Considering that CAD came into widespread use after the introduction of the IBM-compatible personal computer in 1981, many believe that CAD originated with the PC. This view is not true. The unfolding of events over a time span of 21-years (1964 to 1985) that led to the birth of a new force in the CAD industry is not only inspiring but affirms the role of ideas in the transformation of industries by delivering significant value that sticks.
The work of Dr. Ivan Sutherland in the early 1960s was a milestone in the development of vector-based computer graphics software. His 1963 doctoral dissertation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) described Sketch-Pad, an interactive CRT graphics system that could be used to draw a line on screen when a light pen was tapped to identify its start and end points. His thesis described data structures for storing geometric entities that formed the basis upon which today’s CAD systems are based.
At about the same time, several large companies in various industries also began experimenting with computer graphics as a means of developing design drawings. Aerospace companies such as Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and Lockheed began to explore ways to exploit computer graphics technology for the design of aircrafts and missiles. Automobile manufacturing firms such as General Motors began work to apply computer graphics technology to design cars. Electronics companies such as Motorola, and Fairchild began to use this technology for the design and manufacture of printed circuit boards.Computer graphics systems at the time could only run on mainframe computers. Only large companies with dedicated computer support staff could afford to invest in the research and development of systems for such use. One thing was clear though. The use of interactive computer graphics was indeed helping these companies save time and money.
In an effort to bring the technology to a wider audience a new generation of companies known as turnkey computer graphics vendors, came into being. Silicon Graphics, Inc. and ComputerVision were among the first in this genre of companies. These companies independently developed high-performance computer graphics systems and bundled hardware, software, support, and peripherals (graphics terminals, disk drives, memory, floating-point processors, pointing devices, printers and plotters) in a value-added package available from a single source.
The philosophy that drove turnkey computer graphics vendors was that many companies and government agencies have a need for computer graphics, but not all have either the technical or financial resources to develop such systems in-house. By investing in the development of this technology for a wider audience the cost per site would be much lower than if the system were developed for a single site. This proved to be a sound business principle, and such companies thrived.
Intergraph as Turnkey CAD Vendor
In the late 1960s during the Apollo moon mission years a few managers at IBM, led by Jim Meadlock, left the company to form M&S Computing and entered the computer graphics world. The company got its start as a consultant for NASA developing real-time software and it developed a printed circuit board design and a mapping software package. Of these packages the mapping software was more general purpose in nature and useful to other industries.
M&S Computing had success in marketing its mapping package to oil companies that relied on geophysical sciences for their business. This success led the company in the mid-1970s to enhance the system and call it IGDS, an acronym for Interactive Graphics Design System. This system was flexible and able to support the creation of drawings in virtually any engineering design discipline.In the beginning IGDS ran on 16-bit PDP11 minicomputers manufactured by Digital, a company that was acquired by Compaq Corporation that in turn was acquired by HP. M&S Computing was an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) of Digital computers. The company specialized in modifying these computers with its own graphics subsystems for fast graphics performance and bundled its IGDS software, peripherals and support to become a turnkey vendor of interactive graphics systems.
In 1980 the company changed its name from M&S Computing to Intergraph, a word formed by combining parts of the two words interactive and graphics, the company’s primary business. During this time, Intergraph also switched its product line from the 16-bit PDP11 to Digital’s more powerful 32-bit VAX minicomputer line. Intergraph built upon its initial success by continuing to expand its user base. The company marketed its turnkey systems to various industries with discipline-specific add-on solutions that enhanced IGDS.
Intergraph built its reputation as a vendor of powerful CAD systems for government agencies and large companies. In fact, an overwhelming majority of State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and Fortune100 companies began using Intergraph systems to make it a firm with over a billion dollars in annual revenues.
Bentley Develops MicroStation
DuPont, a global chemical company, was a large user of Intergraph CAD systems. In 1978, at its Delaware plant, the company hired Keith Bentley to support its CAD operations. Keith was still in college working toward his graduate engineering degree. He was assigned the task of developing an application to automate the creation of P&ID—piping and instrumentation diagrams—schematic drawings in batch mode.While developing his application Keith quickly discovered that access to IGDS, though vital to his efforts, was not easy. Intergraph CAD workstations, at nearly $75,000 per seat were at a premium and were kept busy round the clock with three shifts. To open IGDS design files so he could develop his application more expeditiously, Keith wrote, primarily on his own time, a piece of software he called PseudoStation. The software was written in FORTRAN on the VAX and was designed to provide read-only access to IGDS drawings on inexpensive VT-100 terminals equipped with a graphics card. The name PseudoStation referred to the fact that the graphics card equipped terminal was not really a CAD station, but a pseudo CAD station. Little did Keith realize at the time that his work would lead to a fantastic journey putting him on top of a company with world-wide operations that supports over 1,000 employees!
The software, though not officially sanctioned by DuPont, became an unqualified hit at the plant where Keith worked. And gradually, it found its way to other plants that used IGDS. While Keith was writing CAD software, his four brothers were also making their mark in the software business.
Greg, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an MBA degree and worked at the Yardley Group, an actuarial consulting company in Philadelphia. He soon left the firm to found Devon Systems, Inc., a successful developer of securities exchange software, which he later left to join Bentley Systems, Inc. Barry graduated from Cal Tech with a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and founded Dynamic Solutions with two college friends. They developed chemical analysis software for the Apple II in assembly language. Scott earned a degree in economics and worked in the software business. He was employed at Scientific Time-Sharing Corporation in Philadelphia as an APL programmer. Ray earned a degree in mechanical engineering and worked on jet engines at another large company, General Electric. He is particularly strong in mathematics and was to take on the challenge of enhancing MicroStation’s 3D tools.
The Bentley brothers, clockwise from rear left: Scott, Barry, Ray, Greg, and Keith.
About the time when Keith wrote PseudoStation, Barry was looking to diversify his chemical analysis software portfolio and invited Keith to join him in California. Keith agreed to quit his job at DuPont to try his hand at business and PseudoStation figured in his thoughts. Before leaving DuPont, Keith acquired the rights to PseudoStation in exchange for his promise to support the software that had become very popular at the company. Today DuPont has several thousand MicroStation licenses as a result of that agreement.On his way to California, Keith stopped at Intergraph headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama with the intention of selling PseudoStation for a few thousand dollars. That Intergraph was not interested proved to be a disappointment for the moment, but a thankful coincidence that would lead to riches beyond Keith’s wildest dreams.
Though the software Barry’s Dynamic Solutions developed was of excellent quality, it did not do very well as a business. Meanwhile, Keith was convinced that there was a future in PseudoStation. If DuPont saw value in the relatively inexpensive terminal-based software, scores of other Intergraph customers would be interested in the software. This led to the formation by Keith and Barry of Bentley Systems, Inc. in 1984 to pursue the future of PseudoStation. The early success of the software that was sold at $7,500 a copy led them to bring in Scott to run the business side of the company.
By the time the brothers decided to move to the East Coast in 1986, they had sold 350 copies of the software. The remarkable success of the personal computer in businesses and the growing acceptance of relatively under-powered CAD software running on PCs convinced Keith that the future of PseudoStation lay in a feature-complete version of the software running on microcomputers. Thus was born MicroStation: a full-featured Intergraph IGDS-compatible CAD station running on microcomputers.At this point in the history of MicroStation the focus shifted from turnkey systems to the development of computer graphics software that could run on workstations and personal computers customers already had. This has led to an even lower cost of entry to the world of professional CAD.
NOTE: This is an unedited dump of text from pages 4-9 of Ranjit's book, Teach Yourself MicroStation/J that was published by Alpha Press, Ranjit's former employer, in January 1999 [ISBN: 1-892658-00-3]. Editing of the blog is pending, along with the insertion of images to make this article more current and visually appealing. Please bear with us as we schedule time to take care of this obligation we owe you.