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The CAD/CAM Hall of Fame

Nov. 1, 1998
Three pioneers in the computer-aided design and manufacturing industry are recognized for their landmark contributions to the field.

Three pioneers in the computer-aided design and manufacturing industry are recognized for their landmark contributions to the field.

Computer-aided design and computeraided manufacturing were developed as two separate technologies. Interest-ingly, they began to emerge from the laboratory at roughly the same time in the early 1960s. And in the case of CAM, the technology was actually numerical control machining, which later grew into what we know today as computer-aided manufacturing.

At their introduction and for a long time afterward, probably no one could foresee that CAD and CAM would become intertwined and emerge as the most powerful forces in the industrial world. In fact, many people in industry thought that neither technology was destined to have much of an economic impact.

In the case of CAD, there were a number of people and institutions working on the idea of computer graphics for design. But the individual generally accorded to have been first with the most is Dr. Ivan Sutherland, who did his seminal work with a system called Sketchpad at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Parallel work was being done at the General Motors Research Laboratories.

The origins of numerical control or CAM were clearly with Mr. John Parsons, who owned a firm that produced a number of products but who did his original work in NC in conjunction with manufacturing helicopter rotor blades. Development of numerical control subsequently became largely an effort sponsored by the Air Force with work done by MIT.

One of the people involved with the General Motors CAD project was Dr. Patrick Hanratty, who later left GM to form his own company and develop the first commercially available software for mechanical drafting. Dr. Hanratty's software was used as the basis for nearly a dozen start-up companies selling turnkey CAD programs. Today, an estimated 90% of commercial drafting software can trace its roots back to Dr. Hanratty's original program, called Adam.

A quarter century ago, the very idea of CAD and CAM being linked was far-fetched and provocative to say the least. But today, production of a part is set in motion from a designer's graphic terminal.

What CAD and CAM now constitute is one of the greatest technological and economic forces ever seen in industry. Unfortunately, this fact is not comprehended by the public at large. Outside of the manufacturing and design engineering communities, few people realize how instrumental CAD and CAM are in establishing our standard of living at unprecedented heights.

The combined technologies need a Pantheon where landmark events and the people responsible for them can be honored and remembered. To this end, a CAD-CAM Hall of Fame has been established. Dr. Ivan Sutherland, Mr. John Parsons, and Dr. Patrick Hanratty are the first inductees. AMERICAN MACHINIST'S sister publication MACHINE DESIGN is handing out the honors.

Patrick J. Hanratty
Patrick J. Hanratty's pioneering contributions to CAD/CAM technology date back to 1957 when he developed software for Pronto, the first commercial NC programming language, while working at General Electric. Soon after, he devised a set of standardized machine-readable characters for use on bank checks.

That standard was accepted by the American Banking Association and is still in use today. At the same time, he began dabbling in computer-generated graphics, a largely unexplored field at the time.

In 1961 he moved on to General Motors Research Laboratories where he helped develop DAC, (Design Automated by Computer), the first CAD/CAM system to use interactive graphics. Hanratty's efforts in the project concentrated on the NC and graphics portion of the overall system. Although DAC was said to be incredibly useful and unparalleled in the auto industry for designing complex die molds, GM discarded the system when it upgraded its hardware and abandoned the software written for its older computers.

In 1970, Hanratty started his own company, ICS to write and market a CAD/CAM drafting package. Unfortunately, he targeted the software to run on a machine few people had heard of, and wrote it in TPL, his own programming language that even fewer people knew. Needless to say, the company was less than a success. But it did teach Hanratty some important lessons that are just as valid today: "Never generate anything closely coupled to a specific architecture. And make sure you keep things open to communicate with other systems, even your competitors."

He disbanded ICS and went on to form a new company, Manufacturing and Consulting Services (MCS) in 1971. Working alone, he wrote Adam, the first commercially available integrated, interactive graphics design, drafting, and manufacturing system. And this time he wrote it in Fortran and designed it to run on virtually any machine.

The package was a success. He eventually upgraded it to run on 16-bit, then 32-bit computers. He added more machining and surfacing capabilities and eventually rechristened it AD-2000. Even today, many major CAD/CAM companies can trace their software back to code written by Hanratty for Adam, AD-2000, and its follow-on Anvil-4000. Adam, for example, was licensed by Computervision Corp. for Cadds, by Gerber Scientific Inc. for IDS 3, and McDonnell Douglas for Unigraphics.

Some of the innovative firsts that sprung from MCS include Auto-Grapl and Autosnap 3D, along with Anvil-5000, a full-featured mainframe and workstation CADCAM system that works on PCs without a reduction in capabilities. Intelligent Modeler, a relational/parametric solid modeler that is fully integrated with a complete CAM system, also has its roots in MCS.

Autosnap 3D lets computer users automatically create 3D solid models from a 2D drawing. Auto-Grapl lets engineers design components, view the geometry, then command the system to write a program, in Grapl, that would make the part using NC machining. "We wanted a set of programs that would let the computer write its own program," says Hanratty. "And from a customer's point of view, Auto-Grapl is the most significant advance to date in the CAD/CAM industry, or for that matter, in any area of computer science — the computer writes the program for you."

John T. Parsons
Although he currently has reservations about producing munitions, John T. Parsons' skill and innovation first surfaced during World War II when his company produced weapons. By 1946, however, Parsons Corp. was making rotor blades for helicopters. Parsons developed programs that would use IBM punch card accounting machines to solve complex problems in structural and aerodynamic blade design. By 1947, he had devised a method in which milling machine operators turned out airfoil templates using a chart of table and cutter settings prepared on IBM punch-card machines. And by 1949, he had begun designing a punch-card system that would totally control a milling machine, the first "numerically controlled" machine, which would be used to make wing panels for a new Lockheed bomber. In 1969, he adapted numerical control to the making of polystyrene foundry patterns for cast-metal machine tool bases. The same process was soon being used by automakers worldwide for casting body dies faster and less expensively.

During his long and productive life, he has also developed a host of manufacturing and management techniques that are efficient and safe. In 1950, for example, he conceived and built a modular tooling system using sockets in the floor to install a two-point fixture suspension. It saved floor space and fixture costs, while promoting worker safety. In the same year, he designed and directed the installation of four traveling-column straightening presses, believed to be the first in the world.

Parsons also made significant contributions to the aviation industry, especially in the area of composites. He pioneered the use of adhesive bonding for metal aircraft components, and used it on 22-ft-long rotor blades. In 1958, his company turned out composite blades for helicopter rotors and wind tunnels, as well as 55-ft-diameter geodesic domes. By 1960, he had begun working on an all-composite airplane, which flew in 1966 on variable-camber wings equipped with boundary layer control. Parsons also helped the U.S. reach the moon, designing and building large (20-in.-diameter, 40-ft-long) fuel lines for Saturn V booster rockets.

Ivan E. Sutherland
Ivan Sutherland broke new ground in 3D computer modeling and visual simulation, the basis for computer graphics and CAD/CAM.

His Ph.D. thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1963, for example, was "Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communications System." It let designers use a lightpen to create engineering drawings directly on a CRT. The drawings could also be manipulated, duplicated, and stored. Sketchpad opened the door to graphic computing and included such features as computer memory to store drawn objects, rubber-banding for simpler line construction, the ability to zoom in or out on a display, and techniques for making perfect lines, corners, and joints. It was the first graphic user interface (GUI) long before the term was coined. Sutherland also helped develop the first algorithms that removed "hidden lines" in 3D drawings, essential in generating realistic renderings for CAD models.

As an associate professor at Harvard in 1967, Sutherland and a student, Bob Sproull, modified an existing system in which a helicopter pilot positioned a camera by moving his head. Sutherland and Sproull's new "Head-mounted Display" invention let viewers see and navigate through a computer-generated 3D environment. It was some of the first work done in virtual reality technology and would have far reaching implications.

In 1968, Sutherland joined with David Evans to form Evans & Sutherland, a company which today is one of the premier developers and manufacturers of computer imaging systems. It is also the leading supplier of visual simulation equipment used for aircraft pilot training. The firm revolutionized computer visualization and modeling, the cornerstones of CAD/CAM.

As head of the Computer Science Dept. at the California Institute of Technology from 1976 to 1980, Sutherland, along with Professor Carver Mead, introduced integrated circuit (IC) design to academia. Until then, IC design took place only in a few industrial companies. Universities found it too difficult or too mundane to teach. Sutherland and Mead deserve much of the credit for making IC design a proper field of study. This approach has turned out a generation of IC designers who have accelerated chip technology and created the very foundation for Silicon Valley.

Today, Sutherland conducts research at Sun Microsystems Laboratories where he is busy developing a concept he calls Asynchronous Systems, a project intended to break the mold of "traditional" thought on computer design.

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