On September 8th we celebrated our 25th anniversary here at Computer-Aided Products. I spent some time thinking about what forces shaped the company into what it is today.
After working for four years as an engineer and four years in the Army, starting in 1985 I spent four years at an industrial model shop. At that time most products were still designed in 2D – not always with CAD – and prototypes were machined and fabricated largely by hand. We made some halting steps to modernize, including, eventually, a three axis milling machine and CAM software.
One day in 1988 I got a call from the model shop manager at Polaroid. “Have you heard of a new process?” he asked, “Where they shine a laser on a liquid to make models?” I had not.
In those pre-internet days information about new technology was not easy to come by. Eventually I found an article in the library about this new technology called “Stereolithography.” It so happened that the company had a sales office in Nashua, NH so we had a demonstration.
While novel, the early machines were expensive, slow, and had very limited material properties. But the biggest barrier to introduction was the lack of 3D solid models, or 3D models of any sort. As a job shop, we would be faced with having to create models, and it wasn’t clear customers would pay for them.
But automation of the entire product development process seemed to have a lot of potential. This led to a six month stint as a consultant for a company developing a competing rapid prototyping technology. But when they ran out of funding, there wasn’t enough business in this infant field to sustain a living.
I started surveying people I knew in industry about other technology opportunities. One of them, Rick Quinn, suggested I find a PC-based 3D CAD system. At the time most companies were using 2D CAD, and most were on UNIX workstations.
More surveys of customers gave this idea momentum, and I knew just the system to pick. Although AutoCAD had huge market share in the 2D PC CAD market, they didn’t have 3D. But a year or two earlier I’d purchased my own license of CADKEY to learn 3D modeling.
Manchester, CT-based CADKEY had developed a capable 3D wireframe modeler that ran well on PC’s. In the days of DOS memory limitations this was no trivial achievement. And it so happened that one of the local dealers was leaving the business. The area sales manager was happy to sign me up, even though there were already six dealers in the area and little marketing support: technology providers are inclined to believe that more dealers will automatically bring more sales.
Like most small business startups, the company was “bootstrapped.” I began operations in a spare bedroom with $7,000 in cashed out educational benefits, and a pension fund. This meant I could afford the fastest PC around: a 16mhz 80386 system with add-on math coprocessor. Graphics were provided by a Metheus 1004 add-on graphics card with amazing 1024x768 screen resolution and 16 colors! Final addition was a mouse, which also required an add-on card. My display was a 19” CRT that weighed 56 lbs!
With a background in manufacturing, job shop business and molding, my first customers were often mold or model shops and several of these customers (Tech NH and Mack Prototype) are still customers today!
How did the name “Computer-Aided Products” come about? The dealer I purchased CADKEY from myself had a very unwieldy name, and one that did not lend itself to abbreviation. And I expected that as the technology marched on something like “Dana’s CAD” wouldn’t accurately portray our product offerings. So Computer-Aided Products lent itself to “CAP.” We would incorporate nine months later.
Read CAPINC's 25th Anniversary - Part 2