Shape Data Limited

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Shape Data Limited
IndustryComputer aided design
Founded1 January 1974; 46 years ago (1974-01-01) in Cambridge, England
  • Dr. Ian Braid
  • Dr. Alan Grayer
  • Dr. Charles Lang
  • Dr. Peter Veenman[1][2]
HeadquartersParker's House, Regent Street,
Key people
Ron Belcher (managing director)[3]
Number of employees
64[3] (1994)

Shape Data Limited is a computer software company in Cambridge, England that specialises in developing programs for engineering and manufacturing professionals.[4]


Established in 1974 by several doctoral students of the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, the company was a pioneer in computer graphics with early industry advances in solid modelling design and boundary representation. The company revolutionised the computer aided design (CAD) industry in the 1970s and 1980s, by creating and commercialising the solid modelling software market in 1978.[1][2][5] The use of solid modelling techniques allows for the automation of several difficult engineering calculations that are carried out as a part of Shape Data's software programs, including simulation, planning, and verification of design processes of three dimensional objects. Shape Data released a series of products that helped create the foundations of computer aided design programming, namely Romulus, Romulus-D, Parasolid, and the Unigraphics Solids programs.[5] The Parasolid program remains an industry standard for engineering departments and companies, in the design of manufacturing products from small scale tools and equipment to automobiles and aeroplanes.

Shape Data was sold several times to large multinational companies in the information technology industry. As of 2016–03 the company was a subsidiary of Siemens AG.[6]


University of Cambridge[edit]

Shape Data was founded in 1974 by Doctors Charles Lang, Ian Braid, Alan Grayer, and Peter Veenman.[2][7] Veenman became the sole employee of the company at the time of its founding, while Lang, Braid, and Grayer initially continued work at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. All four founders were doctoral students at the University of Cambridge. In 1965, Professor Maurice Wilkes and his graduate student Lang established the Computer Aided Design Group at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory.[2] The initial purpose of the research group was to develop tools for building mechanical CAD/CAM systems.[2] In particular, the group worked to engineer early forms of computational geometry, computer graphics, and software system components.[2]

Early revenue for Shape Data came from business-to-business consultancies.[8] In 1975, the company was contracted by the General Electric Company to develop a solid modeller based on the computational geometric work of Ian Braid's Ph.D thesis.[8] In 1978, after three years of development, Shape Data released Romulus, the world's first commercialised solid geometric modeller software program.[9][10]

By 1980, the company had expanded to about a dozen employees.[8] The company was the target of a takeover bid by Weir Group, followed a year later by another takeover bid by Racal-Redac.[8] In 1979, Shape Data reached an agreement with Evans and Sutherland of Salt Lake City, Utah to distribute Romulus in the United States.[8] Evans and Sutherland President Dave Evans became interested in acquiring Shape Data, as the young company was seen as an entry point into advanced computer aided engineering. Concurrently, the company founders saw Evans and Sutherland as more favourable to the strategic development goals of their company and an opportunity to inject needed capital into Shape Data for further research and development of Romulus.[8]

Evans and Sutherland[edit]

In 1980, Evans & Sutherland Computer Corporation entered into a contract with Shape Data to market the Romulus geometric modelling program.[11] The company was sold to Evans & Sutherland in 1981. After acquisition, Evans & Sutherland injected a large amount of capital into Shape Data, allowing for rapid expansion of staff and procurement of computing equipment. In 1981, Shape Data had 17 employees. In 1983, the company had 40 and by 1986 staff had grown to 70.

In May 1984, the managing director position was created and Peter Veenman was appointed.[8]

In 1988, Shape Data was close to fragmenting.[8] In January 1988, Siemens bought Shape Data's Parasolid product and development group from the parent company. The administrative staff and the Romulus-D product and development group were left out of the deal. In 1988, Caterpillar committed to the Romulus-D program as the first major customer. Caterpillar discovered shortly thereafter that the rights to Parasolid, the geometric modelling kernel of Romulus-D, were being sold to Siemens. Caterpillar hastily arranged the takeover of financing of Shape Data's to prevent the sale of Parasolid.

McDonnell Douglas[edit]

Shape Data was sold to McDonnell Douglas Information Systems Limited on 31 October 1988.[12][13] Ron Belcher, a senior software project manager at McDonnell Douglas, was appointed head of Shape Data at the time of the acquisition.[13][8]

Belcher created a paradigm shift in the management of the company. Since the founding of Shape Data, the culture focused on technology-led development and managerial decision making. Under Belcher, the central focus of the company shifted into financial and market oriented strategic management decision making.

The company pursued a Blue Ocean Strategy by being the first company to create and enter the three dimensional CAD market. In 1988, Shape Data developed Parasolid, an upgrade of Romulus, that allowed the joining of boundary represented surfaces together as a solid. This program was the most advanced solid modelling kernel available on the market at the time of its 1989 release.[14]


In 1991, the McDonnell Douglas Systems Integration groups, including Shape Data, were acquired by EDS (then a part of General Motors Corp., now part of HP Enterprise Services). EDS branded the acquired business as EDS Unigraphics. Eventually, in 1997 EDS set up its Unigraphics division as a wholly owned subsidiary called Unigraphics Solutions.[15]


Shape Data was sold to Siemens AG on 24 January 2007.[16][17][18] The company is presently a subsidiary of Siemens PLM Software, a business unit of Siemens AG.



The Romulus program was introduced in 1978 after three years of development.[2] It is the first commercially licensed geometric modelling kernel in the world.


Parasolid, alongside ACIS, is the current industry standard for three-dimensional solid modelling kernel software. Shape Data first began developing Parasolid in 1985.

Key people[edit]

  • Ron Belcher
  • Ian Braid
  • Alan Grayer
  • Charles Lang
  • Peter Veenman

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "3D Software History 1980–1985". Computer Graphics Museum. Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Ian Braid, Alan Grayer and Charles Lang, the 2008 Pierre Bézier Award Recipients". Solid Modeling Association. Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  3. ^ a b c Wedgwood, C. G., ed. (1994). European Electronics Directory 1994: Systems and Applications (1st ed.). Oxford: Elsevier Science Ltd. p. 236. ISBN 1856172295.
  4. ^ "Cambridge University's Star-studded List of Startups, Spin-outs and Alumni". Business Weekly. 14 July 2011. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  5. ^ a b "A Critical History of Computer Graphics and Animation". Ohio State University. Archived from the original on 4 April 2016. Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  6. ^ "List of subsidiaries and associated companies" (PDF). Siemens AG. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  7. ^ Jones, Karen Sparck. "A Brief Informal History of the Computer Laboratory". Cambridge University. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Roberts, John. (1990) "Shape Data Limited: Cambridge University Case Study". Judge Institute of Management Studies, Cambridge University, p. 19.
  9. ^ "Romulus Solid Geometric Modeler Brochure". Archive. Evans & Sutherland Computer Corporation. Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  10. ^ Brebbia 1982, p. 200.
  11. ^ Computerworld 1980, p. 81.
  12. ^ "Computer Business Review. Shape Data Sold On To McDonnell Douglas." 30 October 1988. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  13. ^ a b Cane, Alan (31 October 1988). "Computer Aided Design Pioneer Sold Again". Financial Times (30, 681).
  14. ^ Fahlbusch, Klaus-Peter; Roser, Thomas D. (October 1995). "HP PE/SoldDesigner: Dynamic Modeling for Three-Dimensional Computer Aided Design" (PDF). Hewlett Packard. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  15. ^ "See GM, IBM in CAD/CAM fight; after Unigraphics deal". Electronic News. 1991.
  16. ^ Siemens announces Siemens PLM Software strategic business unit
  17. ^ "Siemens Buys UGS for $3.5B". Red Herring. Archived from the original on 15 July 2011.
  18. ^ "Siemens to acquire UGS Corp" (Press release). Siemens AG. 25 January 2007. Retrieved 10 June 2009.


External links[edit]