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From 1995 to 2023, the providers of engineering software, i.e. CAD/CAM, PDM/PLM, simulation etcetera, had a network in Germany that was unique in the world. Although the members – in the early years exclusively from the CEO-level – were the most important competitors in this special IT market, they built up a relationship of trust with each other that their corporate parents in the USA or France often viewed with great skepticism. And yet the circle has had very positive effects not only for the supplier sector, but also for the large number of users in the manufacturing industry.

Because it is instructive, especially at a time when networking among people loses its prestige if it does not take place in social media, I want to report on some of the numerous experiences in a small series of articles.

Another aspect: many of those responsible for IT in the industry today no longer know anything about many of the developments in which sendlercircle was actively involved. It will therefore be a mini reference work on industrial software and industrial digitalization spanning almost three decades.

Because the sendlercircle had its landing page on my personal homepage, these reports will subsequently also be available there under the sendlercircle heading.


The history of sendlercircle – Part 1: The CADcircle

The reason why sendlercircle was founded as “CADcircle” in the summer of 1995 was because CAD was a key solution for the manufacturing industry at the time and a separate IT sector had formed around this topic. The industry had major problems in mechanical design that could be solved with software: Designing new products took far too long, was far too expensive and slowed down companies’ ability to innovate. At that time, this was still almost exclusively dependent on mechanics.

A brief look back at the history of CAD

The replacement of the drawing board, which technical draughtsmen used to transfer the ideas of designers onto large-format sheets with ink pens, by computers, graphics screens and plotters – as a product this first came from the USA and was called Computer Aided Design or Drafting, or CAD for short.

Large companies around the world with sufficient research budgets initially developed their own CAD programs to suit their product design. However, a number of companies soon began to spin off these specialist departments as separate companies and make the programs generally available for use. After all, the demand was industry-wide. The CAD product quickly paid for itself. More and more companies were prepared to spend money on it, and these were initially large sums. At times, prices for a single CAD workstation with hardware and software were in excess of DM 150,000.

Even in the early years, however, the programmers went far beyond the creation of drawings. Once the geometry had been captured, it was possible to perform all kinds of calculations. And the three-dimensional model of the designed parts and assemblies soon took its place alongside the flat views of a technical drawing. Even if it took several years before it became the standard.

With the intermediate steps of so-called minicomputers and CAD workstations you saw computer development move from mainframes towards miniaturization and the mass market. In 1985, Microsoft began its triumphant advance with the sale of software on PCs from various manufacturers. And just a few years later, CAD was also being used en masse on PCs in even the smallest companies.

By the 1980s at the latest, a new industrial sector had emerged. The CAD sector grew rapidly. By the end of the decade, there were probably hundreds of providers in the leading industry countries, even if many of them did not sell their own software, but third-party programs under their own name. One example: Rotring, a successful supplier of drawing office utensils such as ink pens, compasses and drawing boards in Hamburg at the time, came onto the market with rotring euroCAD, which was a system from the British manufacturer Pafec.

The birth of CADcircle

In the mid-nineties – I had tested CAD systems and written about it for several years as a journalist at the trade magazine CAD-CAM Report in Heidelberg and then wrote case studies for numerous leading manufacturers as a freelance journalist – several suppliers approached me and suggested inviting the managing directors of all the important CAD manufacturers in Germany to a round table. They wanted to get to know each other personally at least once.

My invitation was accepted by all 14 managing directors contacted: Dieter Höfler, Autodesk; Michael Laurim, Bentley Systems; Erwin Schöndlinger, Computervision; Peter Kastner, EDS Unigraphics Systems; Heinz Diebel, Hewlett-Packard; Martin Jetter, IBM; Fritz Kuederli, Icem Technologies; Thomas D. Grevel, Intergraph; Michael Nagel, Matra Datavision; Joachim Fietz, Parametric Technology; Ulrich Luer, SDRC; Karlheinz Peters, Spatial Technology; Gerhard Lutz, Strässle Informationssysteme; Norbert Urmetzer, Ziegler Informatics.

An illustrious group. At the time, Martin Jetter, who later became the head of IBM, represented IBM’s Engineering Software division, which had been Dassault Systèmes’ permanent and exclusive partner for marketing and sales for over 25 years. Heinz Diebel was leading the team around the HP ME10 and later HP ME30. There was still no talk of SolidDesigner. Computervision later was taken over by PTC. After numerous renames and changes of ownership, EDS Unigraphics Systems ended up at Siemens and is now the core of Siemens Digital Industries Software.

At the end of the one-day meeting at the then Hotel Rafael in Munich, the participants unanimously decided to meet three times a year in future under my moderation to discuss market developments, technology trends and, if necessary, joint tasks relating to marketing and public relations.

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the center of Munich was the birthplace of CADcircle in 1995 as the Hotel Rafael (photo courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel)

Accompanying the rise and consolidation of the CAD industry

Flyer from around the turn of the millennium, when the CADcircle had around 30 members (photo Sendler)

Subsequently, CADcircle commissioned market studies several times, including from the market research institute techconsult in Kassel, the costs of which were borne jointly by a number of members and which I was allowed to report on publicly. Among other things, the issue of the growing role of 3D was a major topic, which incidentally led to the business failure of some of the member companies. This failure was foreshadowed earlier in the regular discussions about market developments in our group than in the market.

There were also joint activities such as the CeBIT Management Forum 1999 on the topic “United States of Europe – Model USA?”. The moderator was Tagesschau spokesman Jan Hofer, foreign correspondent Dr. Dieter Kronzucker and Prof. Dr. Michael Abramovici. The CADcircle was so important to Deutsche Messe AG that they provided us with the space at the trade fair.

For many years, I collected the manufacturers’ business figures every year and, with their permission, published the summarized results for the entire industry. For a long time, these were the only public figures on turnover in the various fields of application.

Some of the circle members, for example Autodesk, IBM, Intergraph or Ziegler Informatics, had CAD for architecture, electrical engineering or geographic information systems in their portfolio in addition to mechanical CAD. They pushed to expand the circle of leading providers in these markets too. As a result, the CADcircle grew to over 30 members at times, before a thorough market consolidation after the turn of the millennium led to a fundamental break.

In a meeting at the beginning of 2002, I announced in the circle that I wanted to focus on software providers in industrial engineering in future. In my opinion, the topic of geometry data acquisition and processing with CAD was no longer the innovation driver in the industry. Instead, the issue of process and data management began to take center stage. At the same time, the differences in the development of software for the manufacturing industry, architecture and geodata became so big that it no longer made sense for me to deal with them together in the circle.

In 2002, product lifecycle management (PLM) became a major topic in the industry and for several years also the new main topic of the circle, which I renamed sendlercircle with the consent of the members. After all, there was no way of knowing how long the topic of PLM would last. And so began part 2 of the story.