The SheetCam story?

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djreiswig
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The SheetCam story?

Post by djreiswig » Thu Feb 06, 2020 3:48 am

Posted this over on the CandCNC forum and got an interesting story.
https://www.candcnc.net/supportforum/vi ... =23&t=2743

Maybe Les would care to share the history of SheetCam.

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Les Newell
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Re: The SheetCam story?

Post by Les Newell » Fri Feb 21, 2020 12:48 pm

I'm sorry, I've been meaning to get around to replying to this for a while.

As this is a one man business I guess you want to hear about my history. I was interested in electronics and engineering from a very early age. OK, let's face it obsessed is probably a closer description :oops: One of my earliest memories is of taking a torch apart and the eureka moment when I figured out how to make the bulb light with a couple of wires. I always took my toys apart to see how they worked so in the end my parents admitted defeat and resorted to giving me pre-disassembled toys in the form of Meccano and Lego :oops: I still have a big box of that meccano.

Later when home computers became available I was in nerd heaven. All of my peers with computers used them for gaming but I was much more interested in controlling stuff with my trusty Dragon 32. Unlike the much more popular ZX Spectrum it had a proper keyboard and a parallel port. I ended up hanging all sorts of things off that poor machine, everything from a home made scanner to a sonic rangefinder. It's funny to think that now my mouse has quite a bit more processing power than that computer did.

After school I ended up in Stafforshire Polytechnic (now Staffordshire University) taking an HND in electronics. HND was a 2 year course in parallel with the degree course. The degree students took a third year. I didn't try very hard at it and couldn't see the relevance in a lot of the stuff they were teaching. To be fair most of it I've never needed. I struggled with the maths. Trigonometry and algebra is not too bad but the more abstract stuff like calculus just doesn't sink in. In the second year I visited one of the degree students. He had a bread board and some components. We'd just spent weeks learning about transistor H parameters (which even the tutor admitted we'd probably never need) and he was really pleased to turn a light bulb on with a transistor and a resistor. I did that when I was 8. I obviously didn't know all of the theory behind transistor operation at that age but I still knew enough to build such a simple circuit. That was the point where I completely lost interest in the course and dropped out.

After a couple of years unemployed a scheme came up that paid for training as long as it was part time. I regretted dropping out of the HND and the local college offered a 3 year one day a week HND course. The scheme was only for one year so I ended up doing year one of the course on Mondays, year 2 on Wednesdays and year 3 on Fridays. With some rather creative accounting we managed to get the hours just under the limit for the scheme. One of the conditions of the scheme was that I needed to keep looking for work and if I got a job offer I had to take it. Near the end of the course I got a job offer so I never finished that HND. We were very poor at the time and even coming up with the money for fuel to get to the college was a struggle so I really didn't have much choice about the job.

Fast forward a few years and I was working for the same company doing electronics design, assembly, programming and operating a couple of CNC machines. I was getting bored, especially with the assembly work, so when they wanted to increase my workload and reduce my pay I decided enough was enough and left to start out on my own doing freelance design. As by that point I was their only designer I carried on doing some work for them and their customers. In fact I still do some work for them now. It was a win win situation really. I got a ready made customer base and they got to save money by not employing me full time. The house I lived in at the time was called 'The Stables' so my business name became 'Stable Design'. Yeah, I'm good at imaginative names :roll:

Around that time I built myself a 8x4 CNC plasma for a home project. It was very crude and due to the lack of space in my workshop I had to winch it up into the ceiling when it was not in use. The only software I could find at an affordable price was pretty basic and I decided I could do better. How hard could it be? As it turns out quite a lot harder than I expected! Hobby CNC was just starting to become popular so I thought I had a good chance of selling my software and kept plugging away at it, probably spending 60% of my time on it and the rest on paying work.

6 months later I had something that was beta but mostly worked. The software was mainly aimed at plasma cutting and routing sheet materials so I used my incredible skill at coming up with names and called it SheetCam. The GUI was very roughly styled on the workflow of the software I'd used on the CNC router belonging to my previous employer. At this stage I didn't consider it to be a polished enough product do sell so I offered it for free for about 6 months and asked for feedback. Customer feedback has always played a big part in SheetCam's design. After a year in development it was finally ready for sale. Sales started off a little slow but when resellers and OEMs got interested sales got much better.

SheetCam was originally written using a GUI toolkit called Borland C++ builder. Borland discontinued the toolkit so a few years later I moved over to the open source wxWidgets toolkit. This involved pretty much a complete rewrite and SheetCam TNG was born. TNG is a Star Trek The Next Generation reference and was originally just my reference for the project until I came up with a better name. Well, I didn't really come up with a better name :roll: When TNG was released I also increased the price slightly with a 50% discount for users of the old version. In the last 15+ years that was the only time the price has changed.

These days SheetCam is my main source of income. I still do some design work for my old customers and a few CNC repairs. Most of the repair work is sub contract for a local machine maintance company. They call me in when they need hand with their more complex and difficult jobs.

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djreiswig
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Re: The SheetCam story?

Post by djreiswig » Fri Feb 21, 2020 1:26 pm

Very cool story. Thanks for sharing that with us.

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