History of the PFK

Here in the special exhibit, History of the PFK, you will find photos and information about the PFK (Programmed Function Keyboard).  Even though the PFK is not supported by today's version of Unigraphics (and has not been since the release of V10.0) this exhibit should be of interest to many people since the PFK was a symbol of the product for years.  Note that Unigraphics was not the only CAD application that used a PFK.  At one time or another the following product all supported a PFK in one form or another:  Catia, CADAM, CADD, NCAD, Gerber, etc.

That being said, exactly what is a PFK.  As the name implies, the Programmed Function Keyboard was used to select various functions by selecting a key on a special keyboard.  There were 32 back-lighted buttons, with 14 buttons numbered and the remainder labeled with specific functions.  This was in fact the entire user interface for early version of Unigraphics (pre-V10.0).  What a user did was sit in front of a Unigraphics workstation and displayed on the message monitor (and later in a sub window of the main graphics screen) was a list of up to 14 options that the user could select by pushing on the 14 numbered buttons (the ones that were available for selection were lighted).  Many of the non-numbered buttons we also available and when so, they were also lit.  Those items that were on all of the time were called "Special Functions" and that approach is still used today in that these are the menu or toolbar items that are available when inside of an application such as Layer Control, Views & Layouts, Info, Blank/UnBlank, etc.  Later on in this section there will be a review of the functions and what the menus look like for performing an example of a typical task in Unigraphics.

The photo's below will follow the history of the PFK as it evolved over the years.  As stated before, the PFK was the main feature of the User Interface of Unigraphics until the release of V10.0 (note that once the first Unix window based system was implemented, the PFK, while still supported, was optional as there was also support for selecting menu options using standard keyboard function keys and the numerical keypad was mapped to provide the equivalent of the 14 numbered keys).

PFK Overlay Templates for UG0, UGI and UGII

Shown above are scanned images of the plastic overlay template used on the large upright type of PFK.  To see a full size image of the overlay, just select on the appropriate image above.  As you will see, later versions of the PFK either did not use overlays or they were much modified from the ones shown above.


The original Unigraphics PFK (circa 1973)

This shows the original Unigraphics 32 button PFK.  Note that this early version used paper overlays and was soon replaced by the larger upright version seen in the next panel.

Unigraphics Standard "Upright" style PFK (circa 1974-81)

This is an image of the standard upright style of PFK used from 1974 until the introduction of the ADS/DDS workstations.  This is the style of PFK that used the overlays shown in the first panel on this page.  This device had its own internal power supply and had an adjusting knob to control the brightness of the back-lighted buttons.  When a user upgraded from UG0 to UGI to UGII the only change that was needed with this style PFK was to replace the plastic overlay.

Unigraphics metal encased PFK (circa 1982)

This photo shows the first of the new lower profile, metal encased PFK that was introduced with the ADS/DDS workstations as well as the D90.  This PFK did not use an overlay, rather the labels on the buttons were medium plastic squares inserted into the clear plastic keys.  Of course this meant that when users had to upgrade to UGII, they had to remove the inserts on those keys whose labels were changed and replace them with new ones.  It was eventually replaced with a similar configuration except that the metal case was replaced with a more modern looking plastic housing.  Also with this early version of this style PFK, the section holding the joy-stick could be replaced with an optional set of thumb wheels for those people that preferred them based on their previous use of the Tektronix 4014 terminals.


This is a diagram, from a Unigraphics Users Manual, of the new lower profile PFK as shown in the picture above.  Note that this diagram shows a PFK layout set up for UGI.  In the picture above, the keycaps of the PFK have been updated for UGII.


New D2300 integrated PFK-ASCII keyboard (circa 1984)

This photo shows the all new custom integrated PFK - ASCII keyboard that was included with the D2300 workstation.  The normal PFK buttons were laid out in a totally new arrangement with the 14 numbered option keys on the left end and the special function keys were distributed along the top above the normal keyboard.  These keys had medium LED's in each key to indicate which buttons were active, similar to the back-lighted keys on the older PFK's.

Unigraphics plastic case PFK (circa 1985)

This photo shows the more modern plastic cased PFK supplied with the D-125 and D-135 design stations.  Since these stations were connected to DEC and Data General CPU's, they were designed to also emulate either a DEC VT100 and a Data General D200 alpha-numerical terminal.  The overlays shown with the keyboard above were used when emulating a VT100 or a D200 and shows the programmed functions for each of the keys.

Add-on PFK for Workstation Configurations

With the advent of standard off the shelf Unix workstations the PFK was no longer mandatory since users could now select options using the standard function keys as well as the numerical keypad for the 14 options.  However many users still preferred to use a "real" PFK to make menu sections so McAuto developed and sold as an optional add-on a PFK only keyboard as shown above.  Below are the molded halves of the case as produced by a Unigraphics customer, Caco-Pacific.


PFK Stick-On Keycaps for HP Workstations


When Unigraphics first started to use HP workstations and before proper keyboard overlays were available, special keycap "stick-on's" were created that could be stuck onto the HP supplied PFK's.

Add-on PFK for HP Workstations

Even some of the workstation vendors decided to start producing PFK's such as the example above from HP.  Note that the HP keyboard had neither back-lit buttons nor LED's to indicate the active buttons.  Also note that while these keyboards were purchased by many Unigraphics customers, at about this same time other CAD systems, such as CADAM and Catia, were also being ported to Unix workstations and so these PFK's were also available for people who were using those software products.


Close-up of the HP PFK plastic overlay as seen in the picture above.

Overlay for HP Keyboard

Plastic overlay for old style HP keyboard.  Used on UNIX workstations with Pre-V10 versions of Unigraphics as an alternative to a PFK.


Add-on PFK for IBM 5080 Workstation

This PFK from IBM was similar to the HP PFK except that this one did include lights to show active keys.

Tablet-based PFK interface

There was even an optional overlay that could be used with certain data tablets (such as the IBM one above) that allowed a user to select options from a schematic of the standard PFK layout using a puck.  While this was not a particularly popular option, it was used at several Unigraphics customer sites.

PFK as part of the UG Detail Drafting Tablet Overlay

There was even a medium section of the Unigraphics Detail Drafting (UGDD) tablet interface overlay that included a PFK layout for those users who were running UGDD on a system with no add-on PFK.

A short exercise demonstrating how the PFK User Interface worked 1982_brochure[1].jpg
This exercise was first published in a brochure entitled "Unigraphics, Product Description" released by McAuto in early 1982 as part of the Marketing campaign surrounding the introduction of the ADS-100 workstation.  The exercise follows the menus and steps needed to create a simple 2D part profile including adding the necessary dimensions to the final drawing view.  The menus and procedures are based on using Unigraphics I, Version D3.0, that was released to the user community in April, 1982.  To get to the exercise, just select the image of the brochure at the right.  While this is only a simple example, it should help you understand how the PFK-based User Interface worked and for those that never used Unigraphics with a PFK it should help you better understand the ancestry and origins of the current product.  But for those of you that did learn Unigraphics during the PFK era, this exercise should bring back old memories of the way things used to be.
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