The Iron Man of Creo

by admin on May 17, 2008

My wife and I saw "Iron Man" yesterday at the theatre starring Robert Downey as Tony Stark. I'll summarize the plot very quickly for those who have not seen it (I do recommend going to see it, Downey does put on a good performance."
Downey is cast as multi-billionaire whiz engineer Tony Stark who is taken hostage by bad guys after he is shot in the chest. He has to build a powerplant in his chest cavity near his heart to keep it beating. Ordered by the bad guys to build missiles in his dungeon, instead he builds an iron suit to break free from his captives, that is driven by the powerplant in his chest.
Later on the movie, the chief bad guy, in his laboratory surrounded by a team of scientists, orders an replica of the suit to be built. His chief scientist tells him they can't reproduce the powerplant, and the chief bad guy snarls "Tony Stark built the power plant in a cave using nothing but spare parts!"
After the movie is over, my wife turns to me and one of the first things she says: "Isn't that Iron Man guy just like Dan Gelbart?"
If you ever worked at Creo, you instantly get it. For the rest of you, I will recount the famous story of how Amos (CEO of Creo from almost the beginning to the very end) first met Dan.
In late 1980s, Amos was general manager of Optrotech, which was reselling imagesetters from Hell Germany at about $100k a pop. Amos was looking for a imagesetter that was twice as fast, twice as large and offered four times the resolution. David Nims, a colleague of Amos, suggested a tiny company based in Vancouver Canada whose chief engineer was a guy by the name of Dan Gelbart. So David and Amos take a plane from Israel to Vancouver (btw, speaking from personal experience, that's a long haul) to meet with Dan.
The Optrotech group asks Dan how much money he needs to develop the photoplotter engine. Dan says $500,000. Amos keeps a straight face. Then the group ask Dan how each engine would cost. Dan says $35K. Amos makes a noise, now almost completely convinced the guy was nuts. Dan misunderstands the grunt of Amos and then quotes $28k per engine. Amos calls a timeout so he can chew David out for flying his butt halfway around the world (literally) to meet with a wacko engineer. Somehow, someway, David convinces Amos to take a chance on the guy.
Dan delivers the first engine in 1989, or about a year after the first meeting. It's got a motor inside from a household furnace. The optical resolution changer was based on a model airplane servo unit. Does it meet the spec? Baby, it exceeds the spec. Creo ends up shipping more than 300 units and supplies spare parts for machines in the field well into the 2000s.

This is one of the famous Dan stories. There are about a million of them. Pretty well all the engineers at Creo thought Dan was a complete genius. And I was impressed because the engineers thought Dan was a genius. I mean, if you have ever worked with engineers (especially Canadian engineers who think they are the best in the world), you know they take special pride in hero-worshipping no one. But Dan was different, you would mention his name and the awe would show on the engineer's face....

"Hey mister, are you really Tony Stark??!"
It was a great movie. If you haven't seen it yet, you should hurry to go see it before it disappears from the theatre.

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{ 3 comments }

ALarson May 20, 2008 at 8:34 am

DJ,
Dan is still legendary here. Here’s couple of my personal stories as I hosted many customer visits and scheduled him into those. He hosted packed lunchtime seminars quite often, but there’s this tall slender man that Dan introduces as his good friend, and he invited the Laser. Sorry, back it up.. you INVENTED THE LASER???? Stunned room breaks into applause…

Another time I had to drop off another patent for him to sign (there was a time where he was filing every two weeks), as I lived near him and he worked from home unless we invited him in for demos/meetings. My son was around 2 and he made him a wrench. Cut from a sheet of steel, sand smoothed, heavy powder coated, and drilled to the accuracy of “wavelength of light” whatever that is… All in about 10 minutes. This lab uses like 1000Amps of 3 phase power. The police thought he had a grow op! He built a tennis court to get the trucks in there close.
He ordered granite for his kitchen. Before Buddy and Dude pull out their Black&Decker, Dan tells them to bring it over to his 5000PSI water cutter. He whips up a CAD Application, asks the guy how big the hole needs to be, and makes an instant cheese plate accurate to about 0.0001″. THICK GRANITE!!! Sweet. He has a plasma welder that is hotter than the sun. This place makes HomeDepot tool department look like ToysRUs.

Many a man has been chasing the almighty buck(and he has done very welll), but Dan walked around the building in a used shop coat. His humility, willingness to teach, sense of humor and ease in explaining the unexplainable have led many of us to stay in this industry. We salute his passion, vision, brain power, and willingness to give us figs from his backyard if we drop by. True Iron Man.

Daphna November 17, 2009 at 8:15 am

I’m Dan’s daughter. I found this post looking for something else on line. The post and the comment both made my day. Thanks 🙂

Sol Wasserman May 24, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Please provide the contact information of your father. I was in contact with him a year ago, but could not find it now.
Sincerely,
Solomon
(516) 889-9218

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