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Pritsker Corporation.

Computer Modeling for Manufacturers


For television viewers, the word "simulation" brings to mind the disclaimer that appears on screen when a commercial depicts a fictional scene rather than displays footage of an actual event.

For employees of Indiana's Pritsker Corporation and those who use its software, simulation is also viewed on screen. The screen, however, is a computer screen, and the model is likely a new production facility, process or manufacturing schedule.

Pritsker's analysis and planning software products model and help users select the best alternatives for planning a myriad of business activities. The theory is that simulation can help a company save time and money by trying something out on a computer model before making an investment in new construction, equipment or personnel changes.

As far as software companies go, Pritsker is unique in several ways. It's in Indiana rather than California or Massachusetts, the hubs for software development. It's also headed into its 17th year of business, ranking it among software industry seniors (many developers fail long before their fifth anniversary). And Pritsker Corporation is still privately held. Its president furthermore declines comment on any prospects of its going public.

What Pritsker does share with many software companies, however, is its academic origins. University researchers frequently develop computer applications that can be readily adapted to businesses. Many who try to take their ideas from basements of computer labs to the front offices of industry never succeed, however. But not so with Pritsker Corporation. While university-conceived, Pritsker Corporation quickly adapted to the business world, which may be its secret to success.

Or the success could stem from the fortune cookie story co-founder Alan Pritsker tells. As his story goes, Pritsker, then a Purdue University professor, was returning from a consulting trip in Ohio with academic cohorts, David Wortman and Elliot Segal, when the conversation turned to a discussion of industry's and government's failure to recognize how modeling and simulation could improve their operations. As they drove along, three began talking about the possibilities of forming a company to fill that niche themselves. When they stopped for dinner at a Chinese restaurant, Pritsker drew a fortune that read: "Your new business venture will be prosperous."

Whether it's true, or the fortune cookie held the power to predict, is moot. The three formed a company, and today, Pritsker Corporation is indeed a success.

The business grew from a four-person operation in Alan Pritsker's home to a small Lafayette office, then to new headquarters in West Lafayette. Today, the company employs 125, splits its headquarters operations between West Lafayette and Indianapolis and has sales offices in several U.S. cities and an international distributor network.

Alan Pritsker, now 56, led the company until 1987, when he turned the presidential reins over to Wortman. Today, Pritsker serves as chairman, but scorns titles. "We don't operate with titles; we operate by consensus, as a team," he insists. Segal is no longer with the company, but he retains close ties. Recently, he wrote a book with Pritsker.

Fortune-cookie story aside, Wortman, now 38, says success was achieved by "hard work and hard work."

Many consider Alan Pritsker not only the pioneer in simulation but also the expert. When Business Week referred to him as one of the fathers of simulation, Pritsker admitted he liked the description. He's spent a good part of his career as a professor, and describes the computer-simulation program he developed at Purdue University as the best simulation group in the world.

His goal in cofounding the company was to take the advanced industrial engineering technologies developed in the academic world and to adapt them to the manufacturing world. It's a role he continues to play, not only at Pritsker Corporation but in other technological ventures also. Chief among these is INventure, a West Lafayette incubator firm that has helped several technological companies get their start. Alan Pritsker is committed to keeping Indiana-educated engineers and scientists in the state. He points with pride to Pritsker Corporation's contributions to simulation and to the company's contributions to West Lafayette and Indiana.

To the uninitiated, the company's milestones read like a list of dates and acronyms. But those acronyms represent a series of software "firsts" in products and projects.

Today, the company's simulation software products include SLAMSYSTEM, SLAM II/TESS, XCELL+ and FACTOR. They handle everything from entry-level simulation on a personal computer to total project simulation support for advanced computers as well as factory floor control.

In the early years, Wortman admits much of their work dealt with educating industry about the value of simulation. But its roots were planted early at the university level by Alan Pritsker, who now claims students of his students have gone on to use the company's software products.

While education played a role, Wortman believes successful applications of simulation technology also did much to convince industry of its viability. "In the early years we focused on applications that solved problems in industry and

government," Wortman says. Pritsker Corporation was the first company that dedicated itself to the technology and its successful use in industry, he says. Nothing shows what's possible more than successful applications."

Application development and consulting work is something the company continues today, even though its software products are also sold separately.

Throughout its history, the company has been a pioneer in what Wortman refers to as two general areas: operations, planning and design; and finite capacity sequencing and scheduling. Those are the official corporate phrases for "before" and "after" --before a factory or process is built or installed and after it's on-line. For a while the two areas were handled by separate companies: Pritsker & Associates, formed in 1973; and Factrol, a 1985 Pritsker spin-off. Wortman says the compatibility of their products and duplication of their customer bases led to rejoining the companies this year as Pritsker Corporation.

While Wortman admits he's proud of the company's accomplishments, he's quick to add: "We've only touched the tip of the industry's iceberg." Pritsker's simulation software was first used by the government, the military and the oil, gas and steel industries. In the last five years, it has expanded to manufacturing. Today, it is making significant entries in consumer product manufacturing, such as food, beverage and pharmaceutical.

Before the 1990s are over, Pritsker Corporation will have passed its 25th anniversary. While Wortman says he has no crystal ball, (but he does have simulation software at his fingertips), he is working with a clear company mission that tells him a safe prediction is continued and even more rapid growth. "The growth is fueled by both new software products Pritsker will introduce and improvements in our current products."

Wortman also predicts that current customers will expand their use of simulation products and that the number of companies using simulation will increase as will the types of companies. "There are tremendous opportunities for the productive and profitable use of simulation technology in financial services and health care, for example," Wortman says.

"The opportunties for expanded applications are really enormous," Wortman believes. "We have created a foundation for further development of our business."

PHOTO : Simulation guru Alan Pritsker

PHOTO : The SLAMSYSTEM: animated simulation software for the PC.

Kathy Mayer is a partner in Lafayette-based Mayer & Samuelson Writing/Editing Services.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
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Title Annotation:Profile
Author:Mayer, Kathy
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:company profile
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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