Tom Goodman and Pat Race spent ten years working for Electronic Data Systems at the GM’s (now Delphi) Saginaw Division east of Saginaw, Michigan. In the last six years of that period of time we developed and implemented a number of Automated Concurrent Engineering (ACE) Systems to assist with the design of steering and transmission components. These were software applications that helped engineers automatically generate drawings and other design and documentation aids.
In July of 1998, we decided to create a company (FBE Associates, Inc.) that would use the techniques we had learned and developed to assist smaller companies with similar tasks. We decided to use Intent! (a software development tool) from Heidi Corporation and AutoCAD as our application development environment.
Our purchase of AutoCAD from a northern Michigan supplier who had a rebar (reinforcing steel) application that he wanted rewritten led us into the precast industry. This occurred after we had visited about twenty small manufacturing companies that were not ready to embrace expensive time saving software. We created a design advisor and drawing generator for pre-stressed concrete beams that used our rebar work and produced about $20,000 worth of drawings for a manufacturer of these beams in Michigan. We attempted to interest the State of Michigan and pre-stressed beam manufacturers in other states to use our services. Eventually it became clear that the chain of liability connected to highway bridge beam design made process improvements with software like ours very unlikely and we stopped marketing our beam design software.
In August of 2000, before the decision was made to stop work on the beam project, Pat visited western Wisconsin to sell the beam program and after explaining how the beam program worked, the production manager asked if these techniques could be used for manholes. For three months we worked on a crude Intent demo of a possible manhole drawing production module that the Wisconsin potential customer slightly liked when he saw it for the first time in January 2001. He also said that the precast industry would never pay for custom software and that we needed to get other companies to share the development cost. He suggested that we take a prototype to the National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA) trade show in North Carolina in February and show off our product, now named MH Pro! Two weeks later when the tradeshow opened we had MH Pro! working well enough to illustrate the concepts that we were trying to sell and more than twenty potential customers got a glimpse of the future. On the floor of the show in discussions with potential customers, the ideas came into shape that we now use for marketing MH Pro!.
FBE has attended NCPA trade shows each year since 2001.
In 2001 we were ready to deliver MH Pro! with AutoCAD as the drawing generator. Our lawyers suggested that some of our code should probably be patented and in August 2001 we applied for a patent. It took about a month to prepare the patent and the company that we thought would be our first customer was not impressed by the delay this caused. They were even less impressed with the software, or rather that their people would need to have and use AutoCAD to generate the drawings. They (and other potential customers) wanted several different types of users and the cost of multiple AutoCAD licenses and training several people to use AutoCAD made the process improvement gains, in their eyes, not worth the cost of the MH Pro! lease.
We spent late 2001 and early 2002 finding drawing generation applications and rewriting MH Pro! in Visual Basic to make drawings without AutoCAD. When we went to the 2002 NPCA Trade show in Indianapolis we thought that there might be two potential products, MH Pro! AC (with AutoCAD) and MH Pro! (without). We never did get a customer for the Auto CAD version so MH Pro! is the now the name of our product.
We worked through 2002 and to September 2003 before our first customers were certain the claims that we had made about MH Pro! were correct and that they would receive value for their money spent on the MH Pro! lease.
Each NCPA show has brought us additional customers, and in 2006 we had three employees of our customers providing demos in our booth.
We also have had customers use the information on our Website to decide to do Trial Projects with us.
We have recently created a DemoBuild of MH Pro! that we can send to prospective customers over the Internet. With the 20 minutes of training we provide you can be making standard shop and Submittal Drawings from the English or Metric Databases available.
Please use any resources of this Website and feel free to call us with your questions.