I understand that the company has its roots in academia.
That’s true. The Thermo-Calc software package was originally developed by a member of the faculty and graduate students of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at The Royal Institute of Technology—also known as KTH—in Stockholm, Sweden. Their work on the software began in the seventies, with the first official version of Thermo-Calc launched in 1981. As for the company’s founding, universities around the world tend to handle these things differently. Since university faculty members own the ideas resulting from their work in Sweden, the individuals who’d developed the software agreed to transfer their rights to a foundation which, once established, then set up the company in 1997.
Thermo-Calc Software AB is based in Stockholm and handles marketing and sales, customer support and training, and continued product development. The company worked primarily through representatives at that time—as it still does in certain parts of Europe, South America, Asia, and Australasia—and I was working for one of those agents here in the United States. It became clear as the company grew, however, that direct representation would be beneficial to its expanding customer base in the States, so in 2004 Thermo-Calc Software, Inc., was established as a wholly owned subsidiary in McMurray, Pennsylvania, and I was asked to become its president. This came after a great deal of consideration, both on my part as well as those at headquarters, but we’d come to the realization that our customers would be better served in this particular market by a more hands-on approach.
Having worked with the company for so many years by then, we felt that I could communicate with end users in a way that would help them understand the benefits of the software while at the same time identifying applications they might not have considered. While there are times when the customer has seen the software in operation, knows exactly what they want to use it for, and simply needs a quote, quite often we find that they require a little more guidance and education as to how it will help them overcome some of the particular challenges they’re confronted with, or see benefits they had not considered.
A lot of the time we’re engaging with customers and talking about the practical problems they face. We’re trying to figure out whether the software is suited to what they’re doing and what kinds of insights into those problems it will provide. So it’s sort of a quasi-consulting sales approach, in which having credibility and knowledge at the technical level is especially helpful.
Who uses this software, and in what way?
While the original users were mostly universities and government research laboratories, we’ve seen a great deal of growth in the industrial sector in recent years, which is something we’re very excited about. This year the Thermo-Calc package has been purchased by two major steel mills, in fact. We have three main software products. We describe Thermo-Calc for Windows-TCW as the user-friendly version, with a graphical user interface, and Thermo-Calc Classic-TCC as the traditional, flexible research tool for the calculation of stable and meta-stable equilibria, thermodynamic properties, and phase diagrams. DICTRA (Diffusion Controlled TRAnsformations) is a unique tool for the simulation of diffusion controlled transformations in multicomponent alloys. Then we have Thermo-Calc Programming Interfaces, which allow the customer to utilize their own software, and we also offer a wide selection of databases for thermodynamics and diffusion that are compatible with the Thermo-Calc and DICTRA software.
Why do you think you’re seeing growth in the industrial sector?
Industry is beginning to see the benefits of this approach. Some companies have used Thermo-Calc to develop and patent new alloys, saving money in the process. I visited a customer a week after they’d purchased the software, and they had already saved three runs by conducting a simulation beforehand. Scrapping the material would have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.