader in just 50 years - a rare
occurrence even in south-west Germany with all its ‘hidden champions’. Blum-Novotest GmbH has
achieved this not only through hard work but by being innovative, intelligent and diligent. To mark this
event, the company held the BLUM TECH-TALK under the title ‘50 years of Innovation’ in a very special
setting on 7 June 2018: Numerous guests from more than 20 countries heard keynote speeches from
leading experts, saw interesting demonstrations in the BLUM Tech-Centre and witnessed the unveiling
of a product that combines the experience gained from over 50 years in this field. An excellent
opportunity to look back and analyse which genes have helped the company achieve this level of
The foundations for the high in-process reliability of BLUM’s production metrology were laid at an early
stage. Company founder Günther Blum had become highly involved with machine tools while studying
Aerospace Engineering in Stuttgart. Alongside his university course, he carried out design work for
various companies and established his own engineering office in Schmalegg near Ravensburg on June 1,
1968. Over the following years, the office worked for well-known companies, including Stama in
Schlierbach or the Japanese FANUC Corporation.
Just one year after its foundation, the company decided to expand its service offering from mechanical
development to electrical planning. More space was rented in Weissenau near Ravensburg for this
particular purpose. All the necessary provisions were now in place for initial staff recruitment. Besides
the design engineer Klaus Hoffmann, who had been involved in the business part-time right from the
start, Bernd Blum and Rainer Eckenstein joined the small company. While other companies still relied on
contactor-based control technology, the young engineering office had already developed its own
semiconductor-based interfacing controllers. These extremely reliable controllers were used mainly in
Stama machine tools and were one of the company’s best sellers up until the early 1980s. Rapid growth
resulted in BLUM having to find a new location to operate from after just five years in Weissenau. A new
site was found a few kilometres away in Grünkraut, and the company is still registered there to this very
day. During these years, BLUM pioneered the area of tool machine development: The engineering office
was, for instance, involved in the development of the world’s most successful machine tool.
At the end of the 1970s, Günther Blum came to a crucial realisation that would shape the company’s
future path: Automation is incomplete without process-integrated measuring technology. One approach
involved measuring systems that should monitor the process directly in the machine tool. Another
approach entailed post-process measuring machines that are no longer located in a separate measuring
room but directly in the production hall. Many years of experience with NC machine tools and their
electronics seemed to be the ideal model from which to proceed in this field of business. To date, both
areas represent two of the three main pillars of BLUM’s product range. The final pillar allows BLUM to
supply, for instance, specialised post-process machines for quality control when manufacturing brake
discs, shafts and axles, i.e. predominantly for rotation-symmetrical components. The company launched
its first 2D measuring machine in 1983. An array of further measuring machines featuring the in-house
NC control system, mainly used in the automotive industry, followed. Many of them were fitted with
automation technology and networked so that the systems are now used in closed control loops and
intervene directly in the production process. Crack detection systems, measuring and automation cells,
as well as special measuring systems complement the product range of this business division.
In 1982, BLUM launched its first workpiece probe, which was soon followed by tool setting probes for
tool measurements in machining centres. Although similar probes had been available before, BLUM’s
first workpiece probes already featured a bidirectional measuring mechanism and wear-free,
optoelectrical signal generation. This ensured extremely high accuracy at much greater probing speeds.
Today, probes based on the first-ever technology developed by BLUM are available in the form of the
ultra-modern TC51 series – which is now optionally available with either infrared or radio transmission.
Up until 2003, when the successful multi-directional TC touch probe series was first introduced, the
company was, in particular, the preferred choice of customers involved in automotive mass production
thanks to its CNC probe series.
After the successful launch of the multi-directional TC touch probe series, BLUM came up with yet
another key innovation in 2007 - the shark360 technology: With the measuring mechanism first
presented at EMO, BLUM was now also able to offer a compact measuring system for turning and
grinding machines. This measuring mechanism is the basis for all of the company’s current DIGILOG
workpiece probes and surface roughness gauges.
In 2010, BLUM went even a step further and presented the DIGILOG technology which enables the
touch probe to deliver not only a digital ‘on-off’ signal but also a constant flow of analogue measuring
values. These systems are used whenever a workpiece contour needs be tested for machining errors. The
DIGILOG touch probes are simply guided in a ‘scanning’ manner over the surface, thus providing a
precise measuring result in a very short period of time. Over the years, the TC76-DIGILOG touch probe
introduced in 2010 has been followed by a number of DIGILOG measuring systems: In 2012, for example,
the TC64-DIGILOG with BRC radio technology or in 2013, the first surface roughness gauge for automatic
testing of workpiece surfaces in machining centres. The LC50-DIGILOG laser system was unveiled in 2017.
By providing thousands of measuring values per second, this technology now also makes tool
measurement in machining centres considerably faster, more precise, extremely in-process reliable and
future-proof thanks to state-of-the-art application options.
From the middle of the 1980s onwards, BLUM has undertaken a considerable amount of development
work in the field of laser measuring technology for machine tools. This step was a logical consequence of
the previous approach with tactile measuring systems. It was way back in 1982 that company founder
Günther Blum had the idea of creating a laser capable of monitoring tools. The first test setups from
1987 onwards worked with a helium neon laser tube which was perfect with regard to beam quality, but
which was non-viable due to the excessively long warm-up time, unsatisfying service life and size. The
availability of red-light laser diodes led to the breakthrough of applicable systems and BLUM was
therefore able to introduce the first marketable laser measuring system for tool breakage detection back
This was soon followed by more compact systems that, besides breakage detection, enabled tool
measurement using a laser. The third generation launched in 2001 featured the suffix NT – for New
Technology. With the help of an integrated microprocessor, the capabilities of the laser measuring
systems increased significantly so that, for instance, wear and run-out monitoring or monitoring of
individual cutting edges also became possible. Additionally, the impact of coolants on the measuring
result could be reduced drastically. In 2007, BLUM boosted the trend towards combined turning/milling
machines and launched the NT-H 3D system: A hybrid system combining a touch probe and a laser
system which for the first time enabled the measurement and monitoring of the complete tool range of
turning/milling machines. Finally, transfer of the DIGILOG technology from touch probes to the laser
systems in 2017 was a leap in technology.
Heribert Bucher, Manager of the Measuring Components Division, explains: “The special spirit that
prevails in our company was, for example, demonstrated a few years back when we were criticised
during a management seminar exercise for not observing the specifications. At BLUM, we don’t work
according to strict rules because we like working together and developing new solutions. We don’t slow
people down but let them get on with their work – this is how innovation evolves.”
In 1994, or roughly 25 year ago, the Willich-based firm Novotest, a manufacturer of test stands, was
incorporated into the company – Blum-Novotest was born. This divison develops and builds test stands
for functional, performance and endurance tests for the automotive and hydraulics industry, for example
for testing transmissions and drive shafts. The transmission test stands built by Blum-Novotest have been
an integral element of the automotive industry for decades. The range of applications that the business
division implements for leading vehicle and transmission manufacturers extends from small cars to
electric city buses, from manual to automatic and double-clutch transmissions, and from development
test stands to interlinked production test stands. The drive shaft test stands built by Blum-Novotest
simulate the relevant operating conditions on drive shafts in vehicles. Furthermore, the business division
develops and manufactures test stands for hydraulic systems, steering systems and hose lines.
And it could not have been planned better to demonstrate how the company is increasingly growing
together: At the TECH-TALK to mark the 50th anniversary, Blum-Novotest presented the first product line
which combines the know-how of all three business divisions in a test stand series for machine tool
spindles: The innovative test stands are available both as laboratory and end-of-line test stands and
enable full testing and evaluation of the spindle quality. Machine tool manufacturers can use them, for
instance, to avoid cost-intensive warranty claims and service calls by guaranteeing product quality prior
to installation and/or delivery. If a spindle has been tested on a Blum-Novotest test stand prior to
delivery and the LC50-DIGILOG laser measuring system is installed in the machine tool, it is possible to
continuously compare the differences between the current and the delivered status. After all, properties
such as, the run-out characteristic are already recorded in the test stand using the high-end laser
measuring system. This way, spindle performance can be documented throughout the entire product life
cycle. The highlight of the new test stand series is the innovative test software: It successfully brings
together the experience gained in almost 30 years of test stand development for the global automotive
industry. For example, it enables the creation of test sequences for various applications such as reversing
mode, maximum speed test, special tests, etc. and can easily be adapted to specific customer
Besides its products, Blum-Novotest also continues to develop and grow as a company: The second half
of the 1990s, for example, was marked by two main priorities: The start of the company’s
internationalisation process and the realisation that the provision of hardware alone is not sufficient –
customers need complete solutions that are easy to implement. As a result, the company began focusing
more on software development and applications advice. Winning the innovation award for the BLUM
laser system at the machine tool exhibition MACH96 in Birmingham in 1996 marked the starting point of
internationalisation. Up to then, the main focus had been on the German and Central European Markets.
Expansion commenced with initial subsidiaries in the USA, Great Britain, Japan, France and Italy, and
was followed by a second wave of expansion in the years up until 2006 that included BLUM subsidiaries
in Taiwan, Korea, China and Singapore. In the third phase, greater focus was placed on regional markets,
including Brazil, Mexico, Russia, India, Eastern European countries and Spain. Today, BLUM is
represented by its own subsidiaries, a close-knit sales and service network and well-trained service
partners, around the world wherever customers need the company.
What drives an enterprise like Blum-Novotest and its management? Alexander Blum, Managing
Director of the company since 2001, explains: “We are not growing simply for the sake of it. But if you
want to achieve sustainable economic success in our sector today, you need to have a global presence,
be innovative and be able to offer a complete, comprehensive portfolio. All over the world, we render
the same high-quality service combined with application support, thereby allowing our customers to
benefit from the profitable deployment of our products. At the end of the day, our customers produce
more good parts with an overall higher quality finish – and that is what really counts.”
Training and service have therefore become key factors besides software development; a fact that was,
amongst others, demonstrated by the construction of the Customer Centre in 2015. Users and customers
can now find or optimise solutions for their applications together with BLUM hardware and software
developers directly at the Grünkraut site. Furthermore, the building is used as a training centre where
machine manufacturers and users receive training in free workshops several times a year. In 2017, BLUM
topped off its software offer with the in-house app ‘measureXpert’. Thanks to the app, cycle calls for
various control systems and measuring products can be generated very quickly and easily and accepted
in the NC program via drag and drop. The user enters basic data step by step and the app delivers the
Today, Grünkraut and Willich are home to a healthy company that continues to grow, and this could
not be better expressed than through the building activity going on there. Visitors to the TECH-TALK
were, for instance, able to see for themselves construction of the new assembly building, which will
more than double the current production capacities. The production capability at the Willich site has also
been more than tripled through the acquisition of adjacent buildings in 2011 and the current
construction of a new assembly hall. Worldwide, almost 550 employees make sure this success story
Alexander Blum ventures a look into the future: “Trends like Industry 4.0 and IoT play into our hands:
The process is increasingly moving into the spotlight – and our products are the perfect fit here. As my
father realised very early on, measuring inside the machine has become an indispensable part of this
process. The trend towards adaptive manufacturing also follows this path – an machined part is not
milled blindly, instead measurements take place according to a reasonable measuring strategy and
machining is adapted to achieve the desired end result.”
Blum-Novotest: A company evolves organically throughout its entire history, one innovation leads to
another – but still, the family-run company has continued to present disruptive leaps in technology:
From being involved in the most successful machine tool ever to innovative new product ranges such as
roughness measurement. The Upper Swabian way of life combined with an innovation-driven company
philosophy and committed employees – this is Blum-Novotest’s formula of success.
Reinventing laser measuring technology – World debut of the new LC50-DIGILOG
Blum-Novotest, the leading manufacturer of innovative and high-quality measuring and testing technology, presents the new laser measuring system LC50-DIGILOG. BLUM is presenting this ground-breaking system that has been completely redeveloped to revolutionise and future-proof the speed, precision and in-process reliability of tool measurement in machine tools thanks to the latest possible applications. The hardware also features lots of brilliant technical innovations.
Alexander Blum, President of Blum-Novotest GmbH, says: “In-machine measurement has become established as an integral element of high-end CNC machining. Automated machines and virtually all five-axis machining centres are nowadays equipped with BLUM laser measuring systems. The prerequisite for this was the outstanding performance of systems under the harshest conditions as well as the associated possibilities in terms of automated tool measurement and monitoring. Based on that, it was by no means easy to upgrade the tried and proven laser measuring technology with NT technology. We achieved this innovative advancement by implementing the DIGILOG technology familiar from touch probes in the laser measuring system.”
BLUM laser measuring systems have always been renowned for their high precision and in-process reliability. Thanks to the newly implemented DIGILOG technology, those attributes have been enhanced to a never before imagined level. Whereas the proven digital/switching laser measuring systems using NT technology only generate a small number of signals for recording measurements by shadowing the tool, the new DIGILOG laser measuring systems generate many thousands of measurement values per second while dynamically adjusting the measuring speed according to the nominal speed of the tool. The new laser measuring system LC50-DIGILOG also measures each cutting edge individually, rather than just determining the value for the longest cutting edge, meaning it is possible to make a comparison from the shortest to the longest cutting edge. As a result, run-out errors, caused by contamination on the taper of the tool holder for example, are also automatically detected. Furthermore, the new LC50-DIGILOG detects any contaminants and cooling lubricants adhering to the tool – due to the large number of measurements per cutting edge – and deducts them from the result to make measurement results even more reliable.
The many new ideas implemented by the BLUM developers in the LC50-DIGILOG have resulted in impressive advantages for users: Firstly, measurement and testing times have been shortened by up to 60 percent. In addition, the optics in the system were further improved so that the new generation achieves an absolute accuracy that is better than all comparable measuring systems thanks to an optimised beam shape and a 30 percent smaller focus diameter. BLUM's developers have also further improved the homogeneity of the laser beam, making further analogue measurements possible. The influence of coolant mist has been further reduced enabling improvements in accuracy and in-process reliability. And despite its reduced external dimensions, the optimised design enables the measurement of tools that are up to 30 percent bigger, depending on the version used.
The compact BLUM smartDock represents another world-first. This innovative standard interface serves as the basis for all new support systems and contains all the necessary pneumatic valves in addition to the electrical, mechanical and pneumatic connections between the machine and laser measuring system. If the compressed air quality is in accordance with ISO 8573-1 class 1.3.1, the separate pneumatic unit required for the LaserControl NT can even be omitted completely.
“With the LC50-DIGILOG laser measuring system, we have succeeded in raising a tried and proven technology to a new level. In addition to realising the shortest measurement times, optimised precision and in-process reliability, users will also profit in the future from new, ground-breaking applications. These include the 3D ToolControl software, which enables continuous digilog-based contour measurement of tools – including the visualisation on the control screen – which far exceeds the functions of significantly more expensive and complex image-processing systems. Or the new ‘SpindleControl’ technology cycle, which can be used to record and evaluate the state of a spindle bearing“, sums up Alexander Blum.
Established in 1968 and based in Ravensburg, Blum-Novotest GmbH is one of the globally leading manufacturers of high-quality measuring and testing technology for the international machine tool, aerospace and car industry. Today, the family-run company employs more than 500 staff at a total of eight sites in Europe and in the USA, China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, India, Brazil and Thailand. Together with specially trained system integrators and regional sales offices, this sales and service network guarantees comprehensive support for Blum products in use throughout the world. www.blum-novotest.com
Probes by BLUM keep BBS wheels running smoothly
Robust BLUM touch probes in use at BBS
The wheels count amongst the most important design elements of a car, and many owners use light alloy rims to give their car a more individual, sporting look. Very often they choose products from BBS, which achieved cult status after it started producing a golden, three-piece cross-spoke model in the 1980s. The cast rims are subjected to a turning process, and as part of this BBS uses high-precision touch probes from Blum-Novotest in its main plant in Schiltach, Germany.
The most important step in producing the cast rims at BBS involves machining the centre. “First, this means turning the centring hole in the middle of the rim to an accuracy of a hundredth of a millimetre. Then the groove on which the hub cap will be placed is turned. This also requires extreme precision so as to make sure that the cap fits properly,” explains Oliver Kalmbach from the Procurement department. “The positional tolerance at the centre of the rim blank is larger than the tolerance that is available to us for the cap groove, so we have to re-measure each rim before it is machined. That is why we have always used touch probes in the lathes.” The wireless touch probes are attached to the turret together with the turning tools, and they are swivelled to the machining position for the measurement operation. Then the machine can carry out the required measurements with the touch probe and adjust the zero point in the NC program in such a way that the centring hole and the cap groove can be machined exactly.
At BBS, the cutting parameters can be very demanding: 3 mm cutting depth and 1000 to 2500 RPM are quite common. And during these operations, the touch probes are subjected to the direct flow of the cooling lubricant and a full barrage of chips. Also, the turning operation causes strong vibrations, for instance when the lathe tool has not yet found its way completely into the material or when it encounters small cavities in the aluminium. These vibrations are transmitted to the probe via the turret on which both the tool and the probe are fixed, which can cause erroneous measurements.
Faced with the unusually difficult challenges at BBS, where the vibrations are stronger than with other turning applications, the lower mass of the BLUM TC62 probe works to its best advantage. The T variant was selected, because it has a higher measuring force compared with the standard version for milling machines, and this prevents erroneous deflections that could be caused by the extreme turret movements. Also, the higher measuring force means that the viscous oil used in lathes as cooling lubricant can be reliably displaced during the measurement. Finally, the touch probe fulfils the requirements of protection class IP68, so there are no problems in connection with ingress of moisture or chips. In addition, a newly developed vibration damper was used between the tool holder and the touch probe for the first time. This protects the measurement electronics against damage due to the worst vibration peaks.
One of the main advantages of BLUM’s TC62 T probe is the special measurement tool technology: The trigger signal is not generated by means of a mechanical contact, but optoelectronically via shading of a miniature light barrier inside the touch probe. This means that it is completely wear-free, guarantees the greatest possible reliability even under extreme operating conditions and, in contrast to a mechanical solution, it is not influenced by the strong vibrations in the lathe. On top of that, the radio transmission of the TC62 T touch probe is extremely fast and reliable: It sends the data that have been registered to the receiver using BRC radio technology. The advantage of this technology consists in each individual bit of a radio signal being run across the entire width of the frequency band, thus making transmission particularly resistant to interference.
BBS has now switched completely to BLUM touch probes, and new machines are equipped exclusively with them. The newly developed vibration damper has been functioning smoothly in combination with the robust touch probes for more than 1½ years now. “The BLUM touch probes have provided us with an extremely reliable technology. Also, the Blum-Novotest probes shorten the measuring time by 70%, because the measuring points can be approached at speeds of 2000 mm/min, whereas the probes we used previously only managed 300 mm/min at the most,” says very a satisfied Oliver Kalmbach. “The good cooperation with Blum-Novotest has been very beneficial: A reliable partner as well as reliability and speed in the machining process.”
BBS was founded in 1970 by Heinrich Baumgartner and Klaus Brand in Schiltach. At first, only plastic chassis parts were produced, but then a three-piece racing wheel was launched in 1972. From that moment onwards, the company maintained a high profile in motorsports. In addition to the year-round product programme for the aftermarket, another core segment of the company is the supply of original equipment to leading car manufacturers – thanks to BBS’s high quality standards and many years of experience. All products are manufactured in Germany. The customers include Audi, Porsche and AMG, as well as Mazda and Hyundai. The Schiltach and Herbolzheim sites provide work for over 500 employees.