This is the second in a series of articles
documenting my experience with the introduction of 3D CAD into
industrial/mechanical engineering. Please take some time to read them all.
From board draftsman, to 3D CAD designer, to 3D CAD program dealer, to 3D
CAD teacher, some of this information may surprise you.
Williams International, Walled Lake, MI – 1982 - 1983
It was November 1982. Back to Willy’s Rocket Shop in Walled Lake, MI. I have
to be a glutton for punishment, you would think I would be smart enough
“not” to take another winter contract in the tundra of Michigan. But the
money was good and I knew everyone there. When I arrived something had
I showed up for the first day and my good friend Bill (who actually
requested me) had a new job.
Computervision CADDS 4 System Manager
CADDS - Computervision Automated Design and Drafting System
What the heck is CADDS 4, I asked. I was aware
of 3D CAD from my time at Martin Marietta in 1980. I saw an engineer working
at a CAD terminal doing 3D design. It may have been a Computervision CADDS 3
system. It was also green graphics on a black background.
Notice the digitizer pad, used with a stylus for fast input. We could
also (like Autocad) type our commands.
Bill walked me through the CAD room. There were around 10 CAD stations. It
was very dark and each terminals had a small adjustable dimming lights. The
terminal were against the walls on each side of the room. He then took me to
the Computer Room. I know, I know, CAD is on PC’s!!!!
Not in those days. There it sat, this very large
computer in the middle of a refrigerated room. In there was a large format
stainless steel Versetec Printer. Remember that the print was the
engineering deliverable until the turn of the century when the PDF showed up.
Then we went to his office which would could only be called the data storage
center. There was another terminal that was obviously a systems terminal
without the graphic monitor. There also was a huge hard drive that housed
these removable disks. There was also a reel tape system and a wall full of
These systems were very expensive. $250,000 per seat!!! What? Not only that
but you had to buy a minimum of 3 seats, for a whopping $750,000. Remember
this was in 1982.
He went into the CAD room and proceed to give me a demonstration. These were
monochrome monitors with a keyboard and a large digitizing tablet. This is
what a part basically looked like except the back ground and graphics were
much grainier. But these were not Solid!! Or Surfaces!! This was a wire
frame system. All of the entities, lines, arcs and splines, created
individually, were used in a 3D space to create a 3D shape.
Look at the lower image, are you look up or down at
the part? Yes, that was a constant problem. Especially when working with the
It was really in 3D!!
I was amazed. I was hired to work on the board. I would take my break time
and sit with the CAD designers. Most were old friends and all were
draftsman. Engineers didn’t do drawings so they were not interested in CAD.
I saw the writing on the wall (this is a phrase I will use again in the
future) and talked them into letting me train on evenings and weekends.
It was an odd system compared to the easy to use PC based 3D CAD systems of
today. We could input the commands by keyboard or a digitize tablet that had
graphic commands around the center digitizing area and you selected your
commands with a stylus or what we called the “dig pen” (The dig sounded like
“dig”itizing) These were made up of approximately 1” squares with graphics
that represented the command. The first thing you did when you came on board
was to design your own unique tablet template. The problem being, no one
could use your system. So the experts (including me) learned to type our
I quickly learned the system and became an expert operator. This was not a
pleasant design experience as compared to today. In 3D it could be a mess
trying figure out where you were. Remember these were wireframes and
sometime you didn’t know which way you were looking that the part.
Even though it was a 3D space you could lock it on to a 2D plane and do
The selling point of the system was that we could design in 3D and create
the drawings in a “drawing module”. You could place the views and detail
them. But this was not the beautiful hidden line removed views produced by
today’s CAD systems. We had to blank, trim and define the line type. I was a
lot of work (no wonder the engineers were not on board). But once cleaned up
the drawings were much easier to create. You just put in the dimensions and
annotation and inserted a border and they looked just like a drawing.
But these were not drawings. I think that was a
mistake, calling them drawings. I had done thousands of drawings and these
were not even close to creating a scratch drawing. I am sure if they knew
the trouble that was caused by this they would have named them something
else. At Boeing they started calling them flatfile to differentiate them
from the 3D model. I coined them the AID (Associated Information Document).
Here is a video giving a bit more flavor of the
age. I was done in 1988 when CV had incorporated more advanced surfacing.
Notice him typing in the commands. That was how you recognized a
trainer, support personnel or an expert.
"WBZ TV, Boston, once aired a series showing teens about possible career
choices. ComputerVision, then the leading CAD/CAM company was featured in a
short segment. What was shown was a Product Marketing Specialist
demonstrating the features, functions and benefits of the CV CADDS system
(CADDS 4X on color monitors) to "customers", actually employees of the
Advanced Technology). This was filmed about 1988 or 1989 and was a two day
affair for this short segment."
The video takes a second to start.
Joe, the 3D CAD Expert
Comdial, Charlottesville, VA – 1983
As soon as I felt comfortable I updated my resume with my new CADDS 4
experience. I was instantly contacted with a job at a much higher rate. I
think it was around $30.00 per hour. It was a job at Comdial in
Charlottesville, VA. The only problem: It was a third shift. From 10pm to
8am. Who had heard of such a thing? Engineers working different shifts? But
at $250,000 per terminal, who could blame them.
were designing new phones. I had no idea how to design for plastic parts.
But basically just followed the previous products and did fine. I had jump
disciplines, this was unheard of in engineering. They designed the molds and
molded the parts on site. I would work with the mold designers and watch the
parts being made. Creating parts in 3D with draft was a horror show. They
were still using AIDs (drawings) so it wasn't much of a priority. You would
just add the draft in the dimension or as a note in the AID (drawing).
This is a story a bit out of the time line but it is relevant to this
subject. Years later I was working with Spacelabs, in Redmond, WA. It must
have been in the early 1990's pre-solid modeling.
They had designed a part in PC Based 3D CADKEY wireframe without any draft.
They hired me to add the draft and surface the model for stereolithograpy
(forerunner of 3D printing). I told them it would take 55 hours. They said
"it didn't take that long to design the part". I told them "then you should
have designed it with draft".
They came to me again with another very similar part (You would have thought
they would have learned their lesson). But Fastsolids for CADKEY had just
been released. It took 15 hours!!! It was funny, people were sending me
checks to get the Fastsolid Beta after one seminar presentation. We will get
into that in the next article.
Charlottesville was a great place. But the 3rd shift did not work for me. I
was living with a perpetual headaches, out went my resume but now with
plastic product design.
Solar Turbines, San Diego, CA - 1983 – 1985
I got a job with Solar Turbines. It, like Williams, had a dark room full of
terminals. Again all of the CAD operators were draftsman. It was a good job
with good pay and it was in sunny San Diego. I had my family there and it
We were now working with CADDS 4X. Computervision
finally came out with a Colored Monitor, a $25,000 option. They got one. We
would take turns getting to use it. There was a constant fight for this
terminal. Remember this was on a network that was hooked directly to the
computer and we could work on any of the terminals. Soon we all had colored
monitors. CAD design got twice as easy and productive.
The world was perfect. Good money, lots of overtime. Then something
happened. Management decided to move the engineers to CAD and they could
eliminate the draftsman. I always thought it was Pro/engineer that lead this
move, but I finally realized this happened in 1985. No Pro/e at that time!
So all of the contractors were let go except for me. All of the direct
draftsman were given a golden handshake. This was shaking up my world.
They told the engineers that they would be moving to CADDS 4X. They resisted
knowing that they would be doing a massive amount of grunt drafting work.
But management said “Get on CAD or get fired”.
job was to get them all up to speed. Most learned quickly and became good
CAD designers. Remember this was wire frame design. This was much easier
than solid modeling but very time consuming and tedious.
Sadly, there were only two new draftsman that did not qualify for the golden
handshake. The one they put in charge was one of those fellows that everyone
picked on. I, unfortunately, was the lead protagonist in picking on him.
Gulp, out went the resumes.
I was contacted by an old associate that I worked with at Solar. He informed
me he went back two times 1986 and 1990 as a contract drafter. So I guess
the move to engineers didn't go as smoothly as I thought.
Williams International, Walled Lake, MI – 1985 - 1986
Back to Williams for
the third time. Williams had expanded their CAD use and were now quite
experienced with the process. We all had colored monitors now. It was much
more sophisticated. The engineers were still working with the draftsman on
the system. Still not involve with CAD.
X-Jet, created by Williams
International, was a small, one-man, light-weight, Vertical Take Off and
aircraft powered by a modified Williams
engine. We had just bought a house on Bainbridge Island, WA. I moved my
family and I stayed on with Williams. We had just had my son and I was
I took a job at Goodrich in Akron, OH. But a
miracle occurred. I got a contract at Boeing Everett. Home I went.
The World of Engineering was about to change!
Enter the PC (Personal Computer) Based 3D CAD System!
Boeing Aircraft Company – Everett, WA 1986 - 1987
It was a manual drafting job, in the 747 Flight
Deck group. It now had been 3 years since I had been on the board. I still
had all of my tools and had no problem getting back into manual drafting.
They had 3 stations of Catia 3 and there were some CADDS 3. I went back
to see the CADDS 3 and it was quite different. I just remember some kind of
control handles. No contractors got on Catia so I was lost.
I was moaning and groaning, I was the new highly skilled “3D CAD
Designer”. Someone told me that there was a PC (Personal Computer) based 3D
CAD system on a couple of Compaqs.
I was already into the IBM PCs. I picked up an IBM luggable while in San
Diego. I got a copy of Autocad and did a fence for my back yard. My luggable
had an a 6" amber screen. It must have been around the same time as my Boeng
contract, because I remember playing with it in my home office. But I was a
3D CAD operator. Autocad was an architectural electronic drawing package. It
was incredibly painful and was "not" conducive to mechanical design. I am
not sure when 2D as a designation came to be. Autocad had no copy protection
and no one wanted to pay for CAD in the beginning. Autocad actually stunted
the growth of PC based 3D CAD. Many in the Industrial/Mechanical industry
moved to Autocad and continued creating scratch drawings. I took another 15
years before Autodesk produced a viable 3D CAD system.
"The popularity of Autocad was due to its lack of copy protection,
basically allowing it to be passed around freely. It actually stunted
the growth of PC based 3D CAD for the industrial/mechanical engineering
industry for decades."
What I am saying here I was already familiar
with a PC based graphics program.
I sat down to one of the Compaqs and proceeded to review the program.
It was a system called CADKEY. I found it quite similar to CADDS 4X. Like
CADDS 4X it was wire frame. Luckily we had colored monitors. I was not
driven by a tablet or did it even have text input, it was driven by a
“Mouse”. It had a very well laid out GUI (Graphics User Interface) and very
easy to learn and use. It was much, much more productive than CADDS 4X.
two weeks of lunch hours I did a presentation to the management and they
approved a test project. It was the 747 First Observer’s Station. We were
getting loft lines from Catia 3 via IGES. I worked with an engineer and we
did the job. I created the drawings and released them as prints. I realize
as I looked for an image this station was to replace the flight engineer
station was now not required.
There were a few differences. CADDS 4X had primitive surfacing that aided
your wireframe design and it had a separate documentation module. A drawing
in CADKEY were copied views of the model and placed like any views on a
drawing in the same 3D space on a different level. It had 256 levels. You
would then create a border around the views. Then you would print to a
scale. Yes, it was quite a bit of a hassle.
Management was impressed and proceeded to order more CADKEY and PCs. I was
in charge of implementing the systems. I trained the users which was very
easy since all were draftsmen and engineers. Soon we grew to 25 seats and
every design engineer and draftsman had a PC and CADKEY. It was funny we
were promoting all of the draftsman and engineers to play games like
solitaire to get familiar with the PCs.
These new PC's threatened the BCS (Boeing
Computer Services). They were like the gastapo. Demanding that we did no
programming. They even tried to remove the CADL (CADKEY Advanced Design
Language) an integrated light programming language. BCS had a vendetta out
for CADKEY. They focused on Catia to keep their power. Boeing would have
been miles ahead if they would have adopted CADKEY as their default CAD
system. I will get into Dassault's influence in Boeing engineering process
in the next decade.
After I left they grew to 35 seats and got rid of one of the Catia 3
We were now in the world of PC based 3D CAD. I saw the writing on the wall
and quickly became a CADKEY dealer. I bought a seat of CADKEY $3500, a new
286 Compaq $3000, a huge 19” monitor $2500 and got ready to present CADKEY
to the world. $9,000 compared to $250,000 and I am sure Catia was well over
$100,000 how could I lose??
The monitor above was a state of
the art 19" monitor we used for then next 2 decades, around $2,500.00 a pop.
I took a much lower rate to get home, I asked for a raise and they
offered me a dollar. I laughed and again out went my resume.
Square D Corporation, Lincoln, NE – 1987 - 1988
They put me on the second shift after promising me I
would be on a regular shift. I was ready to walk and they assured me they
would start a rotating schedule. I was the only contractor. That never
bothered me. I just got along with the employees and management and cashed
my check. You had to be able to get along as a shopper. This was my second
adventure into plastic design.
was designing a new circuit breaker. I am sorry I couldn't get an image of
the one I worked on it was a bit more stylish. We spent most of our time
making sure it would have the correct “click-click” that was more important
than the function. Similar to the sound of the Harley Davidson engine. Does
anyone know why it sounds that way??
This was the first time I was introduced to CNC. They were using the 3D
graphics to do 2.5 axis. We would work next to each other. I am not sure
what they used for programming. But they would give us instant feedback
which sometimes was not pleasant.
They had not upgrade the CADDS 4X systems to Color monitors. I was
horrible. I came in with my CADKEY station and showed them the advantages of
CADKEY. They were very impressed and ordered three seats. I am sure that the
color monitor was what closed the sale. For a little over the cost of one CV
color monitor they had 3 seats of PC based 3D CADKEY. That was my first
sale. It was for over $35,000. I took a few of the draftsman and moved them
to CADKEY and we would convert files via IGES bringing the files over from
That was where I formed my company and called it Technical Networking
Inc. or TECH-Net, Inc. It had nothing to do with computer networking but
people networking. I thought we would all be telecommuting in a couple of
I got a call from my good friend Bill (remember the fellow from Williams)
now CAD manager for CADDS 4X at Ford Aerospace and off to California.
Ford Aerospace, Newport Beach, CA 1988
was a good job, it was on CADDS 4X working on missiles. The Ford campus over
looked the Pacific Ocean. It was paradise. I moved the family down for the
summer and had a great time. But something quite fantastic was happening. I
was still working for Square D. I would do a design on CADKEY and send it by
phone modem. I suppose I was one of the first PC based CAD Telecommuters. I
would put in 40+ hours at Ford then another 20 hours in my apartment at my
full $35.00 rate for Square D. It was incredible.
TECH-NET, Inc, Bainbridge Island, WA 1988 to Present
That was my last job. I moved back home open the TECH-NET, Inc office and
proceeded to sell CADKEY in the NW. It was an easy sale to the Boeing
suppliers. The only other PC base CAD package was Autocad and it was only an
electronic drawing package. Virtually no way to communicate with Catia 3.
Even though Catia 3 was running on a Unix box with its high cost and the
complex support to operate, it was far beyond the reach of even the largest
vendor. I coordinated with Boeing and we were soon getting the 3D IGES file
and a print of the drawing. We had the Boeing supplier market. I was also
active in supplying inexpensive 3D CAD to many other smaller NW
manufacturing companies. I doubt if Boeing even understood the role I played
in creating high level of compatibility with the suppliers saving them
millions. I actually just realized it myself.
The NW, lead by Boeing, was now 3D.
PC based 3D CAD actually moved smoothly into
the 1990's at least in the NW with only CADKEY leading the way.
But there was dark cloud being formed that would completely redefine the
industry. Be careful with that light at the end of the tunnel.