Braille Monitor                                                                           November 1986


The Rocky Road of Thiel

by Kenneth Jernigan

As everybody in the field of blindness who cares to know is aware, Maryland Computer Services went on the rocks early in 1986 and was bought out by Lee Brown and others associated with Triformation in Florida (not Triformation Braille Services but the other Triformation, which was formerly joined with Triformation Braille Services). There were all kinds of spinoffs from the disintegration of Maryland Computer Services, including the loss of the right to distribute Thiel Braille embossers in this country. It is generally recognized that the Thiel is probably the best high-speed Braille embossing device for the money which can be bought (somewhere around $20,000 or under).

In short, Hans Thiel (the inventor of the device) is a good technician, but he seems to do less well when it comes to negotiating. In March of this year he came to Baltimore to try to get the National Federation of the Blind to serve as his exclusive agent for the United States. We held lengthy discussions, but nothing came of them. Mr. Thiel wanted us to agree to buy at least five of his machines each month for a two-year period with cash on delivery, and the price was not correspondingly favorable. At the same time that he was talking with us he also talked to other groups, including Maryland Computer. After several days he returned to Germany with apparently very little accomplished. Then, in a telephone coversation he offered better prices, but we still did not sign a contract. In addition to the other reasons which I have given, there was something else: We were not at all certain that we wanted to become a major distributor of such a product with such heavy capital outlays.

When Mr. Thiel was visiting with us, we discussed the possibility of his making a deal with Telesensory or VTEK (formerly Visualtek). Subsequent to his conversations with us he made an arrangement with VTEK, but our information indicates that the honeymoon was over almost before it started. In fact, our sources tell us that as of this writing (September, 1986) VTEK has purchased only five of the Thiel machines-- and these only for demonstration purposes. We understand that their contract calls for them to purchase at least fifty machines during the first year. We are told that Mr. Thiel is furious and has engaged legal counsel preparatory to a possible lawsuit. It is said that Thiel wants nothing more to do with VTEK and is urgently trying to find ways to break his contract with them.

But this is not the only potential legal entanglement. Lee Brown and the Triformation group are said to be contemplating legal action against Thiel for what they regard as breach of his contract with Maryland Computer Services. Under the circumstances the following press release (issued by VTEK July 7,1986) has wry significance:


Santa Monica, CA., VTEK has acquired exclusive rights to distribute the Thiel High-speed Braille Embosser in he United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel. This device is generally considered to be the world's most reliable and widely used high-speed Braille printer.

At 130 Braille characters per second, the printer generates as many as 4,000 pages of Braille information in a typical eight-hour work day. Identified as the Model BETA-X3, it is famed for its high quality Braille. An optional alphanumeric keyboard, user-controlled flexible parameters, and the ability to prepare tactile graphics such as structural pictures, diagrams, and curves further enhance the versatility and utility of this powerful printer.

VTEK's Chairman, Larry Israel, personally negotiated this new arrangement with Mr. Hans-Joachim Thiel, and commented, "I'm pleased that VTEK and Thiel can be associated in this way. Thiel is clearly the world's premier producer of high-speed Braille embossing equipment, and VTEK is the world's largest sensory aid company. The relationship seems particularly appropriate because the reputations of the two companies for quality products and full service and support mesh so well."

Isreal further noted that equipment is available for July delivery, thereby ensuring an uninterrupted stream of deliveries to meet the needs of American consumers. He also pointed out that the large number of units already installed is the best possible assurance to users that this is not unproven "development equipment" still requiring thorough testing and debugging.

Demonstrations are expected to be conducted at three major conventions this summer: National Federation of the Blind, American Council of the Blind, and the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Approximately 100 of these superb devices have already been installed in North America, and they have a field proven record for reliability and quality. VTEK will provide demonstrations and full installation and support services for the Thiel Braille Embosser.

VTEK officials also noted that Thiel had previously announced a high-speed interpoint Braille embosser, currently undergoing field trials, which VTEK will distribute in the United States and some other countries. First deliveries of that interpoint embosser are expected in January, 1987.

For additional information, contact your nearest VTEK field representative or the home office using toll-free telephone lines: 800-345-2256 (Continental U.S. and Hawaii); 800-521-5605 (California); in Canada and Alaska: 213452-5966.