by John Simkin
Vector Fields Limited is a computer aided engineering consultancy, formed in 1984 by Bill Trowbridge and John Simkin from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and John Whitney who had worked for Compeda, a company related to British Technology Group. Vector Fields specialises in the marketing and development of software for the design of devices that use electromagnetic fields.
The company's technology base can be traced back to the Laboratory's superconductivity programme, starting with the High Field Bubble Chamber group under David Thomas, and then the European collaboration on superconducting magnets for a new accelerator at CERN. The Computing Applications Group (CAG) was formed to support these programmes and in particular to develop methods of calculating electromagnetic fields. The Laboratory became recognised as a world leading centre in applied superconductivity and magnetic field computation. Innovative, discrete integral equation methods were developed in order to solve the extremely challenging requirements that arose from the need to accurately design magnets for high energy physics applications.
In many areas the work was years ahead of its time, it was forced to grow quickly to satisfy the Laboratory's needs and the working atmosphere encouraged this growth; many people outside the CAG contributed to the developments, in areas such as software engineering, computer graphics, optimisation and linear algebra. When the Interactive Computing Facility was created by SERC, the Laboratory was uniquely placed to provide electromagnetic design software and support for university engineering users.
At this stage BTG became involved, and their company, Compeda, was licensed to sell the Rutherford Electromagnetics Software. This was successful, but when Compeda was sold to Prime Computers, they were not interested in the niche, technically demanding market. Vector Fields Limited was therefore formed, encouraged by both the Laboratory and BTG, to take over the market that Compeda had helped to develop. Bill Trowbridge supplied the leadership and motivation to start the company, John Simkin provided the techical skills and John Whitney the commercial and marketing experience.
Eleven years later, Vector Fields Limited now employs 17 people at its offices in Oxford and Chicago. The company is self-financed and continues to expand. The original software, sold under licence from BTG, has now been completelysuperceeded by programs and methods developed by the company. European funding for research has played an important part in maintaining the technical skills of the company, and collaboration with the Laboratory and other academic institutes helps to enhance these skills. The company has expanded its technical base, but it still concentrates on the core electromagnetics market that started from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory research.
The Laboratory provided support for the development of new technologies that were essential to its scientific programmes, Vector Fields is a spin off from one of these technological developments. The UK, the Laboratory and Vector Fields have all benefitted from this exploitation of enabling technology research and development.