In 1965, Donald Welbourn, Director in Industrial Co-operation at Cambridge University, had the vision to see the possibility of using computers to assist pattern-makers to solve the problems of modelling difficult 3D shapes.
Today, we take 3D modelling for granted. In 1965, only crude 2D drawing systems were available using terminals linked to large main-frame computers.
Initial work at Cambridge was sponsored by the Science Research Council but finding money to support the development was a constant problem for Donald Welbourn. In 1973, Donald persuaded his friend Lord Caldecote, then chairman of the Delta Metal Group and an ex-Cambridge engineer, to send Delta graduate engineer, Ed Lambourne, to Cambridge to work on the development of the software, which had been christened DUCT. The link between Cambridge and Delta Metals ultimately lead to the transfer of the system into industry. In 1974, Donald obtained additional sponsorship from Control Data in Europe in the form of access to its powerful time-sharing computing resources. Control Data offered DUCT initially on its time-sharing bureau service, most successfully to two of its largest German customers, Volkswagen and Daimler Benz.
In 1977, a new department called Delta Technical Services was formed by Delta Metals in Birmingham to continue the research. However, it remained difficult to justify the cost of the technology as computers were slow and expensive and the available software had few automatic features.
In 1982, mini computers with much more power at lower cost started to appear. This was a major step forward and, by 1984, the technology began to be competitive with traditional methods in many more applications. For many years, aircraft had been designed using computers but now it was becoming possible to economically design saucepans and other domestic products with complex 3D shapes using a computer.
When Donald Welbourn retired in 1983, DUCT development continued both at Cambridge and by the small team established at Delta in Birmingham. By 1984, the Birmingham team was larger than that at Cambridge and the unique features of DUCT began to be recognised. It was one of the very few systems developed from the beginning to design and machine products. Indeed, Donald Welbourn had arranged the first public display of combined CAD and CAM technology at the Machine Tool Exhibition held in Olympia, London, during June 1972. The equal emphasis on design and machining made DUCT different from its competitors and this was appreciated by the users. Most other systems had developed 2D drafting first, followed by 3D modelling with machining added later.
Since 1977, the demonstration activity in Birmingham had gradually been developed with additional machine tools being installed and a sub-contract programming service being added. This was now a separate commercial activity, Deltacam Systems Ltd, which by 1985 employed 15 people. This direct practical experience was very helpful in defining customers’ needs of the software and in testing new developments.
In 1989, Deltacam Systems Ltd was bought from the Delta Group in a management and employee buyout led by Hugh Humphreys, the Managing Director, and Ed Lambourne, Technical Director. The company was renamed Delcam International in 1991 and moved to a new purpose-built building in Small Heath, Birmingham, in October 1991.
Until then, DUCT had remained the company’s sole program. However, in 1993, Delcam introduced its first new software, ArtCAM. This was a different type of software aimed at artistic applications rather than the engineering industry. It subsequently became popular in a range of industries including signmaking, woodworking, engraving and jewellery manufacture.
Overseas activities had continued to develop in the later years within the Delta Group but this was expanded significantly after the company became independent. There was a strong emphasis on forming subsidiaries and joint ventures in the most important countries, including a wholly-owned subsidiary in North America, to sell to the region's massive manufacturing market. The success of its international business saw Delcam win the first of its six Queen’s Awards for Industry, with an Award for International Trade in 1991. Delcam has since won five more Queen’s Awards, for International Trade in 2005 and 2010, and for Innovation in 2003, 2004 and 2011.
In July 1997, Delcam plc was floated on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM). In preparation for this, Delcam UK was established to focus on UK sales and customer support.
The funds generated by the floatation were used to increase the size of Delcam’s headquarters in Birmingham, to recruit more staff to the development team, and to grow Delcam’s sales and marketing teams. The increased investment in software development allowed Delcam to develop a new range of stand-alone products to replace DUCT. The first of this new generation of software was PowerMILL, which soon became established as the world’s leading stand-alone milling software. It was followed by the PowerSHAPE CAD program and the PowerINSPECT inspection software.
Despite being affected by the Asian economic crisis in the late 1990s, Delcam continued to increase its market share. By 2000, the company’s sales had grown to the extent that Delcam was ranked as the world’s leading specialist supplier of NC software and services by the US analysts, CIMdata. Delcam held its leading position for the remainder of its thirteen years as an independent company.
In 2005, Delcam consolidated its position with the acquisition of the US-based CAM software specialists Engineering Geometry Systems, the developer of the FeatureCAM CAM software line. Introduced in 1995, FeatureCAM was the world’s first feature-based programming system.
In the following year, Delcam further expanded its range of software with the acquisition of the business and fixed assets of another US-based company, International Manufacturing Computer Services Inc., the developer of the PartMaker suite of CAM software. The PartMaker range includes the industry-leading applications for the programming of multi-axis lathes, PartMaker SwissCAM (for Swiss type lathes) and PartMaker Turn-Mill (for turn-mill centres with live tooling).
A third important addition followed shortly afterwards with the acquisition of Crispin Systems Ltd., one of the leading specialist suppliers of software to the footwear industry. This acquisition confirmed Delcam’s position as the world’s leading supplier of CADCAM systems to the industry.
The expanded company continued to grow at a rapid rate. Having taken until 2004 to reach 10,000 customers, Delcam announced its 20,000th customer in 2007 and its 40,000th client in 2012.
Delcam was acquired by Autodesk, Inc. on February 6th, 2014. Delcam now operates as a wholly-owned, independently-operated subsidiary of Autodesk.
Autodesk, Inc. is a world leader in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software. Customers across the manufacturing, architecture, building, construction, and media and entertainment industries – including the last 18 Academy Award winners for Best Visual Effects – use Autodesk software to design, visualize and simulate their ideas. From design professionals, engineers and architects in all of the Fortune 100 companies to digital artists, students and hobbyists – Autodesk software is helping people unlock their creativity and solve important challenges. Autodesk has more than 8,000 employees worldwide and is headquartered in San Rafael, California.
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