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50 years of ANSYS – the early years: from 1970 to 1994

50 years of ANSYS – the early years: from 1970 to 1994

How it all started

Between 1959 and 1964, John Swanson studied engineering at Cornell University. He then began his professional career at Westinghouse Astronuclear Labs in Pittsburgh. Alongside his job, he worked on his PhD in Applied Mechanics between 1964 and 1966, at the University of Pittsburgh.

1970 - 1982 Swanson Analysis Systems, Inc. (SASI)

Being employed in the firm’s computation department, John was responsible for analyzing components designed for nuclear power plants. An FEM (finite element method) program for an IBM 7094 computer that was able to solve 75 equations stood at their disposal for the purposes of static and axisymmetric problems.  

As Westinghouse was not interested in software development, John Swanson resigned from his permanent position and then worked for them as a consultant until the point at which he founded his own company, Swanson Analysis Systems, Inc. (SASI), in 1970. The office was located at John’s house in Elisabeth, PA, in the Pittsburgh area. 

The first version of his FEM program was called ANSYS Rev. 2, and this ran on Control Data computers (the CDC 6500 and the 6600). The program provided solutions for linear and nonlinear structural analysis and dynamics, and for stationary and non-stationary heat transfer. John started with Rev. 2 because he believed no one would trust a program referred to as Version 1. The first commercial software agreement was concluded with his erstwhile employer, Westinghouse.

During the initial years, John was responsible for everything from development to after-sales service and customer support. The first employees (the “original five”) were Lauralee Wagner, Suzanne Batt, Gabe DeSalvo, Peter Kohnke, and Roger Ehrlich. ANSYS Rev. 3 was released in 1977; it was a completely new version, being modular and interactive, with emphasis being laid on the fact that “…the user could generate some meaningful plots.” An office building was erected in 1978 in Houston, PA. Even back then, they used the excess heat produced by the computers to heat the building. By 1980, after ten years of being in business, SASI had 25 employees.  

1982 – SASI and ANSYS Support Representatives (ASRs)

In 1982, Version 4.0 came onto the market with significant new functions: PREP (pre and post processor) 7, used for entering data and evaluation of results, featuring: interfaces to CAD (computer-aided design) programs, its own parameter language, optimization functions – even at that point in time – and modules for acoustics, electromagnetics, and coupled fields (electro-magnetic and thermomechanical). Even new materials, such as composites were supported.

SASI wanted to focus on software development, so the ANSYS Support Representatives (ASR) network was developed to deal with software marketing, customer support, and training. By 1983, the number of representatives had grown to seven in the USA and Canada and three in Europe. Guenter Mueller had been one of these representatives since 1982. It was their job to sell the software, offer local support and training, and acquire new clients – while SASI retained control of the licensing agreements.  

By then, SASI had 40 employees and had racked up more than 200 installations of ANSYS. In 1984, the number of installations had risen to over 300 – 75 of which were in Europe and 15 of which were in Germany. Sales reached 10 million US dollars. This rapid growth led John Swanson to change the business model.

1985 – SASI brings in ANSYS support distributors (ASDs)

Starting from January 1985, the ASRs were allowed to set up contracts with their clients. They were now designated ANSYS support distributors (ASDs) and were assigned exclusive sales territories. For Guenter Mueller it meant he had to establish a new company, CAD-FEM GmbH (which, at the time, was still written with a hyphen). CAD‑FEM became the exclusive distributor of ANSYS throughout Germany, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria, Slovenia, the former Czechoslovakia, and Poland.  

As there was an increasing number of SASI employees – 100 by 1987 – departments for development, systems & production, quality assurance, sales & facilities, marketing & training, and administration were set up. SASI moved into a new building at the end of 1986. Regular technotes and error reports were published to keep users updated. Quality assurance was carried out by testing 1,000 worked examples. 

Starting from the mid 1980s, SASI accelerated its software development program. Revisions 4.2 (1986), 4.3 (1987), and 4.4 (1988) all came out at 12-month intervals. These revisions included routines for submodeling, optimization, solid modeling, parametric language, fatigue (ASME), electromagnetics, and color graphics, plus modules for PCs. After having acquired (Dr. Rice’s) COMPUFLOW, based in Charlottesville, Virginia, SASI was in a position to provide solutions for problems in fluid mechanics with their software FLOTRAN.

The establishment of a lot of hardware firms in the 1980s saw SASI having to maintain over 900 installations of its software on 20 different types of computer, involving 30 different operating systems. The purchase price for the PC modules was between 1,600 (for PC OPT) and 6,400 dollars (for PC LINEAR). Monthly rental for workstation installations was between 9,900 and 1,500 dollars.

1992 – the long-awaited ANSYS Rev. 5

ANSYS Rev. 4.4 had to remain in service for longer than intended, as it was not possible to release Rev. 5 – which had been heralded over the course of several years – until 1992. ANSYS 5 was completely re-written; it had a new data structure and contained a lot of fresh developments, such as a common database for preprocessors and postprocessors, Boolean operations, support for inputting via “control panels”, video output and animation, automatic adaptive meshing, error norms, automatic load increments, large strains and rotations, contact surfaces, hyper-elastic material, and interfaces for fluid mechanics.

In 1992, SASI’s sales figures increased to approximately 30 million dollars and the number of employees grew to around 150. The number of ANSYS support distributors increased to about 35. Commercial installations of the software stood at 2,500 and there were an additional 1,600 contracts with institutes of higher education.

Mention should also be made of the ANSYS international conferences, which were held every other year between 1983 and 1998. The first ANSYS conference was held in Pittsburgh and the keynote speaker was Professor Eduard Wilson, whose theme was “New developments in finite elements.” Lunch was served in person by John, assisted by his employees and the ASDs – as the hotel staff were on strike. Other conferences included Richard H. Gallagher giving a lecture (in 1987) on “Integrating design and analysis” and O.C. Zienkiewicz from Swansea University giving a lecture (in 1991) on “The state of the art in adaptivity and mesh generation.” All three are regarded as being among the top scientists who have worked on the finite element method.

1993 - John Swanson sells his company, SASI

In 1993, John Swanson unexpectedly sold a majority shareholding in his company to T.A. Associates, a venture capital firm. The takeover of SASI was completed in 1994. The name of the company was changed to ANSYS, Inc., which then went public, in 1996. New managers came on board, with Peter Smith as CEO and Klaus Schlemper as Manager of European Operations. John worked at ANSYS, Inc., as Chief Technologist, for another five years. After that, he once again established his own company, Swanson Analysis Services, Inc. (SASI), which became a vehicle for him to pursue different themes to those he had engaged with previously.

Over the years, ANSYS has developed into the global market leader in numerical simulation and, by 2019, on the back of targeted acquisitions, sales had grown to around 1.3 billion dollars.

ANSYS support distributors were shocked by the news of SASI being sold. Over the course of time, a friendly and indeed close relationship had developed between the ASDs. The annual get-together at SASI in Pittsburgh had been the highlight of the year. This brings the story of the earlier years of ANSYS to an end.

John has received many honors. Suffice it to mention the John Fritz Medal, which was bestowed on him by the American Association of Engineering Societies, in 2004. This is the highest and most prestigious award in the engineering profession; it has been awarded every year since 1902 for outstanding services to engineering in the spheres of industry or science. Previous winners include Thomas Edison, Alfred Nobel, and Alexander Graham Bell.

John Swanson has given his backing to several institutions, both scientific and social. In 2007, he donated 41.3 million dollars to the University of Pittsburgh. At the time, it was the largest individual donation the university had ever received.

Dr.-Ing. Guenter Mueller, Founder of CADFEM GmbH and Managing Partner at CADFEM International GmbH

We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to John Swanson for his positive, fair-minded, and genial cooperation over all these years. Selling ANSYS and providing support have brought us a great deal of enjoyment and have made CADFEM a flourishing company. We also wish to thank John Swanson and his colleagues for their active participation at our annual CADFEM users’ meetings, which has continued on for many years beyond the takeover.

© Images: private | Translation: Kieran Scarffe

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