In July 1981, Ted and Con made the trip to Palo Alto and were impressed with the significant improvements made in laser cutting technology since 1978. Setups were faster, the power was higher, and the cuts were much cleaner. Following this trip, they arranged to attend the Hanover Fair in Germany in September to see the latest European technology. There they were guaranteed that the newer, higher powered lasers could even cut one-quarter inch steel sheets.

In November, Ted and Con returned to Palo Alto, making their own tests with the equipment. Satisfied, Ted signed a contract for a 700-watt laser cutter*, one of the largest then available, at a price close to $400,000 although the cutter couldn't be delivered until September 1982.

In addition to the risk of the laser technology, another serious problem now faced Ted and Con—obtaining adequate software for the laser cutter. Ted and Con wanted a package that would allow off-line programming of the machine. Furthermore, they wanted It to be menu-driven, operable by their current high school educated workers (rather than by engineers, as most lasers required), and to have pattern search capability.

Coherent, Inc. was simply not in the off-line software business. Since Ted and Con did not want to learn to write their own software for the cutter. Coherent suggested a seminar for them to attend where they might find the contact they needed. Con attended the session but was shocked at the "horror stories" the other attendees were telling. Nevertheless, someone suggested he contact Battelle Laboratories in Columbus for help. Fearing their high class price tag but with no other alternative, Ted and Con made arrangements to talk with the Battelle people. '

The meeting, in March 1982, gave Ted and Con tremendous hope. Ted laid out the specifications for the software and, surprisingly, it appeared that what they wanted could possibly be done. The price would be expensive however—around $ 100,000—and would require seven months to complete. The timing was perfect. Ted arranged for a September completion, to coincide with the delivery of the laser cutter. In the next seven months Con worked closely with Battelle, constantly redesigning and respecifying the software

"The contract included extensive ancillary equipment and hardware.

to improve its capabilities and avoid unsolvable problems and snags.

Finally, in September 1982, a two-inch high printout of Fortran code, programmed into a DEC PDP-11 computer, was delivered and matched via an RS-232 interface with the recently delivered laser cutter. But when the system was turned on, nothing happened. As Ted remarked: "Disaster City!" The software problem was solved within a day but the laser cutter had to be completely rebuilt on site. For almost 100 days the bugs had to be worked out of the system. "It was just awful."

The months of debugging finally resulted in a working system by December 1982. Meanwhile, Ted and the machine operator, Steve, spent four hours every Friday morning in training at Battelle to learn to use the system. Con and another operator did the same on Friday afternoons. Con and Ted later remarked that the "hardest" part of the training was learning to find the keys on the keyboard.

Initially, Ted and Con thought they might have enough business to keep the laser busy during one shift per day. As it turned out, running the system was considerably more operator dependent than they had expected for a computerized system. Though anyone in the shop could learn to use the system, the operator had to learn how to work with the system, finessing and overriding it (skipping routines, "tricking" it into doing certain routines) when necessary to get a job done. Ted described this as "a painful learning curve." Thus, only an experienced operator could get the volume of work through the system that was "theoretically" possible. Nevertheless, once thoroughly familiar with the system, one operator could easily handle two cutters at the same time, and probably even three.

Within the next 17 months, Peerless put 4000 saw patterns on the system and started running the cutter for two full shifts. Due to increased demand they added another laser cutter, using the same computer system, and by November 1983 were running both cutters throughout two full shifts.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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