Making crisps

Dave Wilson examines the profoundly complex relationship between the development of a CAD package and the farming of potatoes.

They’ll never want to see a rake or plow,<br>And who the deuce can parlez-vous a cow?<br>How ‘ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm<br>After they’ve seen Paree? – Walter Donaldson<br>

The potato farm business was in trouble. Sure, potatoes were being sown and harvested every year, but profit margins kept falling. Farming potatoes had simply become too uneconomical.

So what was John Doe, the poor farmer, to do? Not willing to sell the farm, he decided to diversify his business – by growing potatoes.

Well, that might sound most peculiar, but you see the canny farmer had figured something out that his less intelligent neighbours hadn’t: namely, that if it wasn’t profitable to sell potatoes simply as ‘potatoes’, then he’d turn them into potato crisps (or chips) by building a process plant on the farm.

It’s pretty obvious why, if you think it through. A bag of crisps costs 40p, but the material costs are less than 5p. The markup is astonishing and the profits are huge.

So that’s what he did. And soon, he was back in business again. He was still growing the same basic product, but had simply shifted it into a more lucrative market.

The poor old 3D solids modelling CAD Company had a similar problem. Seemed as if everyone was flogging a 3D CAD package and potential customers could only differentiate between them on cost. So prices kept dropping and no-one was making any money. So when Jane Doe, the Managing Director, heard what her brother had done down on the farm, she decided to follow his example.

Off she went into the marketplace and, after a bit of research, figured that, while general purpose CAD packages could do just about most of everything reasonably well, there were a few very specific application areas where a more customised approach was needed.

More specifically, not one single CAD package seemed to handle the design, simulation and optimisation of crisp making machines as well as the manufacturers of said products would have liked.

So Jane went back to the C programmers back at base to see if they could help. And help they did. After a month’s work, they had tailored the old CAD package into a bespoke behemoth that could design, simulate and optimise the functionality of a thermal oil heated fryer with top hold down belt, filtration system, sediment removal and electric canopy lifts better than anything else on the market.

Jane was quick to realise that the old $500 package could now be marketed for $5000. After all, if you designed crisp machines, there was no alternative to the ‘Doe CADCrisper,’ as the new product came to be known throughout the world.

So now she’s making money again while the other CAD guys are still bleeding to death.

Now, Jane is as happy as her brother John. And one thing has led to another. Last thing I heard, she had branched out into noodle machinery design, and opened sales and distribution offices in Hubei, Hunan, Hebei, and Heilongjiang. After all, there’s a very big market for that kind of equipment in China.