More than 40 years of TCP
Less than two years after the founding of Microsoft, the world’s most famous software company, a high school student from Mülheim was also busy with ideas for using computers. While Microsoft was developing the simple programming language BASIC at that time, this student wanted to use BASIC for an application that was very ambitious.
Inspired by the challenge of planning and realizing the products of his father’s company, he wanted to develop a graphical computer program that would allow the construction engineers to plan staircases. Equipped with the appropriate hardware, Ralf Hamm – the name of this student – actually managed to create such a software ready for presentation at the Hanover Fair.
The interest was great, and surprisingly, the demand came immediately from the kitchen resellers and manufacturers, if something like that can’t be used for kitchen planning.
Already in the next year on April 1 1978 the TCP – Technical Computer Programs GmbH was created and was very successful in few years with the first generation of the product TCP.
First customers such as GRUKO and Miele bought the software for their prominent sales outlets together with the then emerging and rapidly developing Hewlett-Packard hardware. For example, the desk calculator HP 9816, which had the equivalent of a well-equipped Mercedes SL together with peripherals and software. Another pioneer was the Lüning company, which produced high-quality furniture and used TCP together with the Möfas ERP system from Gütersloher Systemhaus and furniture PPS pioneer Thiesbrummel. For the first time, the successful system combination of TCP and an ERP system was used.The idea was that any ERP system communicates with TCP via an interface, so that two otherwise self-sufficient systems work together like an overall system. The breakthrough of this system combination came in 1983/84 when the kitchen manufacturer NOBILIA from Verl, which was already important at that time, introduced this system on a large scale.
During the long service life of the TCP products at NOBILIA, the second generation of TCP was completely redeveloped on the basis of the experience gained. TCP was now a powerful UNIX software that enjoyed great success. Nevertheless, the hardware continued to develop faster and faster, and the PC was just around the corner. With the onset of falling prices on the one hand and the steady increase in PC performance, furniture manufacturers and retailers were no longer prepared to pay several 10TDM for special graphic workstations. Therefore, in the early 1990s, the third complete redevelopment of the TCP software began, which then became the basis for today’s system. For the first time, the TCP system now consisted of two main products: the 2D / 3D design module, which maps a TCP proprietary parametric data model, and the planning program, which uses this parameter system in a virtuosic way to display the full diversity of a type catalog with just a few basic designs. An early USP was also the idea to integrate a macro language elementary in the basic structure of the system.
Called “TCP open” in the meantime, this product continued its success, because not only color graphics but also photo realism were suddenly a completely new requirement, which could, however, be served by TCP. In essence, however, there are other features that a graphic order processing needs to provide then and now to be of use to the user. It’s about efficiency and cost reduction.
Only when the graphics solution, as a precisely adapted expert system, accurately maps the complex furniture product in all its combinatorics and reliably identifies all pitfalls and peculiarities can it be helpful to avoid mistakes. TCP provides a sophisticated system that will help the user to achieve these goals. Above all, the recognition of situation and combinations and the dependent application of rules are important. In the field of today’s so-called “handleless kitchen”, the special cases in which a handle bar profile encounters certain other catalog items are very diverse. However, each case must be reliably detected and reported to the connected ERP system with the correct dimensions. The area of planning aids, e.g. for corner fittings, depending on the context, there is so much variation that an salesperson alone is not able to enter the correct dimensions. Therefore, the system has to do it alone.
But if it cannot do so, TCP makes at least those pictorial suggestions from which the salesperson can then choose. TCP is particularly powerful when it is necessary to make rough changes to the planning afterwards. After e.g. TCP independently re-calculates wall length or wall angle changes and corrects the entire planning. But that’s what TCP does, too, when entire sales planning from trading planning systems are imported via EDI; here, any inaccuracies that happen to the seller in the trade before, are automatically recognized and compensated. This considerably simplifies handling at the furniture manufacturer.
The basic software is the same today for all customers, no matter whether home furniture, kitchen or bathroom furniture. Thus TCP takes the hurdle of the constant updating ability. All product-specific properties and tests of the planned furniture are customized on-top to the TCP standard by means of configuration and data conditioning. This means that TCP is extremely flexible and can be quickly adapted or extended at any time – even on “call by telephone”.
TCP is used today both as a single-user system as well as in large clusters, e.g. also in Citrix environments, which may extend across many locations across the country. Depending on the application, TCP can thus be found as a POS system or as part of the order processing with connection to a PPS system. In the latter case, TCP also provides data for manufacturing and assembly that no one has to manually calculate. This alone avoids many mistakes, cuts costs, and leaves more time for communication with customers. All this is very important for the image of a furniture manufacturer. Over the years, TCP has already been used in many countries, such as Australia, Netherlands, England, Switzerland, Brazil and others. At the same time, many software companies have dealt with the difficult subject of an ERP system for the production of variant-rich furniture.
The TCP GmbH has certainly come and see 30 or more such systems. Today, there are successful, active connections to the well-known systems of SAP, iff consulting, PCS Strakeljahn, 2020 Technologies and ESS GmbH Falkensee. There is also data exchange with customers’ special manufacturing systems and major industry players such as Cobus Concept.
TCP also supports its customers in planning entire sales areas with many subareas. This so-called large-capacity planning is made possible efficiently despite the enormous amounts of data handled by TCP. There are also other TCP GmbH products based on the capabilities of the main program TCP. On the one hand, the web configurator offers the possibility to play through a multitude of variants online on Internet sites just-in-time – ie without waiting for the calculation – in a photo-realistic manner. Thousands of stencils and photorealistic drawing files are generated automatically. The advantage of the finished product is not only the speed and the photorealistic quality, but above all the fact that the user can make no mistakes except a taste aberration. Thus, this marketing product differs significantly from web planners.
Another product is the Scalermixer (internally “Schönschubser”) with which a scene rendered photorealistic with TCP can subsequently be changed in many facets such as Brightness Factoring, Ambient Occlusion, Gamma Correction, Radiosity (Global Illumination), etc., until the result can’t no longer be distinguished from a photo. The technology used here is unique in the world, as settings are changed in retrospect, which otherwise can only be selected before ray-tracing. The goal here is that, even with poorly selected settings, the computing work of many minutes to hours must spend only once, no matter how ugly the result initially was.
Although the basic capabilities of a product such as TCP have long since been implemented, TCP GmbH is surprised by the ever-changing challenges faced by the product.
Many ideas come from active users and are often implemented by the development in a generalized way, so that as many customers as possible benefit by means of appropriate configuration. Therefore, one thing is sure, there will be enough potential for further development and improvement of TCP in the future as well. 40 years is just a beginning.