125 years MM Maschinenmarkt

From the flexible shaft to the Smart Factory

| Author / Editor: Benedikt Hofmann / Theresa Knell

Folded lasers gained importance from 1989 onwards.
Folded lasers gained importance from 1989 onwards. (Source: Trumpf)

Today, Trumpf is the global market leader in machine tools and laser technology and is well known to every expert in the industrial sector. The company, which started as a small workshop, has achieved this status through numerous innovations.

If you take a look at companies that have succeeded in asserting themselves on the market over many decades and have been able to grow constantly, you quickly realize that there are two things that are particularly important: Flexibility and innovation. A good example of this thesis is the high-tech company Trumpf based in Ditzingen, Germany, which has developed from a workshop for flexible shafts to a world market leader in the field of machine tools and lasers.

The early years

This success story began in 1923 with the acquisition of the mechanical workshop Julius Geiger GmbH in Stuttgart by the businessman Christian Trumpf and two business partners. At that time, the company manufactured flexible shafts that were initially used by dentists. However, the development of the motor drive soon opened up new industrial applications for this product and the shafts were also used for processing wood and metal. Due to the expanded utilization of the products, the company grew to 70 employees by 1927 and moved to the Stuttgart suburb of Weilimdorf in 1933.

The flexible shaft marked the beginning of the company's history. Motorized solutions (the picture shows the "Trumpf universal machine, TUM 1100") have opened up completely new markets for this product.
The flexible shaft marked the beginning of the company's history. Motorized solutions (the picture shows the "Trumpf universal machine, TUM 1100") have opened up completely new markets for this product. (Source: Trumpf)

The company demonstrated its inventive spirit in 1934 by presenting the first motor-driven hand shears for sheet metal. The HSP 201, the first manual shears, formed the basis for a whole series of manual tools. Due to this shift in the product focus, it was a logical step to rename the company to "Trumpf & Co., formerly Julius Geiger GmbH".

Predecessor of the punching machine

In 1947, Christian Trumpf made a decision that turned out be groundbreaking for the future of his company: He decided to build a stationary curve shear machine, a forerunner of the punching machine. In order to be able to present this innovative system adequately to customers, Trumpf also took innovative paths in marketing. For example, a mobile demonstration system was developed for the "TRUMPF TAS stationary curve shears" in the form of a delivery van with built-in curve shears. They were used to demonstrate the use of the machines to the customers. The following years showed that the decision to build stationary machines was the right one. By 1950, Trumpf had increased the number of employees to 145 and for the first time generated more than 1 million German marks. With the TAS 4, the company developed another technical milestone in 1950. It was the company’s first curve shear equipped with adjustable stroke.

The production of the curve shears - a forerunner of today's punching machines.
The production of the curve shears - a forerunner of today's punching machines. (Source: Trumpf)

An era dawns

Also in 1950, a twenty-year-old high school graduate named Berthold Leibinger began his training at Trumpf. No one could foresee at the time what impact his mind-set would have on the company. After being admitted to university, Leibinger abandoned his training and began studying mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Stuttgart. For his experimental diploma thesis, which he began in 1956, Leibinger returned to the company. The result of this development work was to be the first of many inventions that made Trumpf what it is today. In 1958, Leibinger moved to the USA, where he worked as a development engineer for Cincinnati Milling Machines, the largest machine tool manufacturer in the world at that time. A few years later, however, his path led him back to the Swabian machine builder.

The start into the numerical age

Even during Leibinger's temporary absence, people in Weilimdorf were not idle. With the patent for the coordinate guide of sheet metal in 1957, automation was introduced into the machines. Since the sheets could be guided even more precisely than by the operator, it became possible to nibble cutouts and contours down to the millimeter.

The coordinate guide formed the beginning of automation in Trumpf machines.
The coordinate guide formed the beginning of automation in Trumpf machines. (Source: Trumpf)

Innovations such as these drove Trumpf's continued growth, employing 325 people by 1961 and generating a turnover of 11 million German marks. In the same year Berthold Leibinger returned to Weilimdorf. In his position of head of the design department, he initially led a team of seven employees in a hut on the company premises.

During this time Trumpf also laid the foundation for the further development of the company. The TKF 100, a portable pneumatic beveller which for the first time allowed sheets to be easily beveled prior to welding, was a total success and enabled the company to invest large sums in development.

With perforated punched tape towards automated production

In the late 1960s and 70s, Trumpf definitely started to develop into the company it is today. The "Trumatic 20", which caused a sensation at the 11th European Machine Tool Exhibition in 1968, marked the starting signal for this development. The machine was nothing less than the first sheet metal processing machine with numerical continuous path control. With the exception of tool changing, this technology enabled the Trumatic 20 to operate fully automatically. At that time, the information required to process the workpiece was still stored on punched tape.

At the same time, the first steps towards laser technology were taken at Trumpf. With the "Trumatic 180 Laserpress", the company presented its first market-ready machine in this sector in 1979. It was a combination punch laser machine with a power of 500 watts. The built-in CO2 Laser was still purchased from the American company Coherent.

The "Trumatic 180 Laserpress" was Trumpf's first market-ready laser machine in 1979.
The "Trumatic 180 Laserpress" was Trumpf's first market-ready laser machine in 1979. (Source: Trumpf)

Finding the right home

Between these two events, however, there was a move to Ditzingen, where Trumpf is still located to this day. Both the production conditions and the infrastructure in Stuttgart-Weilimdorf no longer met the requirements of the company, which had now grown to 800 employees. And so the company relocated in 1972. Already on 30 June 1969, Christian Trumpf resigned as sole authorised signatory manager in favour of Hugo Schwarz, who had already joined the company in 1953 as shareholder and commercial managing director, and Berthold Leibinger. The transfer of the shares from Christian Trumpf and Anna Trumpf to Schwarz and Leibinger was announced in the Commercial Register of the Stuttgart District Court in November 1973. Both spouses remained partners of the Trumpf Verwaltungs- und Beteiligungs-Gesellschaft mbH until their death.

In 1980, just one year after the Trumatic 180 Laserpress had already been presented, Trumpf set the next milestone by launching a system for plasma cutting. The "Trumatic Plasmapress 300" combines punching, nibbling, and plasma cutting on a single machine. In contrast to many other innovations of the company’s developers, plasma cutting was, however, only important for a short time. Since the power of lasers has increased significantly to this day, plasma technology hardly plays a role anymore.

The breakthrough of the laser

At Trumpf, the 1980s were all about laser. In 1985, the company presented the first CO2 laser developed and produced in-house and thus established itself as a laser manufacturer. The "Trumpf Laser TLF 1000" had a beam power of 1 kilowatt and, according to the company, was the first compact laser resonator featuring high-frequency excitation. At the same time, Haas Strahltechnik developed the first fiber optic cable for industrial use in solid-state lasers.

A current CO2 laser model from Trumpf.
A current CO2 laser model from Trumpf. (Source: Trumpf)

Its yellow color has remained the norm to this day. Trumpf was later to take over the Haas Strahltechnik division, which was spun off to Haas-Laser GmbH + Co. KG in 1986. In 1991, Haas-Laser was represented at the Euroblech for the first time on the Trumpf stand. Another innovation of the 1980s was the first "folded" laser, which was to develop into a real top seller. The technology was presented for the first time at the European Machine Tool Exhibition in Hanover in a "Trumatic 240 Laserpress".

Trumpf becomes a Germany-wide company

Like with the technological developments before that, Trumpf also approached the political changes of the early 1990s with an open mind and a clear vision. As one of the first West German companies, Trumpf ventured a substantial investment in the new Germany states and in 1992 acquired Sächsische Werkzeug- und Sondermaschinen GmbH, which had previously been managed by the Treuhandanstalt (trust agency) Berlin. The new subsidiary of the Trumpf Group received the order to develop a waterjet cutting machine, which was presented at the Euroblech in the same year. The machine did not remain in the company's portfolio for long, but Trumpf's presence in eastern Germany did last. At an event in 2018, Chancellor Angela Merkel explicitly praised the company for its commitment in the then new German states.

But Trumpf did not only venture into the new states in the 1990s, but also tackled new fields of business. In addition to new processes, which were added to the product portfolio, new business areas were added, including medical technology. In 1999, Trumpf introduced the first diode-pumped disk laser with 1 kilowatt laser power as a laboratory device. Shortly afterwards, the laser was ready for series production. Today, the disk laser is the platform for all Trumpf high-performance solid-state lasers.

The new millennium is characterized by change

In 2005, Dr. Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller succeeded her father at the helm of the company.
In 2005, Dr. Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller succeeded her father at the helm of the company. (Source: Trumpf)

With the start of the new millennium, not only technical but also important personnel changes took place. In 2005, after more than 40 years, Prof. Berthold Leibinger handed over the management of the company to his daughter Dr. Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller (Chairman of the Management Board) and his son Peter Leibinger (Deputy Chairman). Until 2012, Prof. Leibinger took over as Chairman of the Supervisory Board. As of 31 December 2012, he retired for reasons of age. Dr. Jürgen Hambrecht, former Chairman of BASF SE, was elected as his successor.

Berthold Leibinger died on October 16 in his hometown of Stuttgart. Before that, however, he was able to witness how his successors led his company to new heights.

From automation to industry 4.0

The most important achievements included the new generation of the "TruLaser 3030," which came onto the market in 2008 and featured an integrated pallet changer and modular automation options, and the "TruLaser 5030 fiber. Thanks to the Trudisk solid-state laser, this machine could triple feed rates. In 2013, the company's development efforts were also recognized by the highest authorities. For their entry "Production with light flashes – ultrashort pulse lasers for industrial mass production", researchers from Trumpf, Bosch, and the University of Jena were awarded the prestigious German Future Prize from the German Federal President.

In the years that followed, Trumpf proved its ability to identify new business fields and to drive them forward through innovation several times. An example of this is the establishment of Axoom - an IT service for manufacturing companies. With its modular solutions, Axoom enables production companies to move towards Industry 4.0. The potential of additive manufacturing, which is on everyone's lips today, was recognized by the company at an early stage. As early as 2003, a machine for the selective melting of metal was launched under the name "TrumaForm". This was already an industrial solution and Trumpf was well ahead of its time. In 2014, the company stepped up its commitment in this area again and presented new machines for 3D printing of metal parts at Formnext 2015.

In its Smart Factory, Trumpf presents the production of the future.
In its Smart Factory, Trumpf presents the production of the future. (Source: Trumpf)

With the opening of its own Smart Factory in Chicago in autumn 2017, Trumpf demonstrated the possibilities of Industry 4.0. The technology center was designed entirely with networked solutions in mind and is used primarily for consulting and training customers who want to introduce digitally networked manufacturing solutions in their own production.

With around 13,400 employees, the Trumpf Group generated sales of around 3.6 billion euros in the 2017/18 financial year.

This article was first published by MM MaschinenMarkt.

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