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From customising flip-flops for rich US boat owners to helping Rolls-Royce manufacture the next generation of aircraft engines, Delcam is a successful Birmingham software company probably few outside the world of advanced engineering have heard of.
But the company, now a subsidiary of Autodesk of the US, is the world’s largest producer of the specialist software that drives machine tools, including the milling machines found in US shopping malls crafting Yooshu, the custom-made flip-flop.
Originally a 1960s Cambridge university research project, Delcam has a global workforce of 770, including 300 at its development centre in Birmingham’s Small Heath.
Competitors include Siemens of Germany and Dassault, the French software developer. It relies on exports for 85 per cent of turnover, which in 2012 — the last year it reported as an independent company — reached £47m.
In February 2014, it was acquired by Autodesk for about £175m in what, at the time, was described as the biggest deal in the sector.
Hugh Humphreys, and other members of the original management team, enjoyed a payday as did Renishaw, the Gloucestershire-based engineering company that owned 20 per cent of the company.
Delcam is now run as a wholly owned subsidiary, but with its own sales and marketing and research teams.
The way Bart Simpson, senior commercial director, explains it, Delcam provides the brains behind the expensive kit that produces most household and industrial products.
In aerospace or automotive, shoe production or the cutting of watch faces and minting of coins, Delcam software helps manufacturers improve processes, reduce waste and raise productivity.
In the company’s advanced manufacturing facility in the Birmingham office, Mr Simpson is engaged in a different sort of challenge — how to make a gas turbine with discs and blades out of one piece of metal.
“The piece that’s spinning around is the disc with all the individual blades, and this whole thing was machined out of a single billet of metal.
“You obtain a higher performance that way. But it’s a real challenge to make,” says Mr Simpson peering through the inspection glass on a CNC cutting machine where a part from Rolls-Royce’s advance 3 prototype engine is just visible in a spray of water.
“We have customers who repair single blades. But in 10 years’ time, the question will be how do you repair one of these ‘blisks’?
That will be the new opportunity. But that’s how we move things forward.”
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