Part VIII: Layout Without Windows
At BCMC in Jacksonville in 1990, the PC had begun to “steal the show,” especially that of the upstart A.C.E.S. Their layout program was a quantum leap over the decade old work of C&G Micrographics on the Apple Computer. It also had several advantages over existing truss software, and would eventually transform the truss design process.
Curiously, during the first decades of our industry, the computer was used only at the very end of the truss design process and only for cutting lists and sealed drawings. This was appropriate only for simple gable-shaped roofs. But the Florida market, the birthplace of our industry, subsequently “gave birth” to the most challenging roof systems. In addition, trusses were the only way Florida builders could keep up with the doubling of housing demand during the period 1970 to 1990. But drawing those layouts required very refined visualization skills and years of experience. An incorrect layout could doom a project, even if every truss was properly designed. Truly, the “devil in the detail” was in the layout, and to a much lesser extent in design.
Gang-Nail, the largest firm in the industry, based in Miami, had begun developing a layout program about the time of C&G, called “Auto-Roof.” It originally was offered via Timesharing, but provided only limited capabilities. Later, when converting programs to the Sun Computer, they engaged a smart young man, Emilio Sotolongo. His work apparently did not satisfy Gang Nail engineers, who were mainly focused on truss design. Emilio sought greener pastures, and signed on with A.C.E.S. to continue his work. Gang-Nail subsequently released “Frame-tastic” on the Sun Computer. Our company developed a similar capability on the PC. But both programs provided only two-dimensional line drawings and resolved only a subset of potential roof shapes.
A.C.E.S. and Emilio soon developed the first three-dimensional solution to roof framing by leveraging a mathematical resolution of “the intersection of planes in 3D space.” Their layout program enabled designers to frame complicated roofs by an ingenious method of defining roof planes and “cutting” them via a prescribed sequence of mouse clicks. Their first breakthrough was the creation of a true 3D model of the roof system, for nearly any structure. Then, after entering trusses into the model, came the second innovation: designers were able to export trusses directly into the A.C.E.S. engineering program, eliminating manual entry. And A.C.E.S. ran on nearly any DOS-based PC-clone of that day. (See figure [in PDF or view in full issue] for basic elements of A.C.E.S. input which are still functional today in our software).
Meanwhile, most of us in the rest of the industry were not innovating, but merely struggling to downsize our mammoth FORTRAN programs to enable them to run on a PC. While we had produced PowerCalc, Gang-Nail rolled out a PC-based version of AutoTruss. Both of these relied on emulation software that “shoehorned” older programs onto PCs without extensive rework of the underlying programs. The result was applications that ran slowly and retained their batch-oriented non-interactive input, carrying forward the technology of the Seventies and not integrated with layout.
By the early 1990s, the PC was becoming an office appliance, with the advent of AOL’s “You’ve got mail” tagline. Many designers were also using AutoCAD for layouts, which was on release #12 by then. In short, we began to rely on running multiple programs simultaneously to do our work efficiently; in essence, multi-tasking. To operate several programs simultaneously required multiple “windows,” and Microsoft promised to be launching an enticing product.
Windows onto Truss Design