The Mechdyne Story
Mechdyne Corporation was founded in 1996 by Iowa State University (ISU) graduates, Dr. Chris Clover, Jim Gruening, and Kurt Hoffmeister after honing their skills at ISU's Virtual Reality Applications Center. Mechdyne's very first project focused on creating a virtual reality firefighting simulator for the U.S. Navy. This system was conceived of as a better way to train cadets how to safely fight fires on-board, complete with a virtual hose and water. Imagine it: Training a whole team how to navigate a damaged ship and properly fight a fire without lighting one match or blowing a hole in the side of a real aircraft carrier!
But this first project was not without difficult challenges. People and equipment had to find their way from Iowa to Washington, DC, in a rented Ryder truck, vendors had to be paid for very expensive equipment, software and peripheral devices had to be tested, and key components had to be fabricated by hand in a makeshift staging and production facility "leased" from Clover's father. Perhaps most stressful of all was taking out what seemed like an enormous loan at the time (a quarter million dollars for a penniless graduate student) and knowing that personal bankruptcy and financial ruin were assured for Clover if the trio of founders was not able to successfully pull off the project. And at times this seemed a distinct possibility! But, their creativity, determination, and innovation resulted in a successful project, a happy customer, and a modest profit.
Mechdyne: Global Recognition
As word of Mechdyne's capabilities spread around the globe, the experience placed them on a nearly vertical learning curve. A research institute in Taiwan asked for a virtual aquarium filled with a rare (previously believed to be extinct) fish called a coelacanth, which can only be seen alive in extremely deep water. Again, the small Mechdyne team faced a number of new challenges:
- The customer was in a time zone 14 hours ahead of Iowa
- Language and cultural barriers hindered project discussions, design, and development
- Clover originally thought the client's budget was enormous until realizing they were utilizing Tawain dollars only valued at 1/30th of a US dollar
- Equipment had to be shipped halfway around the world and not just halfway across the US.
To top it off, Mechdyne engineers had to think far outside the box and accomplish something that had never been done before: fulfill the client's demand that the system be driven by off-the-shelf PC's instead of powerful SGI supercomputers. This is where Mechdyne teammates became famous for bending technology to their will. With five Windows-based personal computers, Mechdyne's own software, and a handful of hardware pieces to sync it all together, they created the world's first PC-driven CAVE™. News traveled fast - this incredible system, once only able to be powered by $1 million super-computers, might now be affordable to organizations of all sizes.
News traveled fast - this incredible system, once only able to be powered by $1 million super-computers, might now be affordable to organizations of all sizes.
Recognizing the potential for advanced visualization and interaction technologies, Mechdyne's founders went on to develop other world's firsts including:
- A rear-projected curved screen immersive visualization system
- A reconfigurable immersive room: the FLEX™
- Fully digital CAVE
- 4K by 4K (and highest resolution) CAVE
- First six-sided CAVE
Always profitable, the company was able to go on and acquire a large competitor (Fakespace Systems), a software company (VRCO), and a design services company to expand its reach and capabilities.
Moving beyond the virtual reality and visualization niche in which the company built its reputation, Mechdyne also quickly became a leading innovator and supplier of large-scale and complex audiovisual and information technology (AV/IT) systems, as well as managed services and support for a wide variety of impressive clients. Within a few years, the company was global in scope and had successfully deployed advanced systems on six continents including the first immersive visualization system in Africa. Once, in a three week span, Mechdyne delivered three separate systems on three continents!
While still an important and growing piece of the company's portfolio, Mechdyne has greatly expanded its capabilities beyond virtual reality and visualization system integration. By taking the idea of working with clients collaboratively and applying new ideas to a wide variety of challenging and expensive obstacles, Mechdyne has created tools that allow organizations and industries to explore undiscovered areas and uncover new insights and solutions.
Mechdyne Moving to the Future
Now, challenges such as safely finding natural resources, training military personnel, creating virtual models of new vehicle designs, mapping a molecule, or finding a cure for cancer can all be completed faster, safer and more efficiently than ever before.
Today, Mechdyne is a broad-based technology partner serving a global client base of some of the world's most famous organizations including leading university and research centers, energy, aerospace, manufacturing, and medical organizations as well as elite government agencies and the US military. We help our clients make money or save money to produce incredible return on investments in Mechdyne products and services.
We are extremely proud of the accomplishments of all of our teammates since our humble beginnings in 1996 and look forward to continuing to Enable Discovery in the 21st century and beyond!