STEP Tools, Inc. Receives $2M ATP Award

Troy, New York - October 8, 1999-STEP Tools, Inc., the forerunner in developing STEP-integration software toolsets for the global marketplace, today announced it has received a $2M Advanced Technology Program (ATP) Award issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department's Technology Administration.

The prestigious ATP award will fund STEP Tool's "Model Driven Intelligent Control of Manufacturing" project to develop software and databases for an integrated design-to-manufacturing system that allows numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools to be controlled by product design data. STEP Tools currently develops an integrated suite of tools and libraries to cover every aspect of STEP (Standard for Product Data Exchange) implementation. The product line drastically minimizes the effort needed to move applications and databases into compliance with ISO 10303 STEP and other standards that use EXPRESS information models.

"The ATP's 1999 Competition attracted over 400 proposals," stated Dr. Martin Hardwick, president and CEO of STEP Tools, Inc. "This was a very competitive arena and we are very pleased to join the winning ranks as one of only 37 new industrial research projects selected for support by the Commerce Department's Advanced Technology Program. We will essentially lay the foundation for "next generation" manufacturing that will lead to significant improvements in design flexibility, reduce time to market, and increase the quality of manufactured parts. The broad-based benefits will be felt by both large and small job shops, as well as their clients."

ATP awards are based on a rigorous competitive review considering scientific and technical merit of each proposal and its potential benefits to the U.S. economy. The program does not fund product development. Applicants must include a detailed business plan for bringing the new technology to market once technical milestones have been achieved under ATP support.

To help STEP Tools commercialize the results of the project, the State of New York has committed $150,000 to be issued in 2002, at the completion of the research program, to hire 42 new employees and bring new products to the market. Congressman Michael R. McNulty (D-Green Island) said: "STEP Tools, Inc.'s innovative work is yet another example of the exciting, cutting-edge technology being developed by small high-tech firms here in the Capital district. It is another step toward recognition of the Capital Region as "Tech Valley.'"

Governor George E. Pataki said, "Like thousands of other firms across the State, STEP Tools has recognized that New York is a premier state for business opportunity and job creation."

Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said, "STEP Tools is the kind of successful and growing high tech business that will form the basis of our local economy in the next century. This two million dollar grant is great news for STEP Tools, Troy and all of Rensselaer County. The State is making a wise investment to help STEP Tools grow and add 42 new jobs."

"Model Driven Intelligent Control of Manufacturing" Project to Change the Face of Production

Currently manufacturing design is now largely done with sophisticated computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) systems, yet control of the machine tools producing the parts (or molds used to produce a part) is comparatively primitive, using numeric codes that specify the path of the cutting tool. To better integrate the manufacturing process and allow more flexible use of the machine tools, STEP Tools will create the software environment for an intelligent manufacturing system that shares data between product design, process planning and machine tool controllers.

Central to the project will be the development of a data-sharing system-an extension of the STEP and STEP-NC standards for design and manufacturing plan data-that includes product definition, process characteristics and details about the cutting tool and related fixtures in a database. A key innovation will be to put more "intelligence" in the machine tool controllers, enabling them to generate the necessary toolpath and cutting instructions directly from a STEP model and process the information in the same database.

Over a three year period, the project will develop a prototype integrated data-sharing system for design-to-manufacturing, incorporating all the necessary information from product definition to set-up requirements in the shared database.

By replacing a data exchange process that has been in place for over 50 years, STEP Tools believes it will provide manufacturers with increased productivity, reduced product variation and process faults, improved supply chain management, and reduce production costs by between 35% and 75%. In addition, the introduction of a new manufacturing system will provide a boost to software suppliers and the machine tool control industry. The major impact would be in the durable goods sector, which ships over $500 billion in goods annually.

ATP support will allow STEP Tools to bring together the vendors of CNC machine tools and CAD/CAM systems, who have been unable to bridge the technical gap separating the two technologies. STEP Tools will be the lead company in an industry joint venture with major subcontractors including Bridgeport Machines, Inc. (Bristol, Penn.), a machine tool controller vendor; Allied Signal (Kansas City, Missouri), a mechanical CAD tool developer; and the Center for Automation Technologies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY).