Registered: We Make Innovation Work

PADT-We_Make_Innovation_Work-Trademark_Certificate-800wIt is official. We just got a letter from the US Patent and Trademark Office that “We Make Innovation Work” is now a registered trademark for PADT.

Here it is for the first time with the special r-in-a-circle:

We Make Innovation Work®

This new slogan for PADT was born out of being involved in applying for a couple of industry awards in 2011, doing a bunch of networking events, and starting the design of the new web site.  All at once I was being asked what it is we do and what makes us different.  Actually, I found the original email I sent when the idea for changing the slogan popped into my head, sent to Brenda at Newhouse Studios early in the design process:

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And there it was born. We used it in the acceptance speech for a couple of awards we won that year and then started using it on our literature. Hopefully it will serve us as well as “We Bring Dimension to Your Ideas” did for the first 10 or so years of PADT.

A big thanks to all of our customers out there who pay us to do what we truly enjoy doing and giving us the opportunity to, well –  “make innovation work” for them.

Arizona Innovation Grant Winners Announced, Three are PADT Related

 

imageThe Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) finished up the Fall 2012 Arizona Innovation Challenge Grant by announcing the six winners:

  1. Athena Wireless Communications, Surprise, AZ
  2. Instant BioScan, Tucson, AZ
  3. Post. Bid. Ship, Tucson, AZ
  4. Serious Integrated, Chandler , AZ
  5. Stat Doctors, Scottsdale, AZ
  6. Stimwave Technologies, Scottsdale, AZ

This is a great collection of companies that show a lot of promise. We are pleased to see the ACA making strong investments in the state’s technology sector. The bi-annual business plan competition awards qualified, innovative startups and early stage companies up to $250,000 in grant funding capital to grow their business, ultimately advancing innovation and technology commercialization opportunities in Arizona. Winning companies were selected from a pool of more than 200 applicants and 25 semifinalists.

PADT is very honored to note that we have connections with three of the winners:

Serious Integrated is a company that PADT has made several investments in and we are also proud to have them as a customer.  We just recently covered them in this very blog.

Post. Bid. Ship. is another company that PADT has invested in, in this case through the ATIF Sidecar Fund 1. 

Stimwave Technologies is one of PADT’s rapid prototyping customers.

Several of PADT’s owners also participated as early round judges to help select the semifinalists.  We had to recuse ourselves from a large number of applications because so many of our customers are involved, which is great to see.

Congratulations to all the finalists and to the winners, and we look forward to meeting new companies in the next competition.

Serious Integrated: Modular Touch Screen Panels

image_thumb1PADT Angel Investment Profiles
Giving back to the community you come from is something that PADT strongly believes in. We extend this belief not just to charities, but also to the technology business community that helped to create the company we are today.  One way in which we do that is through strategic Angel investments in local technology startup companies.
In this series, we will take a look at the companies that PADT has invested in, where they are in the startup process, and why PADT invested in them.  Hopefully we will cover two a month.  To learn more about PADT’s investment program, visit our Technology Investing page.  You can also read about the first investment we covered, Veebow.com.

 

imageSerious Integrated, Inc. is a company focused on one simple mission: doing away with buttons on machines.  Most mechanical systems need some sort of human-machine interface, and in the past this has consisted of buttons in some sort of control panel with a small monochrome screen that is hard to read and does not give enough information.  The current trend is to replace this interface with a color touch screen that can be programed to have whatever interface the equipment manufacturer want.  The problem that the manufacturer faces is that they have to design the screen and all the electronic hardware behind it, source it, program it, and integrate it with their system. Serious Integrated has solved this problem with a family of modular interfaces and a GUI development environment.  A six month development process to just get a prototype can now be done in a few weeks.

The Company

Serious Integrated was founded by Terry West and Gregg Lahti because they saw a need in the market.  With experience from RIM, Intel, Microchip and Sun Microsystems, along with a few startups, they knew how to take this need and build a product and services around it.  They are currently growing at the Chandler Innovations Incubator in Chandler, AZ by adding other seasoned professionals to their staff.

Serious Integrated Inc.
Terry and Gregg Show off two Modules

It is truly rare to sit in a room at a startup and be surrounded by people with as much experience as Serious Integrated brings to the table, and not just on the technical side, but also in operations, legal, and finance.  One of the ways that this has manifested itself is in establishing partnerships with a suppliers like Renasas and Microchip.  This also showed in the quick selection of the Serious modules as listed products by heavyweight distributors Arrow Electronics and Digi-key along with a host of well respected electronics manufacturers’ representatives.

The management team has been able to grow quickly and efficiently through many obstacles and are already generating revenue, delivering multiple product options, releasing software, and finding time to do custom design work.  Such a strong start is a good indicator of a very successful future.

The Technology

imageThe technology that Serious Integrated offers is an off-the-shelf solution that consists of already assembled components on a custom board with a standard operating system already installed.  This is combined with a GUI development environment created by the company to offer a complete modular solution that eliminates the lengthy development process required if you decide to roll your own interface.

If you want to know more specifics about the hardware technology, you need to contact Serious Integrated. Because I am a mechanical engineer, much of what they do in these modules is black magic to me. I do know it works, and if I want to use it on one of our projects, I do not have to budget for an electrical engineer to spend 3 months designing it for me.  Modules cost between $120 and $200 depending on size and features in small quantities, which is such an affordable price point it makes sense to just try one out.

imageI can speak to the software, which was just put out in beta release.  Ship is a complete rapid GUI development system that uses a WYSIWYG interface (SHIPTide) that allows you to design your interface in a virtual space by dragging-and-dropping components.  You can layout your GUI, define events or actions, build your resource library, and create a package that you can upload to your hardware with ease.  Something even a mechanical engineer can use.

SHIPEngine is the runtime engine that sits on the board. It can be loaded on a Serious Integrated module, or on your own hardware.  It takes the package you make with SHIPTide and runs your GUI.  No need to write for a specific microcontroller and/or RTOS.  Serious Integrated also offers services to help with the GUI design or to help with custom content for your GUI.

So you can go with their modules, or your own hardware, and use the SHIP environment to drastically reduce your development time. Many companies consider the use of a Serious Integrated module for their product development phase, and then going to their own hardware for mass production. With Serious Integrated, you have the option to do it whatever way is best for your needs.

SBX200PADT’s Interest

The current trend in product development is smart products. Everything has some sort of controller and a way to interface with it far  beyond on-off switches and simple buttons or dials.  New products must not only have more sophisticated controls, they must have human-machine interfaces that are robust, easy-to-use, and easily configured.  Serious Integrated has created a hardware and software solution that has huge advantages over developing your own interface. This is a product we recommend to our customers.

We also really like the team. They are smart, experienced, and very knowledgeable.  They also have contacts in the world of machine interface and control that we find very useful.  Our involvement with them has already been beneficial and we learn things every time we interact.  As Serious Integrated grows we hope to be able to offer PADT’s services to some of their customers, and we will continue to introduce our customers and vendors to their technology and services.

All and all, this has been one of the more beneficial partnering relationships that PADT has done through an angel investment.

imageStatus

Serious Integrated is currently in a great place for a new startup – they have orders with revenue coming in the door, product shipping, new products in the pipeline, and are building a positive reputation in the market.  Their focus right now is on raising the funds needed to meet the demands of their growing market and on executing their plan efficiently.  So far things have gone well and they have been able to verify their initial assumptions about the market and the features/functions of a product that will meet those needs.

If you have a need for a human-machine interface, you can help yourself and PADT out by taking a look at Serious Integrated and trying one of their modules and the GUI development environment.  Let us know what you think.

Happy Holidays and Merry New Year from The Focus

Here we are again. At the end of another year.  It has been a big year for The Focus, PADT, and for ANSYS in general.  It is our last full week of work for 2012 here at PADT so we always like to finish up the year with a summary article, looking back and looking forward.

VibratingSnowFlake3The Focus

We published 48 articles to The Focus blog in 2012, well 49 if you count this one.  That brings the total on the blog to 194, but the real number is higher because the old newsletters show up as one posting, and not the 3-4 articles per issues that they contain.

Which reminds me, a big THANK YOU to everyone who sends emails or leaves comments thanking us for doing The Focus.  We do enjoy doing it and getting a note now and then is frosting on the cake.

The biggest change to The Focus was the fact that it has a new home and it is no longer alone. With the launch of our new website we moved to a WordPress server for our blog, and we have added other non-ANSYS topics to the blog. So now our customers in the product development and rapid prototyping world can enjoy our immature wit and pseudo-wisdom.

We were also able to get more than a few Webinars out there.  In fact, we did 16 Webinars on topics from new tools we resell (VCollab and Flownex) to introductions on EKM and how to do a user routine in ANSYS Mechanical APDL.  All of the webinars can be viewed as recordings.

VibratingSnowFlake4PADT

The year of 2012 was not a year of big changes for PADT, but a lot of little ones that added up.  We continued to grow our presence in our corner of the US with growth at our Colorado office and salespeople in New Mexico and Utah.  We also completed all of the modifications to our main facility in Tempe, AZ and have been enjoying an almost construction free work environment for most of the year.

The big change was our new website.  But I mentioned that already…

It has been a good year for compute power at PADT.  Our sales of CUBE HVPC systems has been picking up and we have added more of these awesome systems to our own pool of servers.  It was a bit of a risk to start building custom computers for simulation users, but we have been able to make our customers happy and deliver some truly fast boxes for very reasonable prices.

We continue to see growth across all three of our business units: Simulation, Product Development, and Rapid Prototyping. Our prototyping group had a true breakout year with record numbers of prototypes delivered to customers and big growth in the sales of our Support Cleaning Apparatus.  We also completed a couple of very large injection molding jobs that we helped set up.

On the community front we continue to support STEM education efforts, with some new efforts in the Denver area and more support Arizona. We have also participated in more Angel investments and PADT is now a regional sponsor of the Cleantech Open.  We are also proud of our very own Jen Ayers who has stepped up to be the president of the local chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

VibratingSnowFlake2ANSYS

We started out 2012 getting up to speed with ANSYS 14.0, which was introduced at the end of 2011.  There was so much new stuff that we barely got it all under our built when we got 14.5 last month.  We have been very pleased with the efforts of the development teams during the year, especially in meshing, load mapping, and advanced blade row capabilities, just to name a few.

And ANSYS, Inc. as a company did well, they started 2012 at $57.39, look to be finishing at around $70 with a worst at $55.21 and a peak of $74.37.  22% growth if it finishes at $70/share. Not a bad year, better than the DJI or NASDAQ.  This puts the market capitalization at around $6,400,000,000. I put the zeros in there for effect.  It is very impressive for those of us who were around when they  first went public.  Their 10 year performance is far and away above any other company in the space.

And speaking of growth, ANSYS, Inc. acquired Esterel Technologies, expanding their footprint in simulation to simulating imbedded systems.  We also saw further integration of all of the acquired products under the Workbench and organizationally.  The thing that still amazes us is that with all this growth we still see the same vision and focus, and still the attention to the little features and functions that users ask for.  We deal with a lot of software companies and have seen a lot of acquiring. No one stays as focused as ANSYS, Inc.

VibratingSnowFlake12013

This coming year is looking good.  Here in the US we may finally get out of our slow growth period and see some robust expansion… if our politicians can stop fighting and end the uncertainty.  PADT is ready for some good growth and we hope to get into some new technologies, meet some new customers, and see some new business.

The folks at ANSYS, Inc. are working away at ANSYS 15.0, which is going to be another major release. We will be here for our customers as we all learn 14.5 and funnel feedback to the proper channels to help make 15.0 even better. We also hope to see a growth in our usage of other physics in 2013 and more advanced materials, it seems like our customers are headed that way so we want to get there first.

And for The Focus, expect more of the same. We have a whole list of posting ideas and will try and hit the ground running when we get back from the holiday break. Maybe in 2013 we can break that 50 article threshold.

W want to wish you, your co-workers, your family, and your friends a very happy holiday season and we hope to prosper with you in the new year.

PADT Sign at the End of the Rainbow

Ted Harris captured this picture when going home last Friday.  This is what you find at the end of a rainbow.

  RAinbow-PADT-Sign2

It is a long exposure to get the colors in the rainbow, so the sign is a bit bright.  But not bad for holding an iPhone steady.

Christmas Right–Left Gift Exchange Story: Romance Style

For our Christmas parties at PADT we generally have over 40 employees so a traditional secret Santa gift exchange takes to long. So a couple of years ago we downloaded a right-left gift exchange story from the internet and it was a big hit. We ran out of stories on the internet, so we started writing our own, usually in some sort of over-the-top style.  This year it was sort of a romance story with an Italian lover, a green dress, sword play, and a angry suitor.  It takes place at Christmas time… so there is the rather weak tie to Christmas.

If you have never played this game before it is simple. Everyone gets their gift and forms a big circle in the middle of the room.  Someone with a strong voice reads the story and every the world LEFT is read, everyone passes the package they have to the left. Every time the world RIGHT is read, everyone passes the package they have to their right.  You should pause a bit at each LEFT/RIGHT to give people a chance to pass.  Using funny voices for the dialog also helps.

We hope you get as many laughs out of it as we did.

You can find our Film Noir style story from last year here.


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Silvia LEFTwater lounged in her chair and watched Sir Robert St. RIGHTman stride across the portico, from LEFT to RIGHT into the LEFT wing of the LEFTwater mansion. She fluttered her eyes and inhaled a deep breath that stretched the bodice of her deep green satin dress. She held it for a time till it LEFT her a little light headed. She then let out a long, sad sigh.

RIGHT now, based upon the sigh that just LEFT your body, I am guessing that your heart is once again RIGHT where I… last enjoyed your embrace.

Hearing Alberto’s voice coming from the doorway startled Silvia RIGHT out of her deep contemplation. During the summer they had enjoyed a brief, deep and passionate romance, stolen moments together RIGHT here in her Writeing study, that had LEFT her wanting more. If she was honest with herself, it had LEFT her devastated. But he had… gone away without saying a word, only WRITEing her a single note that explained he would return RIGHT before Christmas. She had moved on, or so she thought. She didn’t want to think about the complications that Alberto LEFT in his wake; she wanted to focus on Sir Robert RIGHT now.

“Alberto, it is such a pleasure to see you standing RIGHT here, you LEFT in such a hurry this summer.” She presented her RIGHT hand to him, which he took in both his LEFT and RIGHT hands, brushing his lips RIGHT against the top of her knuckles. “I am so glad you could be here for Christmas, it would not be RIGHT to celebrate it without you.”

Alberto looked down on her, gazing into her eyes in a way that LEFT her a bit breathless. “My dearest Silvia, you must be angry with me, and RIGHTly so. But it is now Christmas time and I want nothing LEFT to chance. So I have returned to RIGHT here, RIGHT now, to make things RIGHT. “

Silvia felt her heart leap RIGHT out of her chest. He had LEFT her depressed and forlorn and now he marched RIGHT in at Christmas to declare something. And RIGHT after Sir Robert had LEFT this very same room after making a proposal of marriage. In fact, she realized that Sir Robert had declared his love to her standing in the same place Alberto stood now.

“Silvia, my peach, my desire, when I , LEFT here this summer I feel I did it for the RIGHT reasons. I bought property on the LEFT bank of the seine and opened an art auction house. And I sold pictures that my aunt had LEFT in plain sight, RIGHT above the LEFTmost window of our country estate. They were rare examples of the REITenhouser school of portraiture, painted by REITenhouser himself and his students. I sold them for a fortune, which has LEFT me with enough money to do RIGHT by you.”

Just then, Silvia saw Sir Robert over Alberto’s LEFT shoulder, standing in the door that had been LEFT open. His RIGHT eye twitched as his RIGHT hand slowly moved to his RIGHT hip where his sword was secured to his belt. “Alberto!” he yelled with RIGHTeous indignation. “By all that these mad days have still LEFT holy in this world, you have given up your RIGHT to Slivia’s attention. I have stood RIGHT by her side when you LEFT her crying, RIGHT here on this couch. Draw your sword, and we shall see who is LEFT standing!”

Alberto stood at attention, he looked RIGHT into Sir Robert’s eyes and said “You have LEFT me with no choice, we shall set this RIGHT….” He paused and drew his sword with his LEFT hand, for Alberto was not only Italian, he was a LEFTy, “… here and now”

And then they battled, back and forth, parry and thrust, thrust and parry. Silvia stood speechless, clutching her hands to her LEFT chest against her pounding heart. As the men fought, she was LEFT with a feeling of exhilaration. She knew it was… wrong… and not RIGHT, to find pleasure in their struggle. But she could not help herself. He chest heaved, covered with dewdrops of sweat as she watched them struggle.

Without warning, when they stood RIGHT in front of Silvia, Alberto slashed across Roberts LEFT cheek, which LEFT a long red streak under his eye. It also splashed blood RIGHT on Slivias RIGHT hip, RIGHT above her hand tooled leather belt.

“STOP THIS RIGHT NOW!!!” she shouted. Her outburst LEFT both men stunned and they stood there in front of her, looking RIGHT at her. “It is Christmas and this is not RIGHT. Although I am honored by your gallantry and willingness to fight for my love, the decision shall be LEFT to be to decide what is RIGHT for me.”

She took a deep breath and both men admired her long auburn hair, tied into a braid that sat on her RIGHT shoulder. She looked fierce, and beautiful. Then the word leapt RIGHT out from her “I love you Alberto, I always will. I would have rather you not LEFT me, and what you did was not RIGHT. But I forgive you. I’m sorry Sir Robert, it would be best if you LEFT now.”

Sir Robert dropped his sword and turned to leave. He walked through the door he had LEFT open only minutes before when he had LEFT after he had proposed to her, and walked down the hallway and… across the courtyard to his waiting carriage.

Which LEFT Silvia once again alone with Alberto, and it felt RIGHT. “Oh Alberto!” She felt his LEFT and RIGHT arms tight around her, which LEFT her no option but to collapse into his warm body. “This will be the Best Christmas Ever!” she said. Alberto leaned back and said. ” My Dear, Silvia, my love, my desire, my passion. You are…….. correct”

Webinar Info: New and Cool Stuff in ANSYS R14.5 Mechanical Products

 

This Wednesday we had our last PADT ANSYS Webinar Webinar of 2012 on the cool stuff in the just released 14.5 version of the ANSYS Mechanical products.  As promised, here are links:

The recording can be found at:
https://padtincevents.webex.com/padtincevents/lsr.php?AT=pb&SP=EC&rID=6160237&rKey=0a380a100d1db557

And a PDF of the presentation can be found at:

PADT-Webinar-R145_Important_Stuff-Mechanical-2012_12_12.

Enjoy!

Startup Lesson Learned 2: Stay Focused, Be Flexible, Set and Use Goals

10_Tech_Startup_Lessons_Learned-1_thAbout the Series “10 Tech Startup Lessons Learned”PADT is a company focused on helping companies bring their physical products to market. As “We Make Innovation Work” for our customers, we learn a lot about what does and does not work in technology startup companies. In addition, we were once a startup ourselves and we now participate in Angel investing.  All of this has taught us a lot of valuable lessons.
In this series we will share some of those lessons learned and explore the basic concepts and ideas that will help startups overcome the odds and become successful.

This posting is the second installment for our series. The first posting was “If You Build It, They Will Not Come.”

We hope that you find it useful and we look forward to sharing our thoughts on this topic with you.

image_thumb1
There is a reason why so many business books and presentations use a picture of a guy on a tightrope.  Business is all about balancing.  But if you dig deeper, you find that in order to balance you have to do two things that are often in conflict – you must stay very focused on what you are doing while being flexible in how you react to things.  Getting the right balance between these two approaches is critical to success in any business, but especially for a technology startup.

To understand why focus and flexibility are so important it is a good idea to remember that doing a startup is a process that involves many steps, often executed at the same time.  The execution of each step costs time and money, and a startup has a limited amount of both. Therefore it is critical that you only execute the steps that will lead you to your goals. Doing anything else will lead to a squandering of precious resources and will result in your startup running out of funding or not getting to market in time.

The path seems obvious: come up with a plan, then follow the plan.  Easy.

The problem is that no one knows what steps are needed when they start, and even if you have a good idea, everything changes all the time. There are a host of external factors that impact what you are trying to achieve. Things like the economy, competition, changes in laws, shifting consumer trends, and new technologies.  You can plan for some of this, but not all of it. When circumstances change, successful startups react in a controlled but effective manner.  This requires focus, flexibility, and the effective setting of goals.

Focusing on Focus

image_thumb3Being focused is not the same thing as making a plan and sticking to it.  Focus is all about making sure you are paying attention to what is important, thinking about why it is important, and prioritizing your actions.  It is about having an inner dialog with yourself and within your organization that directs your actions, allowing you to keep moving towards your goals as things change.

Sometimes it is easier to understand the importance of a concept by looking at its opposite.  The opposite of focus, in this context, is distraction.  In the world of startups distractions are often deadly.  They sap resources and move your team away from what they should be doing.  They can also lead to making the wrong decisions because you loose site of priorities.

By concentrating on your companies goals and relating decisions back to those goals, you can stay focused and avoid distractions.  To do so we recommend the following steps:

  1. Any time you need to make a decision on if you should do an activity stop and assess it.
  2. Look at the activity in relation to your startup’s goals and decide if it moves you towards those goals and use that decision to label the activity as something to focus on, or as a distraction.
  3. Track the distractions for review in the future, they may become aligned with your goals as other things change.
  4. If it is worth focusing on, prioritize the effort required to complete the activity with respect to meeting your goals.  Not just what the impact is, but the impact relative to the effort required.
  5. Continue to monitor actives with respect to your goals and their progress. Make sure that you lower the priority on activities that are not moving you towards your goals or that no longer address shifting goals.

In the end, you just need to have the discipline to keep your whole team focused on what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and how you are going to do it.

Stretching for Flexibility

image_thumb5Way back around 500 BCE, a Greek guy name Heraclitus said “Nothing endures but change.”  It was true then, it is true now.  When creating a startup there is only one thing that is a sure thing – that things will change.  The unexpected will happen and things you predicted will not. Worst of all, there is no way to avoid change.  You have to accept that it will happen, and when it does happen you have several choices on how to deal with it.

You can resist it, push back, fight the change.. But in doing so you can often loose your focus and create resource sapping resistance.  Another option is to ignore it, which is often the easiest response.  The problem with ignoring change is that your startup’s goals may actually change and you do not even know it.  Lastly, you can meet change proactively, embrace change, and adjust your activities to make the best of it. The issue with this approach is that you may make the wrong adjustments and stop doing what you should be doing.

As with most things, the best answer is a combination of all three of these responses, controlled by each unique circumstance.  That is why a startup needs to be flexible.  When change happens you need to stretch your perceptions and maybe your knowledge till you truly understand the change and how it effects your startup.  Once you understand it in the context of your business, you can devices a plan for dealing with the change, or decide you can ignore it.

The most important part of flexibility is being able to honestly look at your product and your organization and change your views, your activities, and maybe even your organization itself.  Being flexible is all about using change to deal with change.  It is about being open minded.

Having an open mind and being able to listen to other peoples ideas is a critical step towards being flexible.  This is often difficult for those with the drive and passion to create a startup. The self-confidence and determination that keeps them moving forward makes it difficult for them to except that change needs to happen or to let others decide what that change needs to be.  Entrepreneurs need to be open to the ideas of others and step up as leaders to modify their plans based on outside input.

For an organization to be flexible, it must constantly stretch and push its flexibility, just like with muscles in the body.  If a company is rigid and then tries to make a big change out of the blue, pain will result.  A startup that has flexibility as part of its standard way of doing things can bend and twist as needed, when needed, without stretching things beyond limits.

Goals

image_thumb7The key to staying flexible and focused at the same time is setting usable goals and effectively using them. Goals are the tool that a startup can use to find that balance between focus and flexibility.  They give everyone in the organization a shared set of guidelines to evaluate decisions with.  If you have clear goals, your team can look at change, assess its impact on goals, and make intelligent changes.

Easy to say, hard to do.  Setting up a concise set of goals and objectives is hard enough, but sticking with them and adapting them as the world around you changes is even more difficult.   Whole books have been written on the subject of business goals and objectives.  If you have not done so, it is probably a good idea to read one or two or read some articles on the web.  Inc. Magazine has a good article from 2010 on the subject.

Some of the rules we use for establishing goals are:

  1. Goals must be real and achievable
  2. Chose goals that can be measured
  3. You should be able to explain why each goal is important to your company in one simple sentence
  4. Keep goals as simple and practical as possible
  5. Do not word your goals for outside consumption, they are tool for you and your team.

Whatever method you use, identify real world long-term and short-term goals that everyone in your organization can understand.  Once established, make sure you review them and change your goals as you learn more and as things change. Then use your goals as a tool to help make decisions and guide your company through its growth towards success.

Thoughtful Controlled Adaptation

image_thumb9A common term in the world of startups these days is “pivot.”  Do a search online for “business pivot” and you will be shocked at how many articles and blog entries are written on the topic.  It is an idea that has come out of the observation many of today’s very successful software startups ended up being successful in areas they did not expect or initially go after.  Fast Company has a good article on the whole “pivot” thing and where it came from.

Doing a pivot in a business is being flexible and making changes to address changing goals. That is good.  However, what we see again and again is people justifying lack of focus or chasing after wild geese as a “pivot.”   We know, YouTube started as a video dating site.  Great for them.  That does not excuse your shift from bio-contaminant detection to making custom dog collars.

If you pivot without control, without looking at what is going on around you, you will fall over.  If you pivot away from your goals, then you will miss your target. The answer is to think and adapt to changing situations with control.  Assess the change you are looking at, compare it to your goals, and if it make sense, plan the proper effort to implement the needed change.  Make a conscious effort to thoughtfully work out your decisions.

The journey to success is a long one, with many distractions along the way.  You can complete that journey if you stay focused, be flexible, and set and use goals.

A Guide to Creating Good STL Files

imageThe STL file is the linqua-franca of the prototyping world, the file format that all geometry creation tools write, and that all prototyping systems read. When you make a prototype it will be an exact copy of your STL file. If your file is not accurate, then your prototype will not be accurate. If there are errors in your file, you may not be able to get a prototype made. Therefore, a little bit of time understanding STL files and how to create a good one is a good investment that will pay off in the long run.

About STL Files

When additive manufacturing was just starting the manufacturers of machines faced a problem – they needed a way to get 3D solid models from a large number of CAD systems to their machines for processing. The common file format for geometry interchange, IGES, was not robust enough because of toleranceing issues. Writing a program to slice up each CAD format was also not practical. So they looked at the problem and realized they did not need exact mathematical models made up of NURB, Bezier, or analytical geometry. The algorithm that sliced up each layer just needed polygons on the surface. So the STL file just needed to have those polygons. And the STL file was born.

Lets talk about that slicing process. If you remember, almost all additive manufacturing processes work by creating stacked layers that are a cross section of the part you want. To build the part you must slice the geometry in software, calculating that cross section. Doing the intersection of a plane with a complex NURB surface is hard math, but the intersection with a triangle is very easy and results in a line segment. This makes creating the path for each layer much easier.

STL stands for STereoLithography, or Standard Tessellation Language, depending on which source you check. It was invented for 3D Systems by the Albert Consulting Group way back in 1987 to support the first Stereolithography machines. The format describes a collection of facets, or polygons. Each polygon is defined by a normal “outward” vector and the vertices that define it. Although the format supports more than three vertices per facet, in practice everyone uses three, defining a triangle. The file can be a text file (ASCII) or a binary file.

Users almost never have to worry about the file because the programs they use to create their geometry automatically generate STL files in the proper format. If you do need to write your own routine to output an STL file, it is fairly simple.

Faceting

clip_image001 The way an STL file is made is the program that creates the STL file goes through the topology of the model and meshes it:

1: First it puts points on all of the shared edges of all the surfaces
2: Then it creates triangles on each surface

The algorithm used to create the facets varies from program to program, but most of them use the same routines they use to make facets for the 3D graphics you see on your monitor.

There are two things to note about faceting. The first is that each corner must be coincident with at least one other corner. No corners can touch the edge of another triangle. The second is that a triangle is flat and your surface can be curved. To make your curved surface look curved you need enough triangles to make it appear like a continuous surface.

Leaky Geometry

The most common problem these days with STL files is leaky geometry. When your CAD tool creates the STL file your solid may not be a true solid in that you have holes in your topology. This can be caused by gaps, ill-defined curves and surface, or corners (vertices) not lining up. If you cut out the triangles and glued them together then filled the resulting object with water, the water would leak out.

You CAD package can make leaky STL files if it has loosened up the tolerances on the geometry modeling to the point where edges on its surface do not really line up. They trick themselves into accepting this through some hand waving inside their database, and it really is not a problem till you want to do something with the surfaces. Something like make an STL file.

One way to fix this problem is to clean up the original geometry. Run diagnostics on it and see where there are holes. You should do this anyway because in the end, a messy solid will cause problems when you make your drawings, calculate tool paths, or try and do simulation.

If that is not an option, you can use repair software. If you use an RP service provider, they should be able to repair most STL files. But if you constantly need them to do so, you should really look at changing your modeling practices or investing in some repair tools.

If you are doing your own prototyping, you have two good options. The first is free: Meshlab. It is an open source tool for working with faceted geometry and has repair and diagnostic capabilities. It does a lot so the interface can be a bit confusing, but it is free. If you want to save time and probably money in the long run, we recommend that you purchase a copy of SolidView. It is purpose built for repairing STL files and can really cut down on your repair time.

Faceted Geometry

Even if your prototyping tool can read your geometry and make a valid part, it may come out looking all clunky because your geometry is to faceted. As discussed above, the STL file is made up of triangles. If you have too few triangles on a curved surface then it comes out looking all flat and ugly. Here is a simple example:

The key to controlling this is to set the options in your CAD package to create more facets.

This is such an important topic, we actually have a whole posting dedicated to it:

STL File Tolerance: A Short Explanation of Faceting and Chord Height

In the old days we tried to minimize the number of triangles in an STL file because that file had to be uploaded, often via a modem.  But now we can email very large files, so you can make some pretty big STL files. Don’t go crazy, but don’t sacrifice surface quality either.

Degenerate Triangles and Inverted Faces

It is very rare for a CAD tool to create bad triangles, but it happens every once in a while. When trying to create a build from an STL file you might get a “Degenerate Triangle” or “Inverted Faces” error message.  There is not much you can do with this other than try one of the repair tools mentioned above or try and fix your underlying geometry.  If you get this type of error, there is something very wrong with your solid model.

Feature Sizes

Another problem that people often run across is that some of their small features do not show up on their prototype.  This can be because their STL file is not refined enough and that can be solved by tightening up the tolerance on their STL file creation.  If that does not work, the feature may just be too small for the technology.  Take a look at what the true machine resolution is. Make sure that is is smaller than your smallest features.

Make an Investment in Productivity

Having a bad STL file can really slow down the rapid part of Rapid Prototyping.  That is why PADT recommends that you take the time when you create your solid models to make good, robust, water tight solids that can be used down stream.  If you have nasty geometry or a less than precise CAD tool (can anyone say CATIA) you may have to invest in a repair program like Meshlab or SolidView.  Some up-front investment will pay in the long run, especially when you need that prototype first thing in the morning.

Printing from this Blog

A quick note before I head out for a Chris Isaac concert (my wife is a fan, and I’m supportive… but let me note that she did not support me by going to see Rush) I wanted to let our readers know about printing on this new blog.

Long time The Focus readers are used to having a “Print” link that will make a  nicely formatted printout of articles.  Some people like to do that and then share them with others or keep them in a book for reference. On the new WordPress based blog there is no need for that. Simply go to the article itself by clicking on the title, then print it out using your browsers print function. WordPress takes care of the formatting.

Have a great weekend!

Wicked Games

Rush

Local Involvement: PADT Leading Efforts to Improve Business Climate in Littleton, CO

PADT’s very own Norman Stucker is leading efforts through the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce to grow the business community in Littleton. Norman is heading up a commitee charged with creating coordination and synergy between businesses, non-profits, and local government.

This morning was the first community meeting for the committee. Speakers included a small graphic arts company owner, the director of the local YMCA, and the Littleton city manager. The messaclearly the same from everyone, that Littleton is “open for business”

PADT is very proud to have one of our employees play such an important role in the community.

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PADT at the 9th Annual Colorado Space Roundup

PADT is pleased to be an exhibitor at this years Colorado Space Roundup. This is a great event where everyone involved in space gets together and talks about what needs to be done to improve and grow the aerospace ecosystem in the state. We are pleased to see many of our customers here, and have already met some new friends.

The location is at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, a very cool facility with a nice view out front. It was also nice to see so many grcrust companies, many who are customers, listed with PADT on the sponsor page.

Veebow.com: Smart Phone Coupons

imagePADT Angel Investment Profiles
Giving back to the community you come from is something that PADT strongly believes in. We extend this belief not just to charities, but also to the technology business community that helped to create the company we are today.  One way in which we do that is through strategic Angel investments in local technology startup companies.
In this series, we will take a look at the companies that PADT has invested in, where they are in the startup process, and why PADT invested in them.  Hopefully we will cover two a month.  To learn more about PADT’s investment program, visit our Technology Investing page.

 

imageVeebow.com is not a typical technology investment for PADT.  The company “was founded by Tom Vitale and Edward Loew to connect buyers with savvy companies through local, regional and national special deals using a free application on smart phones and mobile devices.”  Why does PADT have an interest in a mobile phone coupon application? We will get to that below, but first a little bit about the company.

The Company

Based in the Phoenix area, with offices in Los Angeles, Veebow.com is a startup that was born out of a missing capability in the market place.  No one provides a method for consumers and merchants to easily and affordably  use coupons on a smart phone. There are plenty of discount applications out there, but non of them are free AND mobile oriented.  They usually cost money for the consumer, or are web based systems moved to mobile.  Veebow is mobile from the ground up, and costs the consumer nothing. In fact, you actually make some money when you use a coupon through the application, because users earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards.

Veebow Couponing app developed by Amadeus ConsultingThe merchant side is also different.  Instead of having to pay for deals to get published, or instead of using the deal company as a middleman to pre-sell things, Veebow only charges the merchant when a coupon is used.  The merchant only pays when they get a customer.  That is very attractive to merchants that are unhappy with most of the deal sites out there.

One other thing that makes Veebow different is where the idea for the company came from.  Tom Vitale, one of the founders, is married to the actress Valarie Bertinelli.  A life long coupon clipper, she was complaining about what a pain it is to use coupons, and that all of the online and mobile options are difficult to use or cost money.  From that complaint came the idea and the name for Veebow – Tom’s nickname for his wife.  Her involvement is a significant marketing advantage for the company.

veebow-managementThe Veebow Management Team

The Technology

The technology on for this startup is not bleeding edge. The mobile apps are written in native IOS and Android and use standard location services and communication to work.  There is a backend tool that sits in the cloud which houses the database and does all of the heavy lifting as far as finding what the user is looking for.  Nothing too special, but a lot of work to implement and something that needs to be done right.  So the technology focus is really on executing correctly

Because of this, the real technology challenge for this product was taking the desired user experience and making it a reality.  It is one thing to sit in a room and talk about how an application should work, and another to make it happen in the real world.  Veebow just released their first major revision of the user application and you can tell they have really thought things out and put a lot of effort into making the experience special.  As the product matures and they modify and improve the user experience, look for more sophistication and ease of use in the application.

PADT’s Interest

Eric_and_VB1We are interested in this company for three reasons. And no, one of them was not meeting Valarie Bertinelli. (although, that was pretty cool, and she is as nice and funny in person as you imagined. We did get a picture with yours truly during an event in Phoenix).  As PADT grows our services and works with a wider range of companies, we have to continually learn more about other spaces and other processes used to get products to market and sold.  Sometimes we make investments in companies because their products or services are directly related to what we do, and sometimes it is because they offer us the opportunity to learn about areas we want to understand better.  The latter is why we invested in Veebow.

The first area of interest for us is the mobile application aspect.  As products get smarter they are going to be moving towards monitoring and control through mobile applications. This is already showing itself to be true in medical devices, and we are seeing it with more customers in other industries every day.  Our involvement with Veebow has already taught us a lot about mobile app development, connections to cloud based backend database applications, and user experience issues.

A unique challenge that Veebow faces is that they need to market to consumers and vendors at the same time.  PADT has no direct experience with marketing to retail merchants or consumers, but many of our customers deal with this on a daily basis.  We feel that by being involved with Veebow we will get an up close look at this very important dynamic, and give us insight that we can use when working with our customers.

The most important reason for our investment in Veebow is that we think it is a great idea, with a good team, and a workable plan. In short, we think it is a good investment that will make a nice return on our investment while growing jobs and the technology ecosystem in Arizona.  This is the type of win-win situation we strive for.

Status

The team at Veebow is very busy with a local test launch in the Phoenix area, closing out this round of funding, and finishing up some very nice tools for their merchants.  They are starting to see some traction with consumers, as they get more merchants signed up.  This is an effort where they need growth on both sides at the same time to be successful.

They are also adding to their team, making some great hires for key positions that will allow them to grow and be successful. We have already seen a positive impact on the software side and are seeing some very serious momentum on the customer acquisition side of things.  Local restaurant company Fox Restaurant Concepts is an early participant as is the national hat chain Lids.  Many others are in negotiations.

Best of all, the users seem to like it.  The droid version has 4.5 stars out of 5 and the iPhone version has 4 out of 4.  We feel that is pretty good considering how picky consumers are.

You can help PADT help our local tech startup community by downloading the application for your iPhone or Android device and using it.  It works all around the country.  What is the worst thing that will happen? You might save some money.

I know, this is bordering on advertising, but at the same time we would really like people to use it and spread the word.  Growth of this company will provide PADT with experience and capital that we can use to provide you with better products and services..  Also, when this is the next big thing, you can tell your friends that you know someone who invested in the idea early.

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Startup Lesson Learned 1: If you Build it, They Will NOT Come

10_Tech_Startup_Lessons_Learned-1About the Series “10 Tech Startup Lessons Learned”

PADT is a company focused on helping companies bring their physical products to market. As “We Make Innovation Work” for our customers, we learn a lot about what does and does not work in technology startup companies. In addition, we were once a startup ourselves and we now participate in Angel investing.  All of this has taught us a lot of valuable lessons.
In this series we will share some of those lessons learned and explore the basic concepts and ideas that will help startups overcome the odds and become successful.

This posting is the first installment for our series.  We hope that you find it useful and we look forward to sharing the the other nine articles.

We see it over and over again. Someone has a great idea. They borrow money from their friends and family, they max out their credit card, they get angel funding.  They then build their product, putting every ounce of enthusiasm and drive they have into making the product perfect. All along they show it to people and get fantastic feedback like “I would buy that is a second” and “I wish I would have thought of that, it is a great idea.”  They are dripping with passion.  As soon as they can, they put their product out there…

And the product fails.

And they wonder why. They get frustrated and sometimes angry.  What the majority of startups fail to recognize is that no mater how good an idea is, no matter how real and tangible the market need is, products do not sell themselves.  This failure mode is different from failure caused by mistakes in execution, pricing, growth, or missing the market. What we are talking about here are perfectly good viable products that do not make it off the ground because the startup that created it felt that just building it was good enough.

product_in_desert

“Building it” is just one step of many in getting a startup to success.  You must also plan and implement everything that is required to build a business and launch a product. Those things do not come automatically. If you have a great idea with demand, then the implementation will be easier, but it is very rare for the idea or need alone to make a product a success.

There are many different areas that a startup must focus on beyond the product itself.  Many a book and even a few text books have been written to talk in detail about how to plan and implement a entrepreneurial business plan.  However, in our experience, there three critical parts of the business that every startup must carry out well to be successful.

Marketing

The first is marketing – because if no one knows you have a product and what it does, you do not have the opportunity to acquire them as customers.   You have to do it, and you have to do all of it: branding, messaging, social media, website, advertising, networking, trade shows, press, etc…. You do not have to do it big, and you can scale as you grow, but you must make sure that customers know your product exists and what it does.

We see many of our customers go to market with a name and maybe a basic website. When nothing happens they do not understand why the orders are not rolling in.  A consistent and properly scaled marketing strategy with a concise message that conveys the products value is what is missing. Coming up with this is not easy and time and thought needs to be put into it.  The good news is that this is one area where outside consultants can really help.

Sales

The critical partner to marketing is sales.  The ease of direct to customer transactions through the internet gives many startups the false impression that they can simply put their product on the web and they will get orders.  Even if no human interaction is involved, there is a sales cycle and you need to plan for it, manage it, and maximize the return on investment from the sales effort.

Sales is something that everyone in a company needs to be involved in to some extent. Success in this area usually comes when a sales process is developed that fits the product, and everyone sticks to it from the receptionist in the lobby to the CEO at the top.  It is also a skill that most people do not have, or can not do over the long term. It is important to hire real sales professionals and if needed, managers, to head up the effort.

Complete the Product

There is one more major step that needs to be taken for success, to get people to come and buy a product.  You need an actual product, and not just an idea.  This seems obvious, and not even worth noting. Many times we have been involved in projects or mentoring where, when you dig deep enough, you find out that the “product” is just an idea, or a half formed prototype, and all of the details have not been worked out.  To them they have built something great, so money and customers should be coming.  But money and customers need something real and finished before they will engage.

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Build It [finish it, market it, sell it], And they WILL Come

If you are thinking of doing a startup, or if you are in a startup now, take some time to look at your strategy and decide if you are counting too much on the power of your product’s appeal to make your successful. You probably are because most people make that mistake.  Be honest about what you need to do, plan and execute, and you can defy the odds and be that technology startup that makes it.

PADT’s New Website on Lynx

We were testing out the new Website on different browsers and some smarty-mc-smarty decided to try it on Lynx:

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It is not as bad as I thought it would be…  Who remembers using Lynx?