Hexagon/Intergraph Celebrates 50 Years of Innovative Software, Mapping and Computer Graphics

There were a lot of headlines in 1969.

The Beatles played their last public concert on the roof of Apple Records and 350,000 young people gathered at Woodstock to protest the Vietnam War.

Bob Thurber: “Our work in hardware and software wasn’t an industry then – it was just the beginning of stuff.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

But while Boeing was debuting its 747 “Jumbo Jet” to the American public, NASA engineers had landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the Moon using the Apollo Guidance Computer. It’s laboriously handmade, read-only rope memory was equivalent to 72 KB of storage today.

Also in 1969, while millions of children watched the Utopian lifestyle of a space age cartoon called “The Jetsons” with its clunky robots and home automated conveyor belt, engineers were making it a reality, linking for the first time, several large-scale, general purpose computers into a network known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET).

It was against this backdrop that IBM engineer James Meadlock, his wife Nancy, and three young engineers Bob Thurber, Terry Schansman and Keith Schonrock left their jobs at IBM on Feb. 10, 1969 to start M&S Computing on South Memorial Parkway in Huntsville.

With the company that became known worldwide as Intergraph and now known as Hexagon, the now-retired Meadlock and his remaining team returned to the sprawling campus and world headquarters in what is now the new Town Madison, for a 50th anniversary celebration.

Hundreds of current and former employees and their families filled the three-level hexagon-shaped building with its towering glass windows and tiered mezzanine overlooking a private lake to hear Meadlock speak.

Intergraph co-founder James Meadlock left IBM in 1969 to help found M&S Computing, the forerunner to Intergraph. (Photo/Steve Babin)

According to Bob Thurber, co-founder and the original executive vice president of the company, IBM got the contract for the instrument unit on the Saturn launch vehicle because they had built the first digital computer on a missile.

“I came out of college with IBM in Huntsville, so when we finished with the Saturn program, we were the renowned experts on putting digital computers onboard missiles,” said Thurber. “We were able to leave IBM with our heads held high.”

Initially, Thurber said all the Army’s weapons systems needed computers on them, so M&S Computing became a consultant for them.

“One of the things we did in the IBM days was build an interactive graphics interface for the simulation of the Saturn launch vehicle,” he said. “You had to run simulations over and over and over again, but if something went wrong within the first 30 seconds of launch, you didn’t know it until you came in the next day. They needed a quicker interactive system to do it.

“That’s how we got started. By running simulations interactively, you could watch the trajectory on the screen and if it blew up or went off-course, you could just stop it, key in some different parameters, and run it again. You could do in a day what had been taking a month.”

That ability to visualize data led to their graphics mapping capabilities, and M&S Computing was the first company to do that as well.

“Our work in hardware and software wasn’t an industry then – it was just the beginning of stuff,” Thurber said. “There were only four companies in the business when we got into it, but we essentially created the core graphics for AutoCAD.”

Thurber said they sold their first three systems around Christmas 1973: an engineering drafting system for 2D drafting to a company in Houston; a system for municipal mapping to the city of Nashville; and a system to the Army Missile Command (AMC). All three were totally separate industries, but they all needed the same basic graphic capabilities.

“We lost a lot of money when we sold Nashville the mapping system,” Thurber said. “The city said to us, ‘Look, we would love to use this stuff, but we don’t want to build all these maps!’ We said, ‘Okay. We’ll do it for you’.

“We charged them $80 per map. The cost was $500 per map, but it really it forced us to make it a good mapping system and it gave us the experience we wouldn’t have gotten had we held their hand while they did it.”

In the end, Nashville was the first city to map its roadways to understand traffic flow, congestion points, etc. all thanks to M&S Computing’s mapping capabilities.

The company then known as M&S Computing rented office space in Huntsville until the 1974 tornado destroyed the Bendix Building on Alabama 20 in Madison. Using insurance money, they were able to reconfigure it to M&S Computing’s requirements.

“The only eating place near our office back then was a Waffle House,” Thurber said with a laugh.

That would be the first of a sprawling campus with more than 4,000 employees, that is today located amidst the bustling new Town Madison development.

In 1981, M&S Computing went public and changed its name to Intergraph. After Meadlock and Thurber retired from the company, Stockholm-based Hexagon purchased Intergraph in 2010 for $2.125 billion.

Meadlock, who lost his beloved wife and business partner Nancy, is quietly retired.

Thurber is active with Huntsville’s tech incubator BizTech, but he says for a company that was the first to develop intelligent applications on top of graphics, the software and computing industry has now moved way past him.

“I still come over and visit and when I see the demos of the work Hexagon is doing now, fifty years later, the capabilities are so much more than graphics,” he said. “But they tell me that our software, M&S Computing’s software, is so integrated into their design and construction process, it cannot be unseated.”

Torch Technologies No. 8 on Entrepreneur 360 List

Torch Technologies has been recognized for the third consecutive year as one of the “Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America” by Entrepreneur magazine’s Entrepreneur360 List.

Based on the study, Torch is recognized as a well-rounded company that has mastered a balance of impact, innovation, growth, leadership, and value.  The Huntsville-based company ranked eighth out of 360 organizations this year, up from 11 in 2018 and 16 in 2017. 

“We are proud to have again been recognized by Entrepreneur magazine for our distinctive approach to innovation, growth, leadership, and culture,” said Torch President and CEO John Watson. “Our continued success as a 100% employee-owned company is thanks our invaluable employee-owners.

“We are privileged to be part of a growing group of extraordinary people who are innovative and bright, and who make Torch a great place to work.”

 “Every entrepreneur knows that a healthy business isn’t just about growth. It’s about being well-rounded—growing your culture and your systems as strongly as you grow your revenue,” said Jason Feifer, editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine. “That’s why we’re excited to celebrate these companies with our fifth annual Entrepreneur360 ranking.

“The companies that make the list have pushed boundaries with their innovative ideas, fostered strong company cultures, impacted their communities for the better, strengthened their brand, and grown impressively as a result.”

Honorees were identified based on the results from a comprehensive study of independently- owned companies, using a proprietary algorithm and other advanced analytics. The algorithm was built on a balanced scorecard designed to measure five metrics reflecting major pillars of entrepreneurship—innovation, growth, leadership, impact, and business valuation.

All Major Sections of SLS Rocket Assembled

The last of five major sections for the Boeing-built Space Launch System rocket are now connected.

Engineers at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans fully integrated the last piece of the 212-foot-tall core stage by adding the engine section to the rest of the previously assembled structure.

Boeing technicians bolted the engine section to the liquid hydrogen propellant tank last week.

The engine section is located at the bottom of the core stage and is one of the most complicated pieces of hardware for the SLS rocket.

The engine section will hold four RS-25 rocket motors and two solid rocket boosters that produce a combined 8.8 million pounds of thrust to send Artemis I to space.

In addition, the engine section includes vital systems for mounting, controlling and delivering fuel from the stage’s two liquid propellant tanks to the rocket’s engines.

This fall, NASA will work with core stage lead contractor, Boeing, to attach the four RS-25 engines and connect them to the main propulsion systems inside the engine section.

The SLS — managed out of the Marshal Space Flight Center  — will launch the first woman and next man to the moon from Cape Canaveral, ahead of NASA missions to Mars.

The SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built and the only one capable of sending astronauts, the Orion capsule, and heavy cargo to the moon in a single mission.

Radiance Wins Contract to Support NASIC; Ceiling of $997M

Radiance Technologies has been awarded a Blanket Purchase Agreement by the General Services Administration to provide scientific and technical intelligence support services to the National Air and Space Intelligence Center. The agreement has a five-year base period, five one-year option periods, and a total ceiling of $997 million.

“Our win is the culmination of years of hard work that started with a single task supporting NASIC as a subcontractor in 2001,” said Bryan Johnson, Radiance Chief Operating Officer. “Over the years, our goal has simply been to provide NASIC the best support possible. We are honored to continue that support as a prime contractor.”

The majority of work will be performed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Beavercreek, Ohio.

The Radiance contractor team includes Battelle, COLSA Corp., Northrop Grumman, Parsons Government Services and Teledyne Brown Engineering.

Trash Pandas and WOW! Announce Partnership

MADISON — The Rocket City Trash Pandas and WOW! Internet, Cable & Phone have announced a long-term services and marketing partnership providing the baseball team’s stadium with WOW!’s high-speed voice, data and Internet services and supporting the Trash Pandas as a corporate sponsor.

With the agreement, WOW! will be the exclusive provider of voice, data, and Internet services in the Trash Pandas’ ballpark, which opens next year.

Among the services, WOW! will provide 5-gigabit Internet speeds to support stadiumwide Wi-Fi, voice services to the administrative offices and dedicated Internet for internal use.

“We are excited to be partnering with WOW! and to add this high-speed Internet experience for our fans,” said Trash Pandas President and CEO Ralph Nelson. “This will make our fans’ in-game online experience second to none in Minor League Baseball.

“The technology provided by WOW! will also help the Trash Pandas provide an unprecedented customer experience through food and beverage ordering, retail and ticketing support.”

WOW! and the Trash Pandas have also entered into a long-term sponsorship deal in which WOW! will serve as the team’s exclusive telecommunications marketing partner. In this sponsorship, the Trash Pandas and WOW! will work together to support and sponsor educational and military programs offered by the Trash Pandas.

“North Alabama residents will soon be introduced to a new, state-of-the-art stadium equipped with WOW!’s fastest Internet speeds,” said Lana Frank, vice president, marketing at WOW!. “WOW! is proud to be an inaugural sponsor of the newest MiLB franchise, the Rocket City Trash Pandas.”

WOW! is also the exclusive Internet, cable and phone provider for Town Madison, the new live/work/play community that is home to the Trash Panda’s stadium.

The Trash Pandas will open their inaugural season next year with their home debut set for April 15

Ivanka Trump Joins Panel Discussion, Announcement of Toyota-Manufacturing Institute Program

DECATUR — A highly successful apprenticeship program here earned a visit Tuesday from Advisor to the President of the United States, Ivanka Trump.

The First Daughter was on-hand at the Alabama Robotics Technology Park to celebrate a new partnership between the Manufacturing Institute and Toyota Motor North America.

On stage for a panel discussion are Jay Timmons of the National Association of Manufacturers; Luke Phillips of FAME USA; Carolyn Lee of the Manufacturing Institute; Chris Nielsen of Toyota Motor North America; Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the President; Lexandra Lutz of FAME USA; and Michael Lamach of Ingersoll Rand. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The union will facilitate the transfer of operations and leadership of Toyota’s FAME (Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education) apprenticeship program to the Manufacturing Institute.

Trump toured several workstations talking to students who have succeeded in the program before taking the stage in a panel discussion about the future of manufacturing and the impact successful workforce initiatives such as FAME have on the manufacturing industry nationwide.

“Congratulations to all the students who found this pathway, this exceptional program … and for this announcement today,” Trump said. “Toyota did something exceptional in creating a pilot that was excellent, to train that next generation of high-tech manufacturers, and then we start to scale it across the country.

“But it developed a life of its own. Today is about celebrating manufacturing coming in, taking best class practices from the private sector and scaling that opportunity so that many, many, more Americans can experience this pathway of acquired skills through this great program.

“We’re seeing inclusive growth, we’re seeing people who have previously been on the sidelines of our economy are now entering the workforce and securing the skills that they need to not just get a job, but to secure a career. And we’re seeing this everywhere we go.”

Carolyn Lee, executive director of the Manufacturing Institute, said at the center of it all is the students who will be the future of the manufacturing skilled workforce.

“As a member of the National Association of Manufacturers, it is our job to educate and empower the next generation of manufacturing workers,” she said.

FAME student Paul Logston and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump. (Photo/Steve Babin)

FAME was created as a pilot a decade ago by Toyota to train the next generation of skilled, high tech manufacturing workers. The training model has gained traction nationwide.

“We believe when good ideas are shared, great things can happen,” said Chris Nielsen, Executive vice president of Toyota Motor North America. “The Manufacturing Institute is a trusted partner ideally equipped to build a program and take it to the next level. There is no better organization to lead FAME into the future and realize its full potential.

“These are well-paying jobs that lead to rewarding careers. We believe this will have a profound impact on many, many, industries and our country as a whole.”

FAME students receive the typical qualifications required for a job in advanced manufacturing. The program is designed to train students of all ages in the skills required to get a manufacturing job; to provide them with a deeper understanding of the manufacturing industry; and to prepare them, as graduates, to fill in-demand manufacturing jobs.

“Today is not just an announcement but a celebration of what can be built with leadership and with the commitment of an industry,” said Lee. “This is about coming together to build something that is truly outstanding, that has proven results, and is changing lives each and every day across the country.”

Leidos Consolidates MDA Support in Cummings Research Park

After supporting the Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville for more than 15 years, Leidos spent $3 million to retrofit its first physical systems and support center in Huntsville.

Leidos Defense Group President Gerry Fasano. (Leidos Photo/Shileshia Milligan)

The 63,000-square-foot building at 915 Explorer Boulevard in Cummings Research Park consolidates the defense division of the company into one Huntsville location. Defense Group President Gerry Fasano headlined the ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday along with Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and several foreign military delegations.

“This new facility signifies our continued growth in Huntsville, but it also supports our customers in helping them solve problems from a city and a region known for its innovation,” said Fasano. “We help our customers in the defense industry achieve effective, sustained military advantage … from support for C4 (command, control, communications, and computers/cyber) to cyberspace.

“We are doing that from right here in Huntsville. Let’s keep it local.”

In 2016, Lockheed Services Group took $5 billion and merged it with another $5 billion from Leidos to create a $10 billion organization carrying the Leidos name. The move gave Leidos a much bigger footprint in each of the company’s four major areas of expertise: defense, civil, health and intelligence.

Three of those four groups have roots in Huntsville.

The Leidos team has been part of the Patriot and THAAD missile programs and supports MDA requirements and critical services to the warfighter. The new location features automated test equipment that helps provide those systems to Leidos customers at home and abroad.

“Leidos’ civil division has been contracted to NASA here in Huntsville for several years, providing logistics for all the different materials made for the International Space Station,” said Barry McDaniel, vice president of Maritime for Leidos, overseeing support for all branches of the military including the Army.

“Intelligence is also coming to Huntsville soon because the FBI is here; but our missile defense teams have been scattered. This building is an opportunity to consolidate everything related to the Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency counter unmanned air systems. That includes supporting customers all over the world including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and all of Europe.”

Military delegations from Germany and the Netherlands were in attendance.

“It’s not just about what is happening in this building, but we have five other locations and we are about to put more customers in Huntsville,” said Fasano. “That includes technical field support for U.S. Army RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aircraft systems right here at Redstone Arsenal; end-user IT services for ten NASA centers; and end-user IT services for 37,000 Army Corps of Engineers from our corridors right here in Huntsville.”

The RQ-7 Shadow is the Army’s unmanned aerial vehicle, also used by the Australian and Swedish armies for reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, and battle damage assessment.

Fasano also announced the arrival of Leidos Live – the company’s Innovation Virtual Experience coming to Huntsville in November. Leidos Live is an immersive technology lab and showcase on wheels where visitors will find some of Leidos’ top innovations brought to life. Fasano said it is a must-see.

Leidos, the name comes from the word kaleidoscope – the centerpiece of the instrument from which complex problems are seen from every different angle, is an IT and engineering services company. Leidos employs 235 people in Huntsville out of 34,000 in every state and more than 30 countries.

“To the Leidos team, we are so delighted to see the growth and the expansion and all the things that have happened here that make our economy move forward,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “Five years ago, we started with a very small Leidos group. Today you are threefold, and it’s a story told about Huntsville time and time again – companies throughout Research Park and throughout this city who are growing organically, growing where they are, getting bigger and bigger. Leidos has grown so much they needed a new building.

“We are so glad to be able to help them build it.”

New System Allows Firefighters Access to Businesses After Hours

A locked door is intended to keep people out, but when a building is on fire, that creates a problem. Now, business owners in Huntsville have a solution.

The electric rapid access system consist of a lockbox used to store keys, like the device on the left, and a base unit that stores the e-key to allow firefighters to have access to the box. (Photo/Jonathan Stinson)

The City of Huntsville has partnered with the Knox Company to implement an electric rapid access system, which is designed to give firefighters access to various businesses should the establishment be closed or the doors locked when they need to gain access to fight a fire.

“What we’re actually doing is we’re making it a better system of firefighting for our firefighters by using technology to save buildings, to save dollars, to make sure we can make our community as safe as possible,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said. “We looked at this for two, three years. We ran some pilots on it and after we got finished with the pilots, we thought it was a great system.”

In 2018, Huntsville Fire & Rescue responded to 9,800 calls to during the evening or weekends when most businesses were closed.

According to the department, when firefighters need to gain access to these locked businesses it can increase the overall response time, pose additional safety risks to the firefighters and end up costing the business owner more because they have to break through a door or nearby window to gain access to the building and extinguish a fire.

Huntsville Fire Chief Howard McFarlen demonstrates how the rapid access e-key and the lockboxes work. (Photo/Jonathan Stinson)

“You know the big fires we go to, when they’re big and we get there, we know what we have to do, Huntsville Fire Chief Howard McFarlen said. “A lot of the times we just do a forceful entry and we take care of the problem. The ones we worry about are the ones where you pull up and there may be a small incipient fire somewhere in a business that we can’t see from the outside.

“… We don’t see any signs from the outside that warrants us to break down doors, so we’re kind of in a ‘Catch 22,’ but we can solve that now.”

The electric rapid access system is simple. A business owner purchases a lockbox from the Knox Company and stores any keys emergency personnel would need to access the business in it. The boxes start around $550 and increase depending on size and the exact configuration. Exact pricing and specifications can be found at knoxbox.com/huntsville-al.

Then, once the box is installed, local firefighters would have access via an electronic key.

The key is charged and programmed via a base unit and, according to McFarlen, if the key isn’t returned to the base unit within about 30 minutes, then it becomes a paperweight.

So, if the e-key gets left behind after a fire, someone walking along would not be able to access other key boxes with it.

The tamper-proof silver cap is designed to go on the fire department connections at local businesses to ensure the system hasn’t been tampered with and functions when needed. (Photo/Jonathan Stinson)

There is also a record kept in the cloud any time an e-key is accessed.

In addition to the electric rapid access system, Huntsville Fire & Rescue is also encouraging local businesses to add a special fire department locking cap to their fire department connection systems.

These caps are designed to protect the integrity of a building’s sprinkler system and ensure firefighters can get supplemental water when they need it.

It also eliminates opportunities for vandalism and damage to the sprinkler when a connection is uncapped and ensuring the sprinkler system is operable when they’re needed can reduce the overall long-term disruption to an affected business, according to Knox.

Information about the Fire Department Connection caps can be found at knoxbox.com/huntsville-al-fdc.

“Addressing fire and life safety issues is a priority for us,” Battle said. “I am proud that Huntsville is the first city in the nation to implement both of these programs, reinforcing our commitment to be a leader in public safety.”

Madison Chamber Calls for Nominees for Best in Business Awards

MADISON — It’s an opportunity to call out your favorite businesses as the Madison Chamber of Commerce ask for nominations for the Best in Business Awards 2019.

Now through Sept, 6 at 5 p.m., businesses can be nominated in 12 categories for their outstanding services, products and customer service.

“We are excited to be kicking off the Best in Business Awards 2019,” said Chamber Executive Director Pam Honeycutt. “We have introduced some new categories this year to best represent our growing membership. We look forward to learning more about all of the great businesses that make up the Chamber.”

Every year, the Chamber re-evaluates the categories to ensure businesses are not competing in like categories.

“We did away with Home & Living and added Professional Services, Essential Services, and Arts, Entertainment & Hospitality this year,” said Honeycutt.

There will be one overall Best in Business 2019 award given along with nominee and winners in Nonprofit, Small Business with four or more employees, Health & Wellness, Start-ups, Community Servant of the Year, Culinary Business of the Year, Excellence in Leadership & Service, and Medical Practice of the Year.

Nominees must be a member in good standing of the Madison Chamber of Commerce for at least six months. The winners will be announced at the Best in Business awards banquet Oct. 22 at the Insanity Complex Entertainment Center off Hughes Road.

To nominate businesses, visit  http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07egj7kwh8jzbqlz9v/a013ojzrw4zk6/greeting.

 

Marshall to Lead Lunar Lander Program with Huntsvillian in Charge

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine delivered some welcome news Friday to the Marshall Space Flight Center.

In fact, there were two announcements:

One – he said the Marshall Center, which is in charge of developing the rocket program, will also manage the lunar lander program.

And, two, a Huntsvillian will lead that program.

“We greatly appreciate the support shown here today … for NASA’s Artemis program and America’s return to the moon, where we will prepare for our greatest feat for humankind – putting astronauts on Mars,” Bridenstine said. “We focus on a ‘One NASA’ integrated approach that uses the technical capabilities of many centers. Marshall has the right combination of expertise and experience to accomplish this critical piece of the mission.”

The program will be managed by Huntsville native Dr. Lisa Watson-Morgan.

“Imagine this: We are landing the next man and the first woman,” Bridenstine said. “The program that will be managed here … that landing system is being managed … by one of NASA’s best engineers, right here, and she just so happens to be a woman.”

Watson-Morgan, a 30-year NASA veteran engineer and manager, previously served as deputy director of the Engineering Directorate at Marshall.

“Lisa’s appointment to this key role not only reflects NASA’s confidence in her visionary leadership, but confidence in the proven expertise and world-class capability that define Marshall’s contributions to safely landing humans on the Moon and launching complex spacecraft to the Moon and Mars,” said Marshall Director Jody Singer.

Bridenstine also noted that some members of Texas’ congressional delegation were upset that work was being split between Marshall and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, after lobbying the space agency to get the lander program.

“I understand some of their concerns,” Bridenstine said. “I will say that this is not a decision that was made lightly. A lot of hard work has been done here in Huntsville over, really, well over 10 years now regarding landing systems.”

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks thanked Bridenstine for recognizing the work performed at Marshall.

“Marshall Space Flight Center is the birthplace of America’s space program. It was Marshall scientists and engineers who designed, built, tested, and helped launch the giant Saturn V rocket that carried astronauts on the Apollo missions to the Moon,” Brooks said. “Marshall has unique capabilities and expertise not found at other NASA centers.

“I’m pleased NASA has chosen Marshall to spearhead a key component of America’s return to the moon and usher in the Artemis era. Thanks to Administrator Bridenstine for travelling here to share the great news in person.”

With years of expertise in propulsion systems integration and technology development, engineers at Marshall will work with American companies to rapidly develop, integrate, and demonstrate a human lunar landing system that can launch to the Gateway, pick up astronauts and ferry them between the Gateway and the surface of the moon.

The Johnson Space Center in Houston, which manages major NASA human spaceflight programs including the Gateway, Orion, Commercial Crew and International Space Station, will oversee all aspects related to preparing the landers and astronauts to work together. Johnson also will manage all Artemis missions, beginning with Artemis 1, the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems.