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COMPETITIVE MARKETPLACE STIMULATES FAST-PACED LAUNCH
Art Lange, Senior Staff Engineer
In 1974 a freshly minted Stanford Ph.D. named Art Lange landed a job at Hewlett Packard in the future Silicon Valley. His section manager, one Charlie Trimble, assigned Lange to electrical engineering design work.

"One of the projects HP was working on at the time was a LORAN C receiver," recalls Lange. "Just before going into production in about 1979, HP decided not to go into that market, so Charlie bought rights to the product design and started Trimble."

Soon after, Hewlett Packard was performing development work on receiver concepts to work with the Global Positioning System (GPS). "Before long, in about 1980, HP also decided to abandon that project, and Charlie bought those rights as well," says Lange. "That was the inauspicious start of Trimble's world leadership in GPS."

After working with several start-ups and performing occasional consulting work with Trimble, Lange became the fledgling firm's second employee in 1985. "Charlie had just gotten a contract to build GPS receivers, so he was expanding at that point," says Lange. "I started working on the early GPS receivers, designing integrated circuits."

Lange says in 1987-1988 a project with an agricultural engineer at the University of Montana on variable-rate application made him realize that agriculture could become a major market for GPS products.

"In 1994 I realized that agriculture could be a big part of Trimble if we did it right and could get everything together," says Lange. "Soon after, Trimble management hired George Huber to head the sales effort, and we started designing and building products especially for the agriculture market."

Examples include a long list of products well known to those who have followed the evolution of agricultural GPS: AgGPS® TrimFlight aerial guidance system; AgGPS 132 Flightbar; AgGPS 120 GPS receiver; AgGPS 122 receiver; AgGPS 132 receiver; AgGPS 170 Field Computer; AgGPS 106 Smart Antenna; AgGPS 252 receiver with AgGPS 900 radio; EZ-Guide® lightbar; AgGPS Autopilot autosteering system; and many other agricultural GPS application "firsts."

"Trimble has a terrific competitive advantage because we have a GPS survey division, with a whole room full of Ph.D. engineers who are always pushing the state of the art. The technology the survey division builds then shows up in a few months in Trimble agriculture products," explains Lange. "As a result, the Trimble agriculture division can use its large production runs to help amortize the cost of that really expensive development of new GPS receiver technologies."

He adds, "As a result, agriculture customers of Trimble get the benefit of top-notch technology very quickly and quite affordably relative to the marketplace norm."

But despite Trimble's early successes with its pacesetting high-end AgGPS Autopilot Real Time Kinematic (RTK) autosteering systems, company management noticed a buildup of potential competitive pressures -- particularly from low-end products -- in late 2003.

So in early 2004 Trimble made the decision to proceed at full speed on development of the EZ-Steer system. Management set an aggressive launch date of March 2005 -- in time to get the new product to Northern Hemisphere customers for spring planting and block significant gains in market share by competitors. AM


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