Our first post comes from Dr. Charles Harrell, Founder of ProModel Corporation.
Welcome to the ProModel Blog, a blog dedicated to disseminating useful information on predictive analytics and process improvement using ProModel technology and services. The overall goal of the blog is to provide real world insight around simulation and how to get the most value from it, as well as to have some fun and give some personal glimpses into what makes us tick. To this end, subsequent posts will be provided by ProModel professionals who will share their thoughts and experiences on how to better plan processes and portfolios. Readers may comment on a post using the comment section which appears at the end of the post thread. This blog is intended to complement the ProModel LinkedIn groups, which are more Q&A discussion/help boards.
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As the original founder of ProModel Corporation, I thought it would be appropriate to post a bit on how ProModel got started, especially since that is the question that I invariably get asked when speaking to groups about ProModel. Although I suspect it is often asked out of idle curiosity, I believe the answer to this question helps explain what makes ProModel so unique.
The origins of ProModel go back to my time as a manufacturing engineer with Ford Motor Co. in 1976. The plant I worked for was gearing up for a new model year and I was tasked with planning three production lines for building transmissions components. The challenge for each line was to determine the right balance of machine capacity, buffer storage and resource allocation so that production target levels could be attained. Of course keeping cost to a minimum was also crucial. That was the first time I had been introduced to computer simulation. At the time, simulation models were often “programmed” by computer programmers in Fortran, a scientific programming language. There were two major drawbacks to this approach: (1) simulation studies took way too long (often up to one or two years to program and fully debug—too late to provide useful answers), and (2) programmers weren’t engineers and therefore had a difficult time understanding the process and knowing what solutions were feasible.
Recognizing these two drawbacks, Ford management decided that if simulation was to be a beneficial tool, it had to be much quicker and easier to use. So they decided to recruit a manufacturing engineer who had knowledge of production systems and then train that person in the art and science of simulation. They thought it would be easier to teach an engineer how to program than to teach a programmer how to engineer. As fate would have it, I was the person they selected. After a quickie course in GPSS, a leading simulation language of the day, I began working with Harry Truax, a seasoned programmer, to develop a simulator that could be used by manufacturing engineers to model Ford’s production lines. The result was a product called GENTLE (GENeral Transfer Line Emulator), and it literally cut months off model development time.
GENTLE gradually became widely adopted at Ford to model synchronous and non-synchronous transfer lines. As its usage increased, certain limitations started to become apparent. For one thing, it was designed from the outset to handle only a narrow class of production systems, so its flexibility was limited. Secondly, it required simulation runs to be made in batch on a costly mainframe computer sometimes taking a day or more to make it through the queue.
As I began to look at what it would take to provide a more flexible manufacturing simulator, I ran up against my own knowledge deficiency in material handling, which is the glue for any manufacturing system. To learn more about material handling systems, I hired on with Eaton-Kenway, a major material handling systems provider. While there, I completed a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering where my research focused on modeling material handling systems and I gained the insights I felt I needed to develop a general purpose manufacturing simulator.
I realized that if I was going to have an opportunity to develop such a simulator it would be best to do it as part of a PhD program, so I dragged my family to Denmark and began a PhD program in manufacturing engineering. I spent the next three years researching and refining a simulation tool that was quick and easy to use (desktop PCs were chosen as the target platform), yet flexible enough to model virtually any kind of production system. And as an added feature, I decided to incorporate a graphical user interface and runtime animation. The finished tool, the first of its kind, was dubbed ProMod (later ProModel). With a PhD in hand, I began teaching manufacturing and simulation courses at Brigham Young University and in 1988 established ProModel Corporation, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forward to the present and ProModel Corporation continues to build on the vision of providing powerful, easy-to-use simulation solutions. At the same time the ProModel team has developed a reputation for providing unrivaled customer support and simulation consulting services. I can honestly say that I am very pleased with what ProModel has become…and the future looks just as bright.
Congrats on 25 years, Charlie, and here’s hoping you’ll have another 25 to look back on. I’ve used Promod, PromodelPC, and just about all the other versions since 1989, and still find it to be the best general tool for manufacturing analysis. I’ve evaluated and re-evaluated Promodel vs other tools for analysis over the years, and Promodel always seems to come out on top. I’m currently comparing it to a gaming type environment, and although animation is cool, too much is not worth the extra effort. This is what I appreciate about Promodel (not so much the early stick figures in Promod!) – it gives you enough animation to verify the model and show the users what the flow looks like, but when that is done, you can turn it off and use it to spit out data. (Kind of like GPSS…)
Marc, thanks for being such a long-time supportive customer. Good to get your feedback.
Great story, but I believe it understates the vision you brought to the creation of both software and business. In those early days, simulation was painful and few people had any vision about how to break through to a new technology entitlement. You did. And, just as important, you embedded your own customer orientation into the company that brought the product to market. Life’s work…well done.
Sorry I just saw your comment Pete. Thanks for your past role in ProModel’s success.