PTC changed the world of 3D design


Almost by Accident



In the beginning

In 1985 computers occupied huge air-conditioned and noisy rooms and were available in large companies, government and colleges. Remote access was possible with acoustical couplers to telephones and dumb terminals, all operating at the amazingly blinding speed of 19.6kb. There had been several efforts to create 3D modelling in colleges and companies who made machines for electronic drawing boards, such as Applicon, Calma and Computervision, companies which are unknown to most of today’s readers. These efforts in 3D modelling were not able to be used in many day-to-day design operations. Simply put design is like writing an article. It is a process of continual review and modification, until the creator is satisfied with the result. None of the systems of 3D modelling available at that time allowed for straightforward modification.

I had been in charge of development of CAD products at Prime Computer, another company which is not well known today, and their efforts with multiple products: mechanical design, with a 2 ½ D drafting product call Medusa, an in-house electrical design product, a data management product originally from Ford Motor Company called PDGS(Product Design Graphics System), and a plant design system from The CAD Centre in Cambridge, UK (now Aveva) called PDMS, which was used in the design of oil refineries, nuclear power plants, etc. An effort had been started by Vladimir Geisberg to create a new 3D design product, Vladimir was previously at Computervision. At that time, it was a very laborious process, there were few external tools that one could rely on. In a way it was a step into the dark. One of the key contributors was Leonid Raiz, who had also worked at Computervision prior to coming to Prime. During this time, it was clear that Leonid was an outstanding player in his understanding of how to model 3D geometry.

After I had left Prime computer, I received a phone call a person who said that I did not know him, but that he got my number from his brother, who said that he should talk with me. His name was Sam Geisberg. Sam said that he had been writing some software and would like to show it to me.

The breakfast

I was intrigued enough about what Sam had said on the phone to accept his invitation to breakfast. During breakfast, Sam described what he was trying to create, and offered to show me. We went to the offices of Adage Inc, in Billerica Massachusetts. Adage was a company which made graphics terminals.  Richard N. Spann, who had been a founder of Applicon, was the CEO of Adage. I learned that Adage and one other had given Sam some seed capital ($150,000), and use of a small office space. Sam had explained to Dick Spann what he would like to do, and Dick with his Applicon background became a believer.

At this office, I met Danny Dean, a young mechanical engineer, and he demonstrated an amazing piece of software. Danny made a profile of a bracket, extruded it, sketched a circle in the middle of the bracket, place two dimensions to the edged, and then extruded the circle to make a hole all the way through bracket. Nice, but then he changed one of the dimensions, positioning the circle, and the hole position changed in sympathy. All of this on a bird brain computer called a PC AT. In short, Sam asked what I thought, in a heavy Russian accent, to which I responded, in a heavy English accent, that I liked it. He explained that he had some seed money, and was attempting to raise venture capital. I agreed to join in a help get this venture, called SPG Consulting going.

The venture capital, or lack thereof

Sam and I did the tour of the Boston based venture firms. The pattern was nearly always the same. We tried to explain, and they tried to understand. Some had their experts who showed that they thought they understood. There was never a meeting of the minds except for Don Feddersen of Charles River Ventures who became a believer. But it would take more than one believer in the VC community to get a deal done. Nothing happened, except for spending the rest of the funds paying the taxes which were due. We all went on vacation, in the belief that this was not going to work. It was a really native time. We had made progress in what the software could do. We had obtained access to one of the Adage VAX minicomputers, and moved the software from a bird brain to something a little more suitable for computational geometry. We all thought that this was the end.

Stanley Young and Baldwin Park

After a while, the Company lawyer, Noel Posternak, called and invited us to meet in his office with one of his clients. We arrived in Boston, were introduced to Stanley Young, to whom we gave a presentation. At the end of the presentation, Stanley said “I don’t understand a word of what you two are talking about, but I think you do. So, I am going to give you $300,000 and I am going to get some friends to come up with another $300,000”. So, at that time, we considered that enough money to hire a few people, starting with Leonid Raiz, get a small office, and produce a good enough prototype product, that we could sell the Company to one of the established companies and do alright out of it.

We looked for some inexpensive office space, and found a sublet in Baldwin Park, Woburn, MA. The negotiation went quite well, until we were told that we would have to keep the fancy furniture, since the tenant had nowhere to store it. We figured out how much a storage facility would cost the tenant, and then offered to pay an even lower rent by the value of the storage costs. We also did not want the investors thinking that we have used some of their money to purchase or lease expensive furniture. And, Leonid had a nice chair in his office

Sam was acquainted with Philippe Villers, who had been a founder of Computervision, and now was the CEO of Cognition. We demonstrated the embryo software to Philippe, and he was suitably impressed, that was until one of his technical friends explained that he could do that (he never did). So, we thought, after that, that we would hit bottom again.

The resurrection

Don Feddersen announced that he had agreed with a few other venture firms, including Bessemer, to fund SPG Consulting in the amount of $4,000,000 in 1987. Included in the deal was Steven Walske as CEO, and then C. Richard Harrison as VP Sales on Don Feddersen’s recommendation. During the next 12 months, we found offices in Waltham near Brandeis, the Company spent $2M building the product, establishing a plan for Sales and working on the Marketing plan. The product was renamed from xTop.exe to Pro/Engineer, the Company was renamed from SPG Consulting to Parametric Technology Corporation.

The original plan was to support the product on Vax computers with graphics terminals produced by Tektronix and Adage. However, the emergence of engineering workstations which coupled the computers and the graphics made this choice look obsolete. After much discussion, we decided to bet all on the engineering workstations.  We also pioneered increased frequency and consistency (every 6 months) of new releases of the software containing new functionality which was totally unexpected at that time. Danny drove the relative ease of use of this mechanical design software. These changes made Pro/Engineer affordable in engineering departments, and led to the rapid rise of sales, as the underlying hardware became more and more capable, and less expensive. The product was released in 1988, with sales of $3M rising to $11M in 1989 and then to $45M in 1991. Steve Walske was an outstanding choice as CEO, and Dick Harrison created an unbelievable direct sales force.

Epilogue

PTC went public in 1989, much of the rest of the story is a matter of public record. Many of the players in the early years went on to be significant players in other companies. Parametric established a way of modelling in 3D which did not exist before. The term “Design Intent” has been copied everywhere. PTC’s approach to 3D modelling has been adopted by products such as Solid Edge(Siemens), NX (Siemens), Inventor(Autodesk), CATIA V5 (Dassault Systèmes), OnShape(PTC), and, of course, SolidWorks(Dassault Systèmes). The advent of 32-bit Windows computers changed the world as PTC had changed the world with the advent of the engineering workstation.

PTC has evolved from a tiny office at Adage to an independent public company to this day


Written by Michael Payne - Co-founder of PTC


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25th November

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