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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

think3 Attempting Re-appearing Act In North America?

 
October 2nd, 2013 by Jeff Rowe

Although it officially launched ThinkDesign 2013 on September 9, and we didn’t receive a press release until September 27, it appears that the CAD enigma, think3, is attempting to resurrect itself — at least in Europe and Asia/Pacific anyway. As for North America, it doesn’t appear likely, at least what appears on their marginally functional website.

I thought I’d witnessed the last of think3 and ThinkDesign because I haven’t seen or heard much from the company for over two years. As a matter of fact, the last time I really thought about the company was May 2011 when we published the following article: Another One Bites the Dust: think3 Declares Bankruptcy

As I said back then and still maintain today, it’s demise was not that the company produced bad products. Rather, I felt it was the lack of focus and continual management turnover that was its ultimate undoing. think3 had developed some very innovative technologies, features, and capabilities that included advanced surfacing and even voice commands.

On the negative side, though, think3 attempted to go up against Autodesk and SolidWorks in production machine design (with thinkdesign), and Alias in the industrial design space (with thinkiD). They both failed miserably in the intended markets. Also, think3 tried to enter the PDM and other MCAD-related spaces with little or no market strategy, presence, or penetration. Again, fail.

think3 did actually play a prominent role in industrial design for a few years, but primarily in education that really didn’t translate into many commercial seats after graduation. Because of the UI, relative ease of use, and ability to generate surfaces, I always felt that the company would have been better served (and maybe ultimately survived) if it had stuck with the ID space. However, bigger minds and egos prevailed, and they felt the ID market to small to focus on, and felt they were destined for bigger (and more competitive) markets. Well, we saw where that line of thought got them.

While it was quite capable for certain types of design, it also had some problematic issues with handling large assemblies, as well as limited interoperability. Counter to what the company claimed, this latter issue prevented wide adoption by organizations using other MCAD systems.

think3 boasted a revamped management team (again) and $10 million in additional capital. The funding came on the heels of winning several major new customers. These customers came from the sector think3 was now aggressively going after – machine design – the most competitive MCAD market segment.

Specifically, think3 targeted mid-sized manufacturers, those with revenues between $50 million and $1 billion (the same market Autodesk, SolidWorks, and others were also pursuing). The company regarded this group as the largest and also the most neglected segment because the higher-end MCAD companies go after the “bigger fish,”. The mid-sized range is also the domain of 2D CAD, which plays to its strength, since thinkdesign is a 3D system embedded with a 2D core — or so it thought Was think3 thinking that no other competitor had this same strategy?

The next release of thinkdesign was made to order for the machine design customer. As company management at the time said, “It’s got everything you need for sheet metal, large assemblies and it’s 3D. There is a large, untouched market within this mid-sized niche – perhaps 40% or more of the mechanical design market itself. So that’s what we’re going after now.” Again, a little late to the party.

Whereas thinkdesign sold as a subscription package for $1,995 per user and ran on Windows PCs, the more established players such as Dassault Systemes, and PTC had more expensive offerings, but well-established sales and support teams. In addition, those programs were difficult to learn and required significant investments in extensive training whereas think3’s software could be learned relatively quickly over the Web, according to the company. The subscription model and Web-based training were innovative for the time, but to compare thinkdesign with CATIA and Pro/ENGINEER (now Creo) was quite a stretch.

Then, think3 offered another advantage – an integrated Product Data Management (PDM) program called thinkteam, that captured, organized, automated, and shared engineering product information, including standard components, documents, part numbers, bills of materials and active projects. thinkteam was available as a standalone product or could be integrated into thinkdesign or into Microsoft Office. thinkteam was an example of how the company was trying to be all things to all customers and the result was a product line that became diluted with diminishing direction (and return).

In 2001, the company brought in about $15 million in revenue. The goal was earning $27 to 30 million, thanks to new accounts from such customers as Buell Motorcycle and Boeing, one of the world’s biggest CAD users, primarily using CATIA. The entrée into Boeing was a good start, but the company never disclosed how many seats were actually installed. Buell Motorcycle became defunct in 2009 and is now long gone.

This time frame was also the high point for think3, and it didn’t last for long.

After the “good” era, the company drifted from Silicon Valley to Ohio with an increasing lack of presence. As a matter of fact, many MCAD industry watchers started counting down the end of think3. As a matter of fact, it virtually dropped off all the radar screens of industry pundits and customers.

A few years later, though, think3 sort of surfaced when the following press announcement was released:

Think3, Inc., a provider of design and modeling software, will join the family of Versata affiliated software companies. Think3 provides technology that links three separate design areas: the concept, its development, and the finished product.

Think3 will continue to operate as a stand-alone corporation within the Versata family of software businesses. Atlas Capital IB LLC acted as financial advisor to Versata on the transaction. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

Ultimately, think3 couldn’t survive, even after being brought into the Versata fold.

So, although a relatively minor player, another MCAD player rode into the sunset – once again leaving its user base looking for alternatives. Unfortunate, but inevitable given the course that think3 had chosen over the years. Although its technology was always good, it was management that lacked vision and funding that ultimately sank the company, especially in the North American market. With all of its past issues, I don’t expect think3 to re-appear in this hemisphere again soon, if ever.

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