John Palmer, founder of Autometrix, is really good at making things more efficient. He started off as a racing sailboat builder – an industry where efficient design can mean the difference between winning and losing a race. For a time, he built the lightest racing sailboats around. When the rules for racing changed and light boats were no longer an advantage, he turned to software development – for boats and sails. When a friend was having trouble getting the shapes just right for the panels that came together to form his spinnaker (a type of sail), John wrote some software that got the shapes exactly right on the first try.
In the process of writing software to design other types of sails, John developed new layouts where the panels join in a radial pattern. It was an engineering perspective, applied to sailing – Radial designs were much stronger, longer wearing, and easier to tweak than the way sail panels were previously joined. That radial design is now the industry standard for sail making. But it wasn’t an overnight success.
Initially there was a lot of resistance to using a machine or a computer to automate any part of a process that is so steeped in tradition and history. “I was physically thrown out of a few sailmaking lofts — sail making is an art,” said John. But he persisted, and after one leading sailmaker published an ad in a magazine, telling the world that his sails were designed on a computer, every sailmaker wanted their sails designed on a computer too. After a short time, half of the world’s sail makers were John’s customers.
A true engineer, John gets great satisfaction out of increasing efficiency: “I enjoy seeing our customers’ eyes light up when they get their machine working and it cuts their production time to a 10th,” he said.
Eventually, John began writing software to run plotters (machines that draw patterns). Next he started building the cutting tables that his software was designed to run, and Autometrix was born. Today, the company provides cutting tables and pattern making software as complete solutions to a large variety of businesses. Customers all have one thing in common – they manufacture products out of rolled material, from fabrics and textiles to advanced composites. Just a small sampling of companies enjoying the ease of Autometrix’s solutions include manufacturers of awnings and marine canvas, apparel, inflatables, carbon fiber sports equipment, and industrial insulation products. But the theme across all of Autometrix’s solutions has not changed since that first sail design – it’s all about making the process more efficient. A true engineer, John gets great satisfaction out of increasing efficiency: “I enjoy seeing our customers’ eyes light up when they get their machine working and it cuts their production time to a 10th,” he said.
Today, John is semi-retired, having passed ownership of Autometrix to his son Jonathan in 2013. His retirement may look strangely similar to those early days writing software for pattern makers, since he continues to play an important role both designing and testing the newest software developed at Autometrix. While Jonathan is glad his dad can enjoy retirement and spend extra time in his woodshop, he is glad John continues to contribute to Autometrix. “My dad stayed in close touch with many of his customers and always loved the opportunity to demonstrate his software – this led to an extensive first-hand knowledge of how users interact with software. Autometrix will value his input for as long as we can have it!” For John’s part, he’s happy that he has been able to pursue his passion for his entire career: “I’m just a nerd who really likes writing software and making cutters and patterns.”