WHEN Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute wanted to expand the role of computer-aided design in its engineering program, it chose software made by a small company on the outskirts of Boston: Parametric Technology Inc.
Parametric's "Pro/ENGINEER is the most closely representative of what we think is going to be the future" of computer-aided design (CAD), explains Kathleen Conlon Hinge, manager of curriculum support at the Troy, N.Y. university.
Measuring by annual sales, Parametric would not seem to be an industry leader. The company had 1991 revenues of $45 million, while International Business Machines Corporation sold about $2 billion worth of systems for computer-aided design, manufacturing, and engineering. Other CAD system providers also outdistanced Parametric.
But Parametric's success is hard to dispute: Sales and earnings have roughly doubled in the each of the last two years, and the company's stock value has soared to more than $600 million.
"I think they're going to continue to take market share from other vendors," says Harvey Allison, an analyst with Alex Brown & Sons Inc., an investment house.
Parametric CAD systems are used for three-dimensional modeling of aerospace, automotive, and consumer products.
Many of its competitors offer software/hardware packages. Parametric sells software alone. Pro/ENGINEER can run on a variety of computers, rather than being tied to a certain hardware system.
Parametric is also scoring points with customers for ease of use. According to a recent issue of Computer Aided Design Report, one company found that modifying the design of an automotive part took an hour with conventional modeling software and three minutes with Pro/Engineer.
Al Cassista, who does CAD consulting work for Digital Equipment Corporation, says Parametric is "one of the best" CAD systems, but that it should not be viewed as the ideal solution for every customer. It depends on who is using the system and what is expected of it, he says.
Some other modeling software systems run on a personal computer and sell for about one-fifth the cost of Pro/ENGINEER, which sells for about $21,000 and runs on a more costly workstation computer, notes Computer Aided Design Report.
Unlike some of its rivals, Parametric has most of its sales in the United States: 1,500 of the 2,500 CAD units sold last year. IBM and Computervision, a division of Prime Computer Inc., sold 830 and 1,800 units of their respective competing products in the US last year, estimates Computer Aided Design Report.