Company also celebrates the 25 year mark as the first SolidWorks reseller.
It was only a short three years ago that Ben TerreBlanche, founder and CEO of Mecad Systems, celebrated the 25-year mark of his revolutionary product SigmaNest. TerreBlanche had developed the CAD/CAM nesting software product to enhance the efficiency and profitability of flat material and tube cutting here in South Africa before moving to the US to market the SigmaNest software and establishing SigmaTEK in Seattle in the state of Washington. The company would later move to Cincinnati because as TerreBlanche says: “It’s a place of high technology in manufacturing.”
However, before moving to the USA TerreBlanche established his own company – Megkon – in 1986 to sell CAD/CAM systems to be used on a PC. The company name would later change to Mecad Systems – short for Mechanical Engineering CAD Systems.
In the beginning
TerreBlanche became involved in mechanical design very early on in his career.
“It was at a time, in the early ’80s, when a lot of design was still done on drawing boards,” TerreBlanche recalls. “It was also a time when computers applied to engineering started to appear. I worked for a company in the defence industry, and they were interested in improving the design process. They operated an office of about 15 people working on drafting boards. It was just challenging to do that work in two dimensions. So they were very interested in how the computer could possibly help them.”
TerreBlanche’s boss at the time was quite busy and did not have time to spend on boarding him.
Mecad Systems’ head office building in Samrand, Centurion
“He took me to a computer room, unlocked the door, turned on the lights, directed me into the room and said, ‘Ben, I have to run off to a project meeting. See what you can figure out. I will be back tomorrow.’”
It would be six months before TerreBlanche’s boss checked back in with him.
“I got involved in the first FEA model with 3D surface modelling for the G5 barrel which was being manufactured by Littleton Engineering. That was back in 1982,” TerreBlanche explained.
“I completed my Masters in CAD/CAM technology in 1984 and was getting the hang of proprietary operating systems. In the meantime, I had figured out the mathematical transformation to make things appear 3D on the computer,” says TerreBlanche.
“It was not an invention, it was just that I took the math that was well established and applied it to this problem of making things look 3D.”
When he showed his boss what he had, indeed, figured out, his boss was wide-eyed.
“He asked the company’s plant director to come in, and everyone was blown away,” TerreBlanche continues. “They appointed me to a committee to investigate the effect of computers on the design process. That took me on a worldwide tour, studying technology and becoming immersed in it. Eventually, I left that company, joined a university and developed a master’s degree class in computer-aided design and manufacturing technical aspects.” Hence, his thesis title, “Technical and Management Aspects of Implementing a CAD/CAM System.”
TerreBlanche was soon drawn deeper into this challenging field.
“I made a decision to go the route of developing CAD/CAM systems on PC and we sold our first system in 1986. That is when we formed Megkon and we started off with three staff members.”
Quintin Burger, Chief Marketing Officer of Mecad Systems, signs an agreement whereby Mecad Systems sponsored commercial SolidWorks licenses for all of the SEDA (Small Enterprise Development Agency) incubators across South Africa. He is signing the agreement with SEDA CEO Mandisa Tshikwatamba
“In 1987 we were appointed the Mastercam resellers for South Africa. We sold our first package to Dorbyl Venco and we were on the road to establishing Mastercam as one of the leading packages for 2-axis machining, multi-axis milling and turning, wire EDM, router applications, free-form artistic modelling and cutting, 3D design, drafting, surface and solid modelling.”
“It was not until 1993 that we became involved in the sheetmetal nesting programme that we developed. Macsteel VRN was running 14 machines cutting various sizes of plate and sheet. They had huge wastage because they did not have any nesting programme. There were 13 people in the drawing office, each with a basic version of AutoCAD, and they were trying to make programmes, and trying to keep these machines going using a DXF system – a very inefficient way of working – very manual and very time consuming. They kept breaking down.”
Then one day, while he was driving…
“I was continually thinking about this – how I could solve the problem for them,” TerreBlanche recalls. “Then one day, I was driving, and I came up with the idea of sorting, because there are different kinds of sorting algorithms. I thought about formulating many parts on a (metal) sheet in an efficient way, not just as a sorting problem. I had a guy that was with me then on the staff and I explained the basic algorithm, how I wanted it to function, and the mathematics. He made a prototype that was very impressive, which I then took back to the company and this time they were very interested.”
“They provided a list of additional functions they needed, and we included those functions, and they were our very first customers. Once we had that company, we went to other companies, they bought the software, and we got some traction.”
“We named the software SigmaNest but we did not sell our first package to Macsteel VRN. It didn’t fly with the company’s powers-that-be because they wanted it to be automatic. Laser Cut Varios was the brave company that purchased the first package. But once they (Macsteel VRN) had purchased the package and were reaping the benefits word soon got around to the other sheet metal companies.”
Back in history
Mecad Systems began life operating in the CAD/CAM/FEA environment. Products the company was selling included NISA FEA software and CADKEY a 2D/3D mechanical CAD software application released in 1984 for various DOS, Solaris, and Microsoft Windows operating systems and among the first CAD programmes with 3D capabilities for personal computers.
Some pictures of the early days of Mecad Systems. In the top left are Ben TerreBlanche and Freek van der Berg with Hendrik Janse van Rensburg and Pierre Slabber, both of whom were directors of the company but have subsequently left
Current Managing Director – Freek van der Berg – who joined the company in 1991 recalls how the company was intent on becoming one that offered solutions for design, test, prototype and manufacturing.
“Along with developing SigmaNEST and establishing Mastercam in South Africa for a few years we were then appointed as the first resellers of SolidWorks in South Africa in 1996. The company was only established in 1993 by Jon Hirschtick who recruited a team of engineers who set out with the aim of creating 3D CAD software that was intended to be accessible, affordable and available on Windows desktop.”
“In November 1995, SolidWorks was released. It was the first significant modeller for Windows. This proved to be a huge step in the subsequent evolution of CAD. While others had been released much earlier, SolidWorks brought something new to the table – 3D modelling. Consequently, 3D CAD became the focal point of the 1990s. Within months, SolidWorks changed the way engineers brought their creations to life.”
“SolidWorks was so impressive that by 1997 it was acquired by Dassault Systèmes – best known for CATIA- for a staggering $320 million in stock. Jon Hirschtick stayed on board for the next 14 years. Under his leadership, SolidWorks grew to a $100 million revenue company.”
51 staff employed
“The association of Mecad Systems and Dassault Systèmes has built up into a very strong relationship and has resulted in our company now being 51 strong. From the first package that we sold, which was to Nas Mould, we have not just been a software provider. We are a solutions provider that takes advantage of the software programmes that we have at our disposal.”
This point is endorsed by Quintin Burger who has been with the company for 17 years and has recently been appointed as its Chief Marketing Officer.
Current Managing Director Freek van der Berg
“We have seen SolidWorks evolve over the years from being regarded as a high-end design package to one that embraces the entire engineering process,” said Burger.
“Designs are becoming more and more complex and this leads to a longer time to achieve the right solutions. We have seen a growing trend across the world in a big drive to rely on simulations in order improve this, make innovative products before your competitors, reduce cost and time of physical prototyping, accelerate product development, improve product quality and make informed decisions.”
Comprehensive cloud-based solutions
“We – Mecad Systems and SolidWorks – have also taken the first step into our new era – comprehensive cloud-based solutions. At our recent virtual launch of SolidWorks 2021 we
emphasised 3DExperience Works, which introduced a wealth of new tools to take advantage of the powerful Dassault Systèmes portfolio connected to SolidWorks and the 3DExperience platform.”
“SolidWorks is not just a solution for mechanical engineering anymore. It now encompasses many other aspects of engineering that have an influence on our everyday lives.”
“The 3DExperience Works portfolio of cloud solutions brings all your key stakeholders together on a single collaborative platform, allowing you to seamlessly move from ideation through delivery for continuous development. Connecting the people, applications and real-time data from every aspect of the business.”
“This type of solution has never been more relevant now that we are faced with the new normal of remote working and disconnected information.”
“Over 2 000 companies have partnered with Mecad Systems in this quarter of century period that the product has been available in South Africa. It is a testament to both Ben and Freek that these numbers are so high and continue to grow. Although 2020 has been one that most would want to forget we have had one of our most successful years at Mecad Systems and sold more SolidWorks product than we ever envisaged, especially under the circumstances.”
“We are also looking to the future and engaged more with the SEDA (Small Enterprise Development Agency) initiative to assist startups in the incubators. The SolidWorks Entrepreneurial Programme provides support for emerging companies with free 12-month licenses and applications are available on the Mecad website.”
Ben TerreBlanche, founder and CEO of Mecad Systems
“Mecad Systems will continue to focus on SolidWorks and sister company Mecad Manufacturing will focus on the Mastercam and SigmaNest products.”
“It is a great situation to be in. If we approach a metal forming company they opt for SolidWorks and SigmaNest and if we approach a metal shaping company we offer SolidWorks and Mastercam. In conjunction with our numerous training packages that we offer on all three products, our 14 application engineers and three elite application engineers we offer an unrivalled service in our three offices across South Africa.”
“Ben continues to drive Mecad Systems as our visionary. Along with the expansive local team and with the tight relationship with Dassault SolidWorks in South Africa we cannot help but be excited for the years that lie ahead,” said Burger in conclusion.
For further details contact Mecad Systems on TEL: 012 645 4300 or visit www.mecad.co.za