Arbor Lakes: A longstanding hub of tech innovation

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    Chuck Hutchins speaks with a fellow MDSI alumnus. (Shot by Joel Iverson, U-M ITS Communications)

Long before Arbor Lakes became the residence of U-M Information and Technology Services and Health Information Technology and Services, it was owned by Manufacturing Data Systems, Inc. (MDSI), a pioneer of computer-aided manufacturing.

On Friday, June 15, 2018, MDSI returned to Arbor Lakes for their 50-year reunion. For co-founders Charles (Chuck) Hutchins (U-M class of ’57), Ken Stephanz, Bruce Nourse (U-M class of ’65), Urbanes (Van) Van Bemden, and many other MDSI alumni, it was a day of reminiscing on the “good-old-days” and revisiting old stomping grounds. The original and current facilities managers of Arbor Lakes took the MDSI group on a walking tour of the complex. A lot has changed since MDSI has been here. There are more collaborative spaces and the old presidents’ offices have been turned into conference rooms. But there are still some holdovers from the MDSI days that Hutchins and many others fondly remembered.

During the tour, former facility manager Ken Pritchard recalled how “the pond and buildings were placed specifically so that an elm tree would be centered in the view from the dining room.” That elm tree is still alive and on the Arbor Lakes property today. The sculpture between buildings 1 and 3 was originally commissioned by MDSI to represent the metal shavings coming off of a Numerical Control (NC) machine.

Hutchins’s road to founding MDSI and building Arbor Lakes is one paved with hard work, a willingness to step out of comfort zones, and an appetite for learning. After graduating from U-M in 1957 with a degree in mechanical engineering, he went to work for Buhr Machine Tool Co., which introduced him to the very beginning of Numerically Controlled Machine Tools. With the support of Regent Roscoe Bonisteel and former U-M VP Wilbur Pierpont, Hutchins and his team at Buhr were able to purchase one of the first NC machines. In 1967, he ran into Comshare President Bob Guise downtown Ann Arbor and asked if he would “let [Hutchins] try an idea…for programming NC machine tools using the time sharing system.”

Guise agreed, and Hutchins got to work on coding ComPACT II. One year later, Guise suggested that Hutchins take the knowledge he gained and start his own company. Along with David Morgenthaler, Comshare invested in the work Hutchins and his team had put in over the last three years and MDSI was established. They started in an office space on Packard Road, but as MDSI grew in size, so did their need for a larger space.

“The Arbor Lakes Facility is probably the only building in UM-Ann Arbor that was built as a result of a handshake between two Michigan alumni and is now owned by the university,” Hutchins said in his welcome speech on Friday, “a result of that handshake is that, as we grew, we bought the property on Plymouth Road and built what is now the Arbor Lakes Facility.” It’s been 42 years since Arbor Lakes first housed MDSI, but this complex still remains a hub of technological innovation.

2 thoughts on “Arbor Lakes: A longstanding hub of tech innovation

  1. Brian

    Ah, I remember the days when Stouffer’s ran the cafeteria…good times! 🙂

  2. Thomas Knox

    So much I didn’t know about the history of Arbor Lakes. Great story!

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