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About Computervision

Computervision operates as a supplier of workstation-based software and related services to the mechanical design automation market. The company addresses all phases of product development: conceptualization, design, analysis, drafting, and manufacturing. Customers include Aerospatiale, Alenia, AMP, Audi, MW, Ford, GE, Rover Group, etc. It was founded in 1969 and is based in Bedford, Massachusetts. In January 1998, Computervision was acquired by Parametric Technology.

Headquarters Location

100 Crosby Drive

Bedford, Massachusetts, 01730,

United States




Latest Computervision News

Computervision - History of CAD

Feb 2, 2024

Computervision David Weisberg According to a 1994 Wall Street Journal article, Philippe Villers decided to start a technology company shortly after listening to the minister at Concord, Massachusetts’ First Parish Church extol Martin Luther King’s accomplishments a few days after he was murdered in April 1968. Villers felt he needed to do something meaningful with his life and that there were two options – either become a social activist or start a company, make a lot of money and then use that money to change the world. Luckily for what eventually became the CAD/CAM industry, he chose the second path. [1] Villers was technically well qualified to start Computervision, Inc. or CV is it was generally known. Born in Paris, France, he came to this country via Canada in the early 1940s to escape the Nazis. Villers had an undergraduate liberal arts degree from Harvard and a masters degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. He worked for several years in General Electric’s management training program followed by stints at Perkin Elmer, Barnes Engineering and the Link Division of Singer-General Precision with increasing levels of project management responsibility. At the time he decided to establish Computervision, Villers was Manager of Advanced Products at Concord Control in Boston. Villers spent much of his spare time in 1968 meeting with a group of business and technical associates including Steve Coons and Nicholas Negroponte (founder of the MIT Media Lab). Realizing that it takes more than good technical ideas to build a successful company, Villers decided to find a partner with more business experience to help jump start the enterprise. Martin Allen, who had been Villers boss at Link was a natural choice for this role. Allen was a mechanical engineer from the University of California who had previously worked for TRW, Martin-Marietta in addition to Singer-General Precision. The plan was for Allen to be the company’s president while Villers would be senior vice president. For the first few months in early 1969 while the company was in the process of obtaining its initial outside funding, Villers was the president of the company. At that point Computervision was being funded by Villers’ friends and relatives. Eventually, the company was able to raise about a million dollars from a small New York venture capital fund called the Targa Fund, partners at Paine Webber Jackson and Curtis and the Diebold Group. At that point Allen joined the company as president and Villers switched to senior vice president as the two had previously agreed. Another of the company’s early venture capital backers was Ampersand Ventures which made a significant financial commitment in 1970. By coincidence, that firm also was one of the initial backers of Prime Computer in 1972. Little did they know at the time how these two companies would end up on a collision course in the late 1980s. For the next decade the relationship between the two founders appears to have been a very workable arrangement. As the company’s senior vice president Villers was the person most responsible for driving Computervision’s product development strategy. While Allen would stay with the company as either CEO or chairman until the late 1980s, Villers left in 1980 as discussed later to form first Automatix, Inc., a robotics and machine vision company, and subsequently Cognition, Inc., a mechanical CAE firm. CV’s early product strategy The original Computervision product strategy involved designing and producing several hardware products in order to generate revenue while the company created the initial release of its CADDS (Computer-Aided Design and Drafting System) software. Three people were recruited to head up hardware development: David Friedman was responsible for the Interact terminal, Joe Sliwkowski the Compucircuit photoplotter and Ken Levy the Autolign semiconductor mask aligner. The first two programmers hired to develop the CADDS software were Robert Blauth and Bert Bruce. Blauth would eventually take on responsibility for all the company’s research and development. Villers technical specialty was the design of high precision electro-mechanical devices. In the 1969 time frame, the electronics industry was entering its first surge of significant growth powered by new integrated circuit technology. One of the major problems facing the semiconductor industry was producing the masks that were used to manufacture the silicon wafers that each contained multiple copies of the circuit being produced. Using a technology called “photolithography” an integrated circuit is made of multiple layers of material and each layer required one or more masks which had to be precisely aligned with the others. While today’s 12-inch wafers contain literally hundreds if not thousands of individual circuits in 1969 a 4-inch wafer might have contained a few dozen at most. But the technology available four decades ago was much cruder than what we have today and there was the need for devices that could quickly and accurately align individual circuit artwork to produce mask sets. The manual methods that were then available were slow and susceptible to error. At the time, this work had to done to the precision of a micron and operators worked with high-powered microscopes to align the masks. Villers designed the Autolign automatic mask aligner for the semiconductor industry with the expectation that it would be the company’s “bread and butter” product until its engineering design and drafting products were ready for market. For the company’s first several years this proved to be the case as revenue was dominated by Autolign products. Computervision produced the Autolign product by purchasing manual aligners from Kulicke & Soffa and adding its own electronics and drive mechanisms. The Compucircuit, on the other hand, was designed from the ground up by Computervision engineers. Prior to the advent of computer-based systems, printed circuit boards (PCBs) were produced by either manually drafting the board’s circuit traces and pads using stick-on tape on sheets of mylar or plotted on Rubylith peelcoat material using a sharp knife mounted on the plotter head. Typically these layouts were twice or four times the size of the actual board. Each layer of the circuit board required a separate artwork sheet. These circuits layouts were then photo reduced to actual size and used to manufacture the circuit boards. Other than the scale and precision of the artwork, it was quite similar to the way integrated circuits were produced. The Compucircuit plotted the printed circuit layout directly on film at the same scale needed for production, eliminating the photo reduction step. It was both faster and more accurate than the earlier procedures used to produce PCB artwork. The third hardware product, the INTERACT, was intended from the start to be a key element of the company’s CAD/CAM solution. This device was a combination of a digitizer and a plotter and was the company’s only interactive terminal. Villers describes it a “Large Interactive Surface” that shared the electronics of a storage tube-based terminal. The operator could copy a sketched part, view it on a CRT screen, make editing changes and plot the results. The first Interact was shipped in 1970 to Sperry Gyroscope. Eventually this system was returned to Computervision where it was displayed in the company’s lobby for a number of years. Computervision claimed that this particular unit had 28,000 operating hours with just 3% downtime. Various version of the INTERACT were manufactured until around 1980. Figure 12.1 - Early Computervision Interact Terminal The initial Computervision product strategy was to operate the Interact terminal with software running on a time-sharing system. The Compucircuit photoplotter was intended to operate with data generated on-line using a remote computer system or with data stored on magnetic tape. The time-sharing concept proved to be impractical due to the slow 300 baud communication speeds then available and the unreliability of computer utilities. About a year after the company started, the plan changed and Computervision began using the new Nova 16-bit minicomputer from Data General. Off to a fast start Computervision was one of the dominating companies in the CAD industry throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s, at one time having a 35% to 40% market share. Several developments had come together by 1970 to make the commercial CAD systems business a viable endeavor. Minicomputers from companies such as Data General, Digital Equipment and Scientific Data Systems were being sold at manageable prices, low-cost storage tube display terminals were commercially available or companies could build their own terminals with storage tube displays procured from Tektronix, digital plotters were available from CalComp and several other firms and many of the fundamental software concepts for two-dimensional and three-dimensional graphics had been published in technical proceedings. The basic technology pieces were in place. The major task was to develop reliable software that would do enough of the design and drafting task so as to be accepted by the user community. The company got off to a quick start by focusing on what can best be described as production drafting. Early systems were particularly well tuned to the needs of drafters as exemplified by the company’s INTERACT workstation. Although both Allen and Villers had mechanical engineering backgrounds, the early Computervision systems were targeted at electronics users, especially companies that wanted to automate the production of printed circuit board artwork. Technically, the process for preparing this artwork on a computer was a relatively straightforward two-dimensional task, particularly as compared to subsequent activity related to three-dimensional mechanical design. There was also the need to produce a variety of non-scaled schematic drawings documenting the logic of the PCBs. The Computervision CADDS system was both a radical departure from traditional practice but still a process that drafters could identify with, particularly with the use of the INTERACT workstation. PCB artwork generation and schematic documentation typically involved placing a substantial amount of duplicate graphical entities such as the mounting hole pattern for an integrated circuit on a PCB layout or the symbol for a transistor on a schematic diagram. Even early CAD systems proved to be extremely productive when working with duplicative symbology. Computervision’s CADDS system was quite effective when used for these tasks. Once a PCB layout was created using the computer, photographic quality copies could be generated by outputting the information to a Compucircuit photoplotter. This device created the artwork on a sheet of photographic film by exposing apertures describing each type of connection pad or line trace. The film was then developed and used in the same manner from that step on as film produced from photographing manually taped artwork. Most of the first 200 Computervision systems sold were used for PCB artwork generation. Integrated circuit artwork generation was similar in many respects to PCB drafting in the early 1970s. IC artwork was typically produced on large sheets of grid paper with the different layers of the circuit shown in different colors. These drawings were then used as the basis for producing detailed large-scale artwork master on a material called peelcoat. This process involved cutting through the top layer of the material and then carefully removing the material representing the circuit layer in question. From that point on the process was similar to PCB artwork where the sheets were photographically reduced to be used as production masters except that the IC people referred to producing this final artwork as “mask making.” Two trends were driving semiconductor companies to automate the IC mask making process in the early 1970s. First, integrated circuits were becoming far more complex. This was about the time that Intel’s Gordon Moore declared that integrated circuit density was doubling every 18 months – a trend now known as Moore’s Law. Design and production personnel could see a time when it would become almost impossible to continue using manual artwork creation procedures due to the growing complexity of circuits. The second issue was perhaps even more important. The mask making process was switching from traditional photographic reduction techniques to the use of new devices that were driven by digital data. Companies had to produce a digital record of the circuit layout in order to drive these machines. Computervision saw the IC market for their CADDS systems as a logical extension of the PCB electronics market and the company added semiconductor mask making capabilities to its software. While Computervision dominated the market for PCB artwork and schematic drafting, in the early 1970s, Calma similarly dominated the IC market. The two companies frequently competed in both areas of the overall electronic market with Computervision typically winning the larger PCB business while Calma, as described earlier, winning a majority of the IC business. The Autolign products were typically sold independently of the company’s CADDS systems. Personnel and organization During Computervision’s first decade Villers was responsible for most of the company’s internal operations, especially those related to product development while Allen handled external activities. Both were typically involved in presentations to potential investors. Even though Villers was responsible for the initial idea to establish a company to manufacturer the hardware and software products described above, he seems to have had few problems actually reporting to Allen. This may well have been a result of the fact that Villers had worked for Allen earlier at Link. Over the years, Computervision was particularly successful in recruiting an excellent team of technical and business managers including Phil Reed and Ken Versprille. Villers was personally instrumental in bringing Sam Geisberg, a brilliant Russian mathematician who would later start Parametric Technology Corporation, to the United States in 1974 to work for Computervision. Sam’s brother Vladimir initially immigrated to Israel but subsequently moved to the United States and also joined Computervision. Computervision went public the first time in December 1972 and was listed on the New Stock Exchange under the CVN ticker symbol in 1979. Computervision becomes a computer manufacturer Rarely when analyzing a company’s history is it possible to point to a single event or decision and claim that it was the determining turning point in the enterprise’s future. Computervision’s decision to build it own computer systems may well have been such an event. For the first few years it had used Nova computers purchased from Data General. These were relatively inexpensive machines but Computervision believed that it could both increase its profit margins and produce a computer better tuned to the needs of its customers by building its own machines. A west coast company had reverse engineered the Data General Nova computer and produced a chip set that enabled companies such as Computervision to manufacture similar machines at a far lower cost than what they were paying Data General. Villers saw this as a low risk strategy compared to the company designing its own computer which apparently was an option being considered. Around 1978 the company began manufacturing a computer called the CGP-100 where CGP stood for Computervision Graphics Processor. This led to the construction of several large manufacturing facilities along with the installation of machinery and equipment for building and testing these machines. Needless to say, Data General was not happy about this development and tried to get Computervision to consider new machines it was working on by offering attractive business terms. As different from what would probably happen today, there does not appear to have been any lawsuits over misappropriated intellectual property. The CGP-100 was designed by a group of computer design engineers who were referred to as “Computer Gypsies” because they tended to move from company to company in the Boston area designing minicomputers as they went. They apparently did a good job because it was difficult for Computervision’s programmers to tell the difference between a Data General Nova and the CGP-100. This new machine was a 16bit minicomputer with a memory that was expandable to 512K words. It supported a 14 million word disk drive and other standard peripheral devices such as magnetic tape drives. As mentioned earlier, Computervision terminals utilized Tektronix storage tube displays. The company was quick in moving to the 19-inch versions once they became available in the mid-1970s. These terminals used a 11-inch by 11-inch tablet or a large free-standing digitizer for user interaction as well as the previously described INTERACT plot-back digitizer. In 1978 a base CGP-100 system with a 512-word memory sold for $140,000 while interactive terminals went for $40,000 to $65,000. The three-dimensional mechanical design and drafting software described below cost $10,000 while NC software was another $5,000. With this pricing structure one could conclude that in the 1978 timeframe, Computervision was primarily a computer equipment manufacturing company that happened to also sell CAD software. Cobilt expands CV’s manufacturing Computervision acquired Cobilt, a manufacturing of integrated circuit mask making equipment, in 1971. Cobilt was founded in 1970 by Peter Wolken, Gerd Schlieman, Allan Fleming and Fred Schultz. This acquisition was intended to both increase the company’s manufacturing capabilities in a rapidly growing market as well as enable Computervision to sell more comprehensive systems into the semiconductor industry. Kenneth Levy, who was responsible for Computervision’s Autolign product, was initially put in charge of the Cobilt division. By 1977, with Sam Harrell running the division, it was generating $18.2 million in annual revenues, nearly 40% of the company’s total. Levy left Cobilt in 1975 and founded KLA Instruments (today KLA-Tencor, a major manufacturer of semiconductor production equipment) where he was CEO until 1999 and chairman of the board until 2006. Wolken and Harrell both eventually joined Levy at KLA. Although revenues increased rapidly, Cobilt was never particularly profitable and around 1980 Computervision began selling it off piecemeal. Most of Cobilt was eventually sold to Applied Materials in 1981 for $14 million. Computervision was plagued with lawsuits resulting from its ownership of Cobilt and it would take until 1984 to settle them all. The company reported a $10 million loss that year attributed to putting the last of the Cobilt claims behind it. While manufacturing photoplotter and semiconductor mask making equipment was important, it did not go to the heart of the company’s business the way building its own computers did. Not only did designing and producing these computers require the company to establish a substantial production capability but it also required that it assume responsibility for the computer’s operating system and software development tools. And it had to do so without the ability to spread those costs over the much larger number of machines sold by primary computer manufacturers such as Digital Equipment and Data General. Computervision got into the hardware manufacturing business at a time when minicomputers were rather straightforward machines. Within a few years, the technology became far more complicated and when the company attempted to make the transition from 16-bit to 32-bit computers, the economics of the situation started working against it. Extracting itself from the computer manufacturing business eventually damaged the company’s finances to the point that Computervision became the target for a hostile takeover by Prime Computer as described below. New software broadens Computervision’s mechanical capabilities For the first few years, Computervision focused almost entirely on electrical design applications such as the layout of printed circuit boards. While the initial CADDS software was capable of doing mechanical drafting, it did not have the three-dimensional modeling capabilities that customers were starting to ask for. In the process of competing for business at Boeing, Computervision ran into competition from a small software firm in San Diego, California called System Science and Software – more frequently referred to as S3. While most of this company’s business activity was focused on scientific and technical projects for federal government agencies, it had acquired a CAD software company called Integrated Computer Systems. Started by Patrick Hanratty, ICS had developed a package called INTERAPT. As described in Chapter 15, the acquisition of ICS led to a lawsuit against Hanratty who did not stay with the company after it was acquired by S3. The CAD software business unit at S3 was struggling at the time and when Computervision offered to buy that operation, the deal was executed fairly quickly. As part of buying this business activity from S3, Computervision inherited the lawsuit against Hanratty which was still pending. Dave Albert who was heading this operation, Jerry Devere who had helped start ICS and about ten others moved to a new office facility in Rose Canyon, north of San Diego, and began working on porting S3’s INTERAPT software to the Data General computers Computervision was using at the time. Albert remembers the relationship with Computervision getting off to a fairly rocky start. Phil Villers visited the new office shortly after they had moved in and made it clear that he had opposed the acquisition and wanted to close the office. Meanwhile, the company settled the lawsuit with Hanratty by licensing his then current ADAM package and paying him a monthly retainer for about a year. The new mechanical design and drafting software, now known as CADDS 3, was introduced in 1973. Most of the work was done in California although some user interface functions were developed at Computervision’s headquarters in Bedford. For the next several years, the San Diego and Bedford programming groups worked together on enhancing CADDS 3. Towards the end of 1975, Computervision decided that it wanted to consolidate its CADDS programming activity in Bedford and offered the San Diego staff new positions in Massachusetts. By now there were about 30 people in the Rose Canyon office. While some people accepted the offer to move back east, most did not. Under Albert’s leadership, they stated to form a new software company. Before that idea had proceeded very far, the team decided to join Calma and stay in southern California. Computervision was not happy about them joining a competitor but, contrary to some misconceptions, never sued Calma over hiring Albert and other core members of the San Diego team. Indicative of how small a world this really is, Albert was vacationing in New Zealand in the spring of 2003 and stayed at the local equivalent of a small bed & breakfast. Upon leaving he went to sign the guest book and found the Villers had been there about a month earlier. [2] Computer becomes dominating force in CAD industry In May 1975 Computervision hired Ken Versprille [3] soon after he received his Ph.D. from Syracuse University. While at Syracuse Versprille worked closely with Steve Coons, the developer of the Coons Patch used for defining surface geometry. As described in Chapter 2, Versprille’s Ph.D. thesis involved the development of a more advanced technique for defining surfaces known throughout the computer graphics industry as NURBS or Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines. Computervision’s growth had been fairly rapid in the early 1970s and by 1974 the company’s annual revenues were over $25 million and the business was nicely profitable. 1975 saw the United States in the midst of a recession and sales dropped to $21 million and the company incurred a $4 million loss. At this point, there were two schools of though within Computervision’s management. One group felt that the company should hunker down, reduce expenses as much as possible and wait out the recession. The other group, led by Mike Cronin, lobbied for increasing research and development as well as expanding sales so that when the recession ended, Computervision would have the strongest product portfolio in the nascent CAD industry and would be able to grow faster than its competitors. This latter approach won out and Versprille along with perhaps 20 other programmers were hired. It proved to be the correct strategy in that Computervision sales increased rapidly in the late 1970s and by 1980 the company’s annual revenues were nearly $225. Hired as a senior programmer, Versprille’s initial assignment was to make the CADDS 3 software more three-dimensionally oriented. The first versions of the package required defining geometry on two-dimensional planes which were then projected into three dimensions. This was about a year-long project which was followed by a similar task to improve the geometric creation of three-dimension splines. Another project around this same time involved changing the graphics display routines from integer arithmetic to floating point. An integer method had been used by the San Diego development group to maximize graphics performance except that it failed when model values exceeded predefined limits. In Bedford, they redid these routines using a normalized floating point technique that enabled models to span greater dimensions while sacrificing little in regards to performance. The new software enabled the Computervision programmers to create a technique they called “bounding boxes.” These defined the minimum and maximum values that could be expected for the part being designed. The result was that images could be scaled by a factor of two by using extremely fast shifting operations. One problem with this technique was that these minimum and maximum values had to be defined when the design of the part was initiated. Versprille points out that the programming staff in Bedford was relatively small and that everyone had to do everything. This resulted in a group of developers who were broadly familiar with full range of the company’s software products. As Computervision grew, new hires tended to be given assignments that had them focusing on narrow segments of the software. One result was that early employees tended to end up in staff positions where their responsibilities encompassed broad segments of the company’s product line. Computervision in the late 1970s In 1978, Computervision was still being run by Martin Allen as president and CEO while Phil Villers was a senior vice president in charge of long term strategic planning. Michael Cronin had responsibility for several marketing and R&D activities, Sam Harrell was running the Cobilt operation, Dave Friedman was vice president of engineering and Bob Gothie was vice president of marketing. Field sales in the United States was headed up by Ralph Shubert who reported to Gothie. By the late 1970s the company’s focus had switched from electronic design to mechanical applications with a moderate amount of activity in the AEC field. Sales were handled by a direct sales force in the United States and much of Western Europe while distributors were utilized in Japan and other countries. The typical system sold for between $250,000 and $400,000 and the company had an installed base of approximately 500 systems. Major customers included General Electric (45 systems), Ford Motor Company (10 systems), General Motors, Boeing, Pratt & Whitney and McDonnell Douglas. Overall, sales were increasing fairly rapidly except for the previously mentioned dip in 1975. Revenues in 1978 were nearly $72 million. By this point the company’s software development staff consisted of about 120 individuals. The primary computer system was the company’s own CGP-100 described early along with terminals utilizing Tektronix storage tube displays. The basic two-dimensional software used for electrical applications such as PCB layout was now known as CADDS 2 while the three-dimensional mechanical software was referred to as CADDS 3. Among the important features contained in CADDS 3 were: Both two-dimensional or three-dimensional design modes. Cross sections of three-dimension parts. B-spline curves and surfaces. User development language called Parametric Element Processor (PEP). Data communication with mainframe computers. Life After Computervision‍ Phil Villers left Computervision in January 1981 after the company rejected two new venture proposals he had made. The first was for a lowcost system that would combine a computer and terminal into a single integrated system. This concept was similar to the engineering workstation being developed at the time by Apollo Computer and several other companies. Villers believes that the failure to do so was one of the major factors that eventually led to Computervision’s decline in the CAD/CAM industry. [4] Earlier, in the summer of 1980, Villers had made a proposal for the company to expand into robotics and artificial vision systems for manufacturing companies. Upon leaving Computervision, Villers started Automatix, a company focused on robotics and artificial vision. (Actually, the company may have been stated somewhat earlier in 1980.) He was president until 1984 and then chairman of the board until 1986. In 1985 he founded Cognition, a software company that developed and marketed mechanical engineering design software that could be used by engineers, especially during the concept design phase of a project. He remained president of that company until 1988. As this is being written, its president and CEO is Mike Cronin who was in charge of sales for Computervision throughout most of the 1970s. When Villers left Computervision in 1981 he was worth over $80 million. Having met the goal he set for himself in 1968 he decided to do something significant with this money. He and his wife Katherine took half that money and established the Villers Foundation. Known today as Families USA Foundation, it has been active in lobbying the federal government to provide better healthcare for the nation. In 1994, when the Clinton administration was engaged in trying to develop a universal health plan, Villers and Families USA were in the middle of trying to develop support for the plan. This activity was of sufficient visibility that the Wall Street Journal ran a feature article on the foundation and Villers in its June 1, 1994 issue. [5] Villers has spent recent years running Families USA from his home in Concord, Massachusetts while the organization’s staff is in Washington. Today, the foundation, which describes itself as non-partisan but definitely leans towards Democratic positions, is actively involved in Medicare-related issues. Villers has been a delegate to several national Democratic conventions, is a member of the ACLU President’s Committee and Amnesty International USA’s Executive Directors Council. He is also president and a board member of GrainPro, a company making hermetically-sealed grain storage units for developing countries. One may or may not agree with his politics, but everyone should admire his commitment and energy devoted to giving back to a society that has given much to him. Hardware and software developments in the late 1970s and early 1980s By 1980, Computervision was dominating the turnkey CAD systems industry. According to Daratech, the company shipped 620 systems in 1980 or 44% of the industry’s total. [6] During this period, Computervision’s research and development activity swung into high gear. Some of the major projects were: CGP-200 – The CGP-100 computer proved to have less than desired graphics performance. To enhance its capabilities in this area Computervision developed a specialized graphics processor, the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) to handle twodimensional and three-dimension graphic manipulations. The combination of the GPU and a CGP-100 was marketed as the CGP-200 and CGP-100 was eventually dropped from the company’s product line. CGP-200X – This was an upgraded and repackaged version of the CGP-200. It was Computervision’s primary computer system starting around 1982. Instaview – Although Tektronix had added limited refresh capabilities to its storage tube products, it was becoming obvious that more interactive graphics capabilities were needed by CAD users. Computervision’s answer was the Instaview which was introduced at the November 1978 AUTOFACT conference in Detroit. The was a monochromatic 512 line raster terminal that Computervision sometimes described as a 1024 line unit. In reality, static images were displayed at 512 line resolution while dynamic images took advantage of the full 1024 resolution. Text was displayed on the left side of the screen in an area where graphics was excluded. Primary user input was via a 17-inch by 24-inch tablet containing a user-defined 427 button menu. The Instaview C was introduced in several years later. It supported 64 colors at 512 line resolution. A high resolution version, the Instaview HC was subsequently introduced with 1280 by 1024 resolution and 262,000 colors. APU – The Analytic Processing Unit or APU was Computervision’s answer to the trend towards 32-bit computers for CAD support. Initially, it was not intended to replace the 16-bit CGP machines but rather to be directly linked to those machines and provide 32-bit processing for analytical tasks such as finite element analysis. Development took much longer than expected and this device never lived up to expectations. From a performance point of view, it was in the same category as a Digital VAX 11/780 except the 11/780 had been on the market for over four years by the time the APU went into beta test. CADDS 4 – This new version of Computervision’s CADDS software was required to take advantage of the graphics processing capabilities of the CGP-200 and the Instaview terminals. This version of the software had enhanced graphics capabilities such as geometry creation in any plane, not just a plane orthogonal to the current view. CADDS 4X – This software upgrade was needed to take full advantage of the new processing capabilities of the CGP-200X and the APU. Customer deliveries began in the latter part of 1983, nearly two years late by some estimates. MEDUSA – In November 1982, Computervision acquired Cambridge Interactive Systems, the Cambridge, England company responsible for the development and support of MEDUSA. The software was also being marketed outside of Europe by Prime Computer. Computervision began marketing MEDUSA running on Digital VAX computers and continued to support Prime’s sales of the package. MEDUSA was an effective drafting program that had decent three-dimensional capabilities. According to Jim Barrett, Computervision’s president at the time, this was Computervision’s first step towards offering customers the choice between bundled turnkey systems and modular software. Until 1984 Computervision used the Designer designation for its different systems based upon the previously described hardware and software products. At the low end was the Designer M which was Computervision’s entry level system, introduced in November 1981, which could also be utilized as a remote system. As a remote system it was referred to as the Designer R. It consisted of a CGP-80 computer and either CADDS 2, CADDS 3 or CADDS 4 software. The CGP-80 was a reduced capability version of the CGP-100 that was used to support CADDS 2 and CADDS 3. A higher performance CGP-180 was used to support CADDS 4. With prices starting at $100,000, these systems could support either one or two Instaview M terminals which were specifically configured to work with the Designer M product line. Prior to 1982, Computervision’s primary product was the Designer IV which consisted of a CGP-100 processor, CADDS 3 software and typically two to six terminals. Although CADDS 4 software would run on a Designer IV system, there were advanced features in that software that required a CGP-200 to be utilized. Starting in 1982, the Designer V became the company’s primary product line. It replaced the CGP-100 with the newer CGP-200 which provided better Instaview support. The last system in this product line was the Designer V-X which incorporated the CGP-200X processor and supported CADDS 4X software as well as the APU. Overhauling CADDS software By 1978, it was apparent to some of Computervision’s development staff that CADDS 3 was being pushed to its limits and that an entirely new software product was needed – one with a better database architecture and improved graphics. It was also apparent that a new generation of computer hardware and operating systems was just over the horizon. A group of four individuals; Ken Versprille, Bill Stanley, Tom Jaskowitz and Roger Roles, put together a plan for a new CAD/CAM system they initially called CADDS 4. Indicative of the relatively open management style of Computervision at the time, the four were given a chance to pitch their plan to the company’s executive management. According to Versprille, they made a technical pitch ignoring the business issues surrounding such a decision and were shot down. They were determined that a new system was necessary for the future health of the company and after licking their wounds, went back for another shot at convincing management that this was the right thing to do. This time they were successful and were given the task of proceeding with developing a new system fundamentally from the ground up. Since the Instaview terminal was just about ready to be shipped, the CADDS 3 people had the significant task of adapting that software to work with the new raster graphics technology. Bill Stanley totally redesigned the CADDS database to use a concept of records and sub-records while Versprille worked on the graphics portion of the system. CADDS 3 graphics used a separate file for each view and wrote the graphics directly to the display terminal. This was a fairly common technique for storage tube-based graphic systems since images could not be changed except by erasing and rewriting the image. The new CADDS 4 software used a three-dimensional display file concept that was more conducive for use with raster displays where individual elements could be moved, deleted or changed at will. Overall, the CADDS 4 software was a significant improvement over CADDS 3, particularly for three-dimension mechanical and engineering design. A change made in one view of a model, was immediately reflected in other views and geometry could be created on any arbitrary plane. Computervision also split the software into numerous different modules for marketing purposes. The CGP-200 eventually proved to be somewhat underpowered for threedimension graphics and planned software developments such as solids modeling. As a consequence, the company enhanced and repackaged the CGP-200 and introduced it as the CGP-200X in 1982. In order to take advantage of its new capabilities a revised version of CADDS 4 was required. This version of the software was known as CADDS 4X and it was the primary Computervision product throughout the balance of the 1980s and into the early 1990s. The Analytic Processing Unit (APU) By 1980 it was fairly obvious throughout the CAD/CAM industry that computers more powerful than contemporary 16-bit minicomputers were going to be needed to support the next generation of software that would be more database and solids oriented. At about the same time, a new crop of 32-bit computers such as the DIGITAL VAX 11/780 and Prime 750 were becoming more widely used by CAD software vendors. Computervision was well aware of this trend but also recognized the difficulty of making the transition from its current 16-bit CGP machines to a new generation of 32-bit computers. The plan was to develop a 32-bit computer that would attach to one or more CGP machines and could be used for computationally intensive tasks such as solids modeling, finite element analysis and database management. This computer was called the Analytic Processing Unit or APU. On occasion it was also referred to as the Auxiliary Processing Unit and some industry observers occasionally called it an Attached Processing Unit. Mostly it was simply referred to as the APU. While the company did not plan to initially port all of CADDS 4X to the APU, that was the long term plan. From a performance point of view, the APU, which had a 225 nanosecond cycle time and a 16KB cache memory, was somewhere between a VAX 11/750 and a VAX 11/780. By now Computervision was a fairly substantial company and it tried a matrix management approach for the APU project. This did not work very well and the company’s top management realized not much was being accomplished. The lack of progress was causing credibility problems with customers and financial analysts. In either late 1982 or early 1983 a crash project was put in place to ready the APU for the November 1983 AUTOFACT conference. Masood Zarabian was put in charge of a new team of programmers with Ken Versprille as the technical lead. The team moved to a separate building in order to focus specifically on the task at hand. Several problems became apparent fairly soon. One was that the hardware engineers (the computer gypsies mentioned earlier) who had designed the APU had left Computervision. Another problem was that the software work done to date had redundancies and gaps in what had been accomplished. For example, there were two separate groups working on compilers for the APU. Computervision customers who had access to early versions of the APU were somewhat underwhelmed. According to a Merrill Lynch report around this time, “The predominant complaint of CV users who have evaluated the APU is that it is too little, too late in terms of CPU horsepower and does not improve the response time of the workstation.” [7] Zarabian, however, was proving to be an effective manager. Versprille relates the story of one employee who was quite ill who Zarabian kept on the company payroll longer than perhaps was required. This resulted in the programmers pulling together behind someone they perceived to be a leader they could follow. Zarabian also felt that they needed to focus on three goals regarding APU software: 1) prove to the analysts that the APU was a viable machine and that Computervision strategy was valid, 2) create a deliverable product that could help drive the company’s revenues and 3) do it right once the first two objectives had been met. It took about ten months, but the team had a working system by the end of 1983, nearly two years after it was initially expected. One of the major problems the development team faced was the instability of the APU hardware. The machine consisted of four primary circuit boards and due to either design or manufacturing problems there was an excessive amount of crosstalk between these boards which would cause random machine failures. These problems were never fully resolved and the APU had a minimal impact on the company’s fortunes. It was too little and too late and really did not solve one of the biggest problems facing users and that was improving the performance of interactive tasks such as calculating the intersection of two surfaces. One of the major problems was the difficulty Computervision had getting third party software firms to port their software to the APU. Packages committed for delivery included ADAMS (dynamics), UNIRAS (finite element analysis), ADLPIPE (piping analysis) and COSMOS (finite element analysis). There was one aspect of the APU software project that would eventually have a major impact on Computervision and some of its staff from this period. Zarabian and Versprille brought over a team of programmers from the CADDS group to initiate the development of a solids modeler on the APU. There were nine programmers in the group and the manager was told to recruit another nine. After some number of months they determined that very little had been accomplished because the group was working on other tasks of interest the project leader. Versprille and Zarabian ended up firing the manager, Vladimir Geisberg, who then went to work at Prime Computer developing solids modeling software there. Phasing out computer manufacturing In August 1982 Allen gave up his titles of president and CEO to James Barrett, a former Honeywell vice president. Allen’s comment at the time was that he “wanted someone who came from the multi-million dollar corporate environment and who had experience competing against IBM.” [8] Well before the APU began shipping, Computervision realized that a new approach was needed regarding the company’s long range plans for computer platforms. In late 1982 Computervision told a number of computer vendors that the company would eventually shift from building its own minicomputers to using industry-standard workstations which could be networked together. This was not a decision made lightly. David Friedman, the vice president responsible for hardware engineering, and Bob Callaway, the vice president of manufacturing, particularly fought the idea. Throughout the first half of 1983, the decision of which workstation vendor to go with swung back and forth between Apollo Computer and Sun Microsystems. The other contenders were quickly eliminated for either technical or business reasons. A key sticking point in the negotiations was that Computervision wanted manufacturing rights in order to keep its plants busy. Apollo had been around several years longer than Sun and had already signed up Auto-trol Technology, Calma and Mentor Graphics as OEM customers. A major advantage Apollo had in this competition was that it was located in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, just a few miles from Computervision’s headquarters in Bedford. Sun, of course, was out in Silicon Valley. There were two other major differences between the two companies. Apollo had been founded in 1980, before some of the standards that swept the computer industry in the 1980s became well established. As a consequence it developed its own operating system, AEGIS, which while it was UNIX-like was not truly UNIX. In a similar manner, Apollo’s networking was based upon a proprietary token-ring methodology. These were good technologies but they were not industry standards. Sun, on the other hand, was fully committed to industry standards and used the Berkeley version of UNIX and Ethernet networking. The other major difference between the two companies was that Sun was more willing to have Computervision actually manufacture much of the workstations it would be selling. In June 1983 [9] , a Computervision purchasing manager called Sun’s president, Vinod Khosla, and told him that they were going with Apollo. Khosla and Scott McNealy who was vice president of manufacturing at SUN at the time, took a redeye flight to Boston that night and showed up uninvited in the Computervision lobby the next morning. They insisted in calling everyone in the company they knew, but no one was in a position to help them get the procurement decision reopened. Finally, one vice president convinced them if they left the lobby and returned to Sun’s local sales office in Boston, Barrett would call them. They got the call several hours later and according to Khosla, Barrett’s comment was: “We have decided and here is why. You are a 40-person company and you have an incomplete product. We love your technology, but there is no way you can supply it. Apollo is the standard in the industry, well financed and well managed.” [10] Khosla and McNealy did not give up and convinced Barrett to give them another shot at Computervision’s business. The result was that Sun succeeded in replacing a shocked Apollo as Computervision supplier of workstation technology. Sun was awarded a $40 million contract for workstation components. Under the deal, Computervision actually built the workstations using its own Instaview graphics technology. At this point in time, Computervision had far more capability in the graphics area than either Sun or Apollo, particularly more than Sun. Needless to say, porting CADDS 4X to the Sun workstation was a major project that probably took a lot longer than initially contemplated. Five months later, at the 1983 AUTOFACT Conference in Detroit, all Computervision was able to demonstrate was a standard SUN 11/120 workstation connected to a CADDS 4 system via an RS-232 link. For software, they were able to download a CADDS drawing and view it on the Sun workstation. The statement made at the conference was that the company would have two-dimensional drafting running on the Sun platform sometime in 1984. They were able to do this by the May 1984 NCGA Conference in Anaheim, California. The software they demonstrated at that conference, however, was quite different from CADDS 4. It used icon-based menus and may well have been an early version of Medusa ported to the Sun platform. Not much progress had been made by the time of AUTOFACT in October 1984 which was also held in Anaheim, although the company was able to demonstrate a fairly simple two-dimensional NC application. One of the problems they were having was that these Sun workstations had 50MB disk drives which were not large enough to support both the drafting and NC software – one or the other. A year later, at the November 1985 AUTOFACT Conference in Detroit, Computervision still was not able to demonstrate CADDS 4X running on a Sun-based workstation. To put this situation in its proper perspective, CADDS 4X consisted of more than five million lines of code, mostly written in an older version of FORTRAN. The first step in the porting process was simply to rewrite this older code in Fortran 77 and then port it to the Sun platform running UNIX. Zarabian was asked once again to manage a time critical project and he had the programmers working two shifts. It was probably another six months, however, before the company was able to ship CADDS 4X running on the Sun-based CDS 3000. The mid-1980s are a period of transition 1984 was actually a great year for Computervision. Revenues soared 39% from the previous year to $556 million and the company earned $75 million. A sizable portion of this was as a result of winning a $99 million U.S. Navy contract in late 1983. Also in 1984, Computervision acquired GRADO in West Germany, a developer of PCB design software, and Organization for Industrial Research (OIR), a vendor of group technology software. The latter never made much of impact on CV’s customers and was sold to International Technigroup in 1991. As of mid-1985, the company’s management consisted of the following key individuals: Martin Allen – Chairman of the board James Berrett – President and CEO Phillip Reed – Senior vice president and COO Richard Keiger – Vice president, finance and treasurer Robert Gothie – Vice president and group executive, North American Group Peter Chaison – Vice president, business development group (responsible for GRADO and the Metheus joint venture) Richard Paulson – Vice president and group executive, product group David Friedman – Vice president and general manager, product technology Thomas Sancha – Managing director, Cambridge Interactive Systems Masood Zarabian – Vice president and general manager, Applied Technology Division Bard Solomon – Vice president and general manager, OIR Ken Ledeen – Vice president and general manager, Personal Systems Business Unit. In May 1984 Computervision held a major press conference in Boston to announce a new product strategy consisting of three major components. CDS 3000 – This was the initial nomenclature for Sun workstations running Computervision software. Prices ranged from $35,000 for a basic workstation to $75,000 for a server version. Five software packages were announced at the May press conference including schematic data capture for electrical design, drafting, space planning, technical publications (actually Interleaf software) and a viewing program called FactoryVision. Database software from Rational Technology was also planed for the CDS 3000. Software prices ranged from $4,500 to $12,000. The plans as of May 1984 were to begin deliveries in November. Sales of the CDS 3000 hardware took off rather slowly due to the lack of deliverable Computervision software. The company also began selling Sun workstations as Medusa terminals where the Medusa software actual ran on DIGITAL VAX computers but by mid-1985 CIS had ported the software to the Sun platform and it was being sold as Medusa/3000. CDS 4000 – The bulk of Computervision’s sales at this point in time consisted of CGP-200X minicomputers driving Instaview workstations, both monochromatic and color, and running CADDS 4X software. The APU was typically considered an option for this configuration. Previously this configuration had been referred to as the Designer V system. A new release called CDS 4000 Revision 2 with Ethernet and SNA communications support was planned for July shipment. Prices started at $250,000 for a system with two color workstations and basic CADDS 4X software. In 1985, Computervision began selling Sun workstations as CDS 4000 terminals as an alternative to the Instaview units with the expectation that they would soon be able to directly support CADDS 4X software. By mid-1985, a boundary representation solids package, Solidesign, was fairly well integrated into CADDS 4X except that it did require that an APU be part of the configuration. On occasion Computervision still referred to these systems under the Designer VX nomenclature. Figure 12.2 - CDS-4000 System with Instaview Terminal CDS 5000 – In 1983 Computervision signed an agreement with IBM to resell that company’s 4300 series computers, primarily as database management machines. Running the VM/CMS operating system, these systems could support up to 64 simultaneous CDS 4000 users accessing databases up to 40 GB in size. Announced prices ranged from $485,000 to $650,000. The company initially referred to its software for these computers as Product Database Management although later they picked up the more industry standard term of Product Data Manager. The general impression was that Computervision was trying to offer something for everyone and glossing over the difficulty of making it all work together. Reselling IBM mainframes seemed to be a particularly difficult stretch for a company that primarily was used to having engineers selling design and drafting systems to other engineers. Personal Designer – Complicating this product mix, in September 1984 Computervision began shipping its first PC-based system, the Personal Designer System. With MicroCADDS software developed by Seattle-based 4-D Graphics, a Personal Designer System including a PC/XT sold for $13,580. Bezier curves and surfaces added $2,800 to the price tag. A PC/AT version was also available at $17,890 and customers could purchase just the graphics hardware and software for $9,980 if they wanted to install the system on a PC they already owned. There was no ability to share data with either a CDS 3000 or CDS 4000 system although a CADDS viewing program was available. The Personal Designer, which eventually was joined by a number of other PC applications, resulted in the company establishing its first domestic dealer channel. Although this was much more comprehensive software than what Autodesk had at the time, the price tag eventually proved to be too high for the product to be generally competitive with AutoCAD. In June 1985, a three-dimensional architectural design package developed by one of the company’s French customers was added to the Personal Designer product line. Called Personal Architect, the software sold for $9,200. The first major restructuring If 1984 was a great year for the company, 1985 was a disaster. Revenue dropped to $441 million and the company incurred an $81 million loss. As these losses began to mount, Computervision laid off 950 people during the first part of 1985. By the end of the year it had laid off a total of nearly 2,000 people and closed its Sanford, Maine manufacturing plant as it began to de-emphasize the manufacturing of its own computer system. By mid-1985, it was obvious that Computervision was repositioning itself to be able to react more quickly to changes in the computer hardware end of its business by turning to standardized products made by other firms. The problem was that with CADDS, Medusa, Personal Designer, Metheus, CDS 3000, CDS 4000, CDS 5000 and a myriad of other products, Computervision simply had too much on its plate. As I wrote in an Auto-trol report at the time, “CV is a company in transition and it does not seem that the transition is going well.” [11] Robert Gable became chief operating officer and vice chairman in September 1985 and Jim Barrett, as president and CEO, planned to focus on strategic issues and relationships with major customers. This setup lasted just six months and in March 1986 Gable replaced Barrett as president and CEO. Barrett went on to become chairman and CEO of Honeywell-NEC Supercomputers, a joint venture that planned to market very large computers in the United States. Computervision works to get back on track in 1986 and 1987 In 1986 Computervision’s business regained some of the momentum it had lost in 1985 as revenues recovered to $494 million and then in 1987 they grew another 14% to a record $565 million although profits of somewhat less than $20 million in 1987 were far below the $75 million the company had earned in 1984. By the end of 1986, nearly 60% of the company’s business was international and it would increase in subsequent years until it reached 67% in early 1992. The weak 1985 results, however, were probably a major reason behind James Barrett’s departure as president and CEO and his replacement by Robert Gable who had been COO. Gable had been a director of Computervision since 1974 and had joined the company full time in 1985 after a long career with Kidde, Inc. In 1984, Computervision and Metheus Corporation of Hillsboro, Oregon formed a joint venture to design and market CAE products for the electronics industry. Computervision made a $220,000 investment in what was called Metheus-CV, Inc. and loaned the joint venture $10 million. This operation never really got off the ground and, in 1985, Computervision wrote off its investment in Metheus-CV and in 1986 consolidated the activities of the joint venture with its own operations. From a software development point of view, 1986 saw significant progress in porting the five to six million lines of CADDS 4X code to the Sun platform running UNIX. This new version of the company’s flagship software retained the older user interface involving typed commands or the selection of these commands from a tablet menu along with new capabilities involving on-screen icons and pop-up menus. CADDS 4X’s 2,000 commands were logically organized into panels of 24 icons each. Switching between menus was facilitated by stacking the menus on the screen like a deck of cards so the user could rapidly move from one menu to another by clicking on the portion showing. The UNIX version of the CADDS 4X software took advantage of the multitasking and multi-window capabilities of the SUN operating system. As an example, an NC part programmer could see tool path geometry while at the same time view the text version of the tool path. By June 1986, there were 15 customer sites running beta test versions of the Sun software and by the end of the year, the company was able to claim that the porting was virtually complete. The major exception was some of the more advanced NC software which would take until sometime in 1987 to complete. The new UNIX version of CADDS 4X was file compatible with the CDS-4000 version of the software, at least from its ability to read and write data files without translation. Users of older CADDS 3 and CADDS 4 systems were faced with the need to install at least one CADDS 4X system and translate data to that format before they could move on to the UNIX version. On April 30, 1986 the company re-branded the CDS-3000 Sun workstations under the CADDStation label. These units consisted of Sun produced CPUs and Computervision graphics controllers along with the latter company’s console packaging. This approach was intended to meet two objectives. First, Sun Microsystems still did not have particularly strong graphics technology. Second, by producing as much of each workstation as it could, Computervision kept a significant portion of its manufacturing infrastructure in operation, avoiding shutting down additional plants and taking substantial writeoffs. Probably the most significant aspect of the Sun relationship was that Computervision would be able to improve the performance of its workstations in step with the rest of the computer industry as Sun periodically introduced new higherperformance workstations and servers. The CADDStations initially came in several different flavors utilizing Motorola 68010 and 68020 microprocessors with performance in the 2 to 4 MIPS range. Computervision sold these systems with both monochromatic and color displays and as diskless units as well as fully configured with disk drives and cartridge tape units. The nomenclature was 31X or 32X where the 31 referred to a 68010 microprocessor and the 32 referred to a 68020 microprocessor while the X was replaced by an M for a monochromatic display, a C for a color display and an S for a server. CADDStation hardware prices ranged from $14,000 for a very basic diskless unit to nearly $100,000 for a fully configured high-performance color workstation. Typical CADDS 4X systems probably averaged about $70,000 per seat at the time including software. In 1986 there was still debate within the computer industry regarding the relative effectiveness of the Ethernet networking being used by Sun compared to token-ring networking promoted by Apollo and IBM. By early 1987, CADDStations represented approximately 50% of Computervision’s revenues. One of the primary design objectives for the CADDStation was to make the unit’s graphics capabilities software compatible with Sun Microsystems’ own workstations. This way, customers would be able to run standard Sun applications on the Computervision hardware. In general, it seems that the company met this design objective although some packages probably required that SUN software such as SunCore and SunGCI be added to the configuration. During 1986 Computervision’s Cambridge Inactive Systems subsidiary continued to enhance Medusa, particularly in regards to platform support. The company now supported Digital’s VAXstation II/GPX workstation, MicroVAX computers and Sun workstations. The company said that its cooperative marketing program with Digital was going well but its 1986 annual report ignored Prime Computer’s sales of Medusa. [12] CIS also launched a relational database management system integrated with Medusa graphics. Called Assembly Modeler, by early 1987 it was in use for plant design applications at 30 European customer sites. Also, Computervision reported that it had sold a joint ownership interest in Medusa Revision 4.06 for approximately $5.3 million but did not identify who the buyer was. [13] The company’s Personal Systems business took off in 1986 with revenues up 75% over 1985. Computervision introduced a low-cost two-dimensional drafting package, microDraft, during the year. It also launched Revision 2.1 of Personal Designer with onscreen menus. In addition, the company continued selling Personal Machinist and Personal Architect. In late 1986 the company announced a bi-directional translator between Personal Designer and the CADDStation-based CADDS 4X software. Computer Aided Design Report, which was not known for its superlatives, declared this package had “become of the best mechanical CAD/CAM program running on a personal computer.” [14] In April 1987, Computervision set a Federal Systems Division under Robert Blauth. At the time, the multi-billion U.S. Navy CAD 2 procurement activity was getting into high gear. There was no question but the CADDS 4X software was where the bulk of the company’s interest was and where most of the development resources were being directed. CADDS 4X encompassed a broad array of software including: Finite Element Modeling Building and Civil Sciences (a wide variety of AEC applications) Plant Design Mapping Although Computervision’s primary focus was mechanical design, the company was the second largest vendor of AEC applications by 1987 trailing only Intergraph in market share. As of mid-1987 the company was still selling CAD 4000 systems built around i

Computervision Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • When was Computervision founded?

    Computervision was founded in 1969.

  • Where is Computervision's headquarters?

    Computervision's headquarters is located at 100 Crosby Drive, Bedford.

  • What is Computervision's latest funding round?

    Computervision's latest funding round is Acq - P2P.

  • Who are the investors of Computervision?

    Investors of Computervision include Parametric Technology, J.H. Whitney and Cornerstone Equity Investors.



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