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Marconi in Microelectronics

Page history last edited by Alan Hartley-Smith 2 years, 1 month ago

Introduction

This wiki is for the collection of information on the involvement of Marconi, first in research and fabrication of Specialised Components, later Microelectronic products and the subsequent move into commercial production during the GEC years.

 

Specialised Components

 

Microelectronics

The first transistors for the digital machines designed in the radar research division were fabricated in the semi-conductor research laboratories. In 1964 it became apparent that the demand for devices emerging from the research was growing rapidly and a new Microelectronics Division was set up in a purpose-built unit at Witham. The Senior Research Engineer, I.G. Cressell, became Manager and took with him all his team on the understanding that future research in silicon technology would take place ln the Product Division. The Witham unit later developed into the fully-fledged microelectronics production company.

 

Research on other semi-conductor materials such as gallium arsenide continued in the research laboratories by a team set up under the direction of D.W.G. Byatt.

 

After the merger of GEC and English Electric in 1968 Marconi had access to the work on semi-conductor physics in GEC's Hirst Research Centre. Work on gallium arsenide and other III-V compounds was continued to enable devices such as light-emitting diodes and varactor diodes to be made as necessary to meet system needs, and support was obtained from the Ministry of Defence for research work on components for specialised military applications with a small manufacturing facility as an approved source for these components.

 

The following personal recollections hopefully will trigger further input.

 

Input from Mike Plant - November 2014

I worked as Divisional Supplies Officer from mid-1966 to mid-1968, starting in Baddow opposite the library, moving to the temporary Witham site for 6/9 months, finally to the new, purpose built Witham Main.

 

My recollections will relate more to memories of colleagues than to details of device types made, who bought them [apart of course from Marconi, for whom the new division, later Company, was formed].[Editors note - formation of Division circa 1964: new Marconi-Elliott Microelectronics Ltd. factory circa 1968]

 

The operation grew from events at Baddow, others involved in the early days will be able to put a date or dates into this, and some of the leading lights I believe were ex-EEV physicists; Alan Goss [known as Doc Goss], Ray Adlington were EEV. Others may have been, Alan Sarson, Bill Copsey, Owen Joseph, and not forgetting the head, I G Cressell were all prominent, and together took on the challenge of turning a laboratory operation into a  commercial operation, no easy task, and one which history will record was not ultimately successful. However, while the Division was heading towards growing into a Company, there was a spirit of optimism and cooperation that often accompanies a new business, and many people put in extra time and faced problems  as teams. 

 

A significant group within the outfit was the Mechanical Engineering Section, led by Albert Magnus, others working there included Aubrey Crick and a Dave..... and the level of skill was such that they made alloying and wire bonding machines that were deemed good enough in their day to sell outside the Company as well as being used in-house.

 

An important product, required by Marconi in bulk, was the Micronor range of ICs; there was a cross-licence agreement with Ferranti  [Gem Mill]  and both Companies could make devices in what seemed to be an amicable cooperation. Several times I collected batches of Dat 7 devices from Gem Mill  typically when our yields went down and insufficient numbers were being produced. For any reader with even less knowledge than me, it will be helpful to know that in the manufacture of an IC there are probably hundreds of processes, most of which can suffer low yields, and especially in these relatively early days, it was not always easy to find reasons why a particular stage resulted in most of the devices failing. An example came to light, when the operation had finally moved into Witham Main plant; the equipment that supplied de-ionised water, essential at various stages of processing , initially worked well. It required to be moved to the other side of a dividing wall, a matter of a few feet. Following this ostensibly minor move, it was some time before yields on certain processes requiring high purity water recovered to previous levels, and I am not sure that anyone fully understood reasons for this.

 

Sales and Marketing were headed by my previous boss, Dick Carroll. He was assisted by an Applications team, names include Brian Preston, Mike Rignall, and Steve Forte - the latter always, in more recent times, a high profile world traveller, working at various times for several of the then USA world leaders in semiconductor manufacture. The Sales Office was run by Alf Couldrey. 

 

Input from Tom Lane March 2018

I was the first Sales Engineer appointed in 1964 by Dick Carroll, Sales Manager, when the Company was established, Len Head was the Assistant Sales Manager.

 

I had been working as a  Development Engineer in the Radar Div at Gt Baddow . Steve Forte was Section Leader of a project to miniaturise some Avionics equipment using transistors to reduce power and weight and improve reliability. I recognised the advantages of replacing valves and thought solid state components were the future and when Steve mentioned that Marconi were considering establishing Marconi Microelectornics  I spoke to Dick Carroll and then transferred to MM. In those early days apart from  a few transistors the product range also included Varactor Diodes - not much of a range to offer. I was responsible for sales in the UK outside the English Electric Group,  Len Head covered sales to the EE Group. 

 

Other departments with whom I had most contacts included packaging - what form of connection to the outside world - a lot of the work carried out here was fundamental, as the industry worldwide, meaning in 1966/8 mainly the USA, was itself having to decide what form of packaging was most suitable for different device types, always involving the customers' requirements. We packaged in hermetic glass to metal sealed TO18, TO5, TO39, TO8 outlines, later offering dual-in-line packs in metallised ceramic; alternatively we offered some outlines in Epoxy moulded form. Engineering support here included Doug Brady, Ted Crilley, and Tony Buckland who became a close friend, later to become a colleague of mine elsewhere.

 

The commercial operations were generally above my head, but those involved in this were Malcolm Porteous, the various Technical and Production colleagues, and we had our own accountant, John Brown, a superficially hard man who, once one came to know him, was far from that.

 

Any of the many needs for new or larger production equipment obviously required capital, and here New Street management came into affairs. Ron Rider, head of N D and P [New Developments and Processes] was a central figure, and frequently the name of the much respected Doug Smee cropped up, he being second in command to Bob Telford. 

 

Many situations became more complicated than could have been otherwise as mergers and take-overs became almost the norm. GEC were in process of taking over the entire Marconi Company, and this involved in our case  finding ourselves working with Elliot [Glenrothes], AEI [Carholme Rd, Lincoln], GEC Hirst research, Wembley. Later on, Plessey became very involved for a time, and elements of what had been Marconi Microelectronics lived on in the Doddington Rd, Lincoln site, some time under Plessey ownership. At one stage, with Ferranti coming into this via the Plessey link, it much have been most frustrating, not to say confusing, in trying to remember who was in control.

 

I hope that most of these recollections will accord with others' memories, please correct mistakes I have made through poor memory or simply having misinterpreted events at the time!

Additional input February 2020

Very interested in your history of Marconi Microelectronics as I transferred from Radar Division GT Baddow as their first sales
 engineer just a couple of months after the new company was opened. I had spent some months during my Student 
Apprenticeship in the Physics Research lab at GT Baddow in 1956 with Ian Cressell who later was the first  manager of MM 
about 1965 . A number of the Physics lab staff also transferred to MM before the Witham factory opened and some of the first 
silicon transistors were developed . I left MM in 1967 and worked at Motorola, then SGS - Fairchild and then got the Sales 
Managers job in High Barnet when  the UK Sales office opened when Fairchild decided to open their own European sales operation 
and opened the Wiesbaden HQ In 1969. I used to visit Wiesbaden frequently and and was transferred to Stockholm in 1974 to 
manage the Scandinavian Region until 1978 when I left Fairchild and returned to UK.
I keep in touch with a few of the guys in California, Bob Blair, John Hodgson etc who relocated to Mnt View in the early 80’s 

 

Input from Neil Friday August 2018

From conversations that I was privy to, at the time after the place was closed after 3 years, the story was that Marconi only obtained a special 3-year government allowance of the "White Heat of Technology" period. After 3 years Marconi received nothing from the government. It also was at the time in 1968/9 that Texas Instruments Integrated Circuits (7400 Series) were militarily de-classified from the U.S. Apollo space program, that showed that T.I. was so many years in advance of Marconi´s Witham and Beehive Lane sites, that they ceased.

 

Input from Robert Blair October 2018

Hello all MMicro folks from the 60s, this is Robert Blair - now living in San Jose, California USA

 

Before we all kick our buckets it should be useful to document our various recollections of those early pioneering days of the integrated circuit - the invention that changed the world for ever - and will continue to do so for ever. 

 

So here are my updated recollections for the MM wiki ............... happy reading.

 

I was born in London in the early 40s, and graduated in Applied Physics in 1966 from the Mid-Essex Technical college in Chelmsford [the next town down the A12 from Witham], and from the London Institute of Physics.

 

At the time of graduating in mid 1966 I was already employed by Marconi Research Labs in Great Baddow as a sandwich course student at Mid Essex Tech and in bipolar process development.  I was interviewed for the job by Dr. Alan Goss - a very sharp high energy guy with dark glasses.  He was in charge of the Labs I believe, and I was assigned to work for Own Joseph - a smart Indian guy with a big ego and a good sense for politics. I was assigned to work on a process called the Buried Layer.

 

Other MM names that I remember and that I had at least some interaction with include:  IG Cressell {MD], Ray Adlington [Production], Bill Copsey [Production], Alan Sarson {?}, Steve Forte, [Apps],  Ray Rees [Design}, Sylvia Bottomley [Process], Jean Harris [Process], Mac Wilson [Apps], [Brian ? [Metalization], Mike Plant [Purchasing?], John Bearham [Prod Control], Howard ? {Apps}, Tom Lane [Sales},  Of all these people, I  have only spoken to three since leaving Marconi - Wilson, Forte, Lane.  Wilson lives close to me here in CA and we stay in touch.

 

The buried layer process was intended to selectively insert a very low resistivity layer in the IC below the subsequent epitaxial layer in order to reduce the series resistance of the transistor collector.  As this was the era of the bipolar IC this process was required for most ICs at the time.  I remember that we worked on 2-inch wafers, and the lab area was far from clean by today's standards.

 

I don't remember exactly when the lab was moved to the new Witham facility, but it was quite a big deal as it was brand new, and quite different from the old grungy Marconi buildings with the dark green walls etc. I would guess I moved there as soon as it was opened - probably late 1967 would be my guess.  As I remember the fab was on the second floor, as I remember having a view from my desk.  My job was to install the latest version of the process and continue its development going forward.  It was an exciting time in the industry - more than I realized at the time in terms of the impact that ICs would have on the world. The typical transistor count for the typical IC produced at Marconi in 1967 would have been  about 50 ish. Today, 2018, recent announcements from leading chip company nVidia here in CA claim transistor count of 6.9 Billion on their latest GPU chip. This is REAL PROGRESS.

 

Life was pretty good at MM Witham at that time, and my first 'lucky break' came when MM decided to buy a process/product license from RCA Semiconductor in Somerville NJ, USA. I was asked to accompany Bill Copsey to visit the RCA facility, and to be the engineer assigned to transfer the ECL product process back to Witham for production.  This involved extended hands on meetings and data collection at RCA in order to be able to train the MM folks on the process steps and specs.  This was my first exposure to the USA, and to the US semiconductor industry - where RCA was a major player at the time. It caused a light to go on for me as I began to realize the scope and size of the US semiconductor companies.  I will never forget renting a Chevolet Camaro car from Hertz to get around - white an step up from an MGB.  For some reason, I still remember the name of the RCA manager that was in charge of transferring the process to me - Dick Huntzinger - he must have impressed me to remember that 50 years later..

 

Life continued at Witham through 68 and into 69, when things changed dramatically for me - for the better as it turned out.  As a process engineer at MM I used to read multiple technical journals that discussed process innovation. In these I began to notice a lot of articles by a certain three persons - Deal, Snow and Grove. These were R & D folks with Fairchild Semiconductor in Mountain View CA. which was formed in 1957 by seven technologists that resigned from Shockley Semiconductor Labs in Mountain View CA [William Shockley won the Nobel prize for Physics for his invention of the solid state transistor at Bell Labs] and founded Fairchild Semiconductor Inc down the road in Mountain View based on an investment of about $1-2MM from Sherman Fairchild, who was chairman of Fairchild Camera & Instruments and the largest single shareholder in IBM at that time. Theses Fairchild folks were obviously very smart guys and cranked out a huge amount of new papers on semiconductor research. Fairchild Semiconductor Inc, which was relatively unknown to me in 1966 was the inventor of the silicon planar process that enabled the silicon IC to be what it is today in volume production.  A brilliant invention and patent by any measure - every one paid them royalties for years.

 

This RCA visit must have started me thinking about my future and about the US semiconductor companies and that I should maybe look at joining them at some point.  Then my second 'lucky break' occurred.  I opened the Sunday Times newspaper one day around March 1969, and there was an advertisement by Fairchild Semiconductor looking for marketing people to join their new headquarters in Germany, They wanted people with technical or business degrees associated with electronics, and specifically semiconductors where possible.  I looked at this and said - this could be for me, and so I responded to the ad with a simple letter - as you did in those days .... no email, no fax.  I had no real knowledge of marketing or of German - I did French at school. But they needed English first as that was the standard language of the electronics industry - and still is today.  So I mailed the letter, and waited to see what would happen.

 

I received an answer - could I come to the Knightsbridge Hotel on Piccadilly on a certain date for an interview?.  I of course said I could and so I showed up at the hotel in my Sunday Best, not knowing what to expect. I was still only 26.  To my surprise, I was greeted by a guy that was my age - in fact he was 25 ..... and announced himself as Dog Usher - the Product Marketing Manager for Transistors for Europe.  He had been sent to Germany with the Fairchild team to set up the operations in Wiesbaden - a town near Frankfurt.  We chatted about semiconductors and about moving to Germany - was I willing to move quickly and was I married et al?.  The answer was yes and no.  He was not concerned that I had no marketing experience - that would simply be provided 'on the job'.  He introduced me to his boss - Ralph Bennett - maybe 35 years old and we concluded the interview within an hour or so.  I left pretty excited as I remember, hoping that they would make me an offer. I had never been to continental Europe before, and here I was basically agreeing to go and work there in the near term.  I do not recall if I told anyone back at MM what I was doing - probably not as I had not been offered a job on the spot, so I could not resign. I probably told my girl friend at the time, and my mother who said 'you are going to do what?????' OMG.

 

A few weeks passed and then I received a 'telegram' - remember those - had written notes on a piece of formal Post Office paper that was hand delivered to you at your address.  They were usually something important as they were expensive to send.  Either good news or bad news but always important news.  I opened it and it said 'Fairchild was pleased to offer me a position at 2600,00 DM per month' - about 2 times my MM salary of PS 1150 per year as I remember.  I still have that telegram in my files to this day...... Now I had to decide - and fast.  So I said 'pleased to accept' or whatever I said. They then asked me what date could I start, and we agreed on a date - an important date as it turned out.

 

Now it must have been June 1969, and I must have resigned from MM around early July.  I don't remember the reaction of the MM folks, but I expect there was at least some envy and some thoughts of your are crazy. But I was fine with it, and so I packed up my life into the trunk of my 63 MGB convertible and headed off to Dover, the Channel crossing, and the drive down to Wiesbaden Germany. I do remember that my MM buddy John Bearham accompanied me on the trip - just for fun - he was the adventurous type as I remember so it was a free trip for him. It was an interesting drive of course - right had drive sports car on right side German roads with huge trucks and no speed limits. At least it was daylight as I remember.

 

We arrived at my Hotel - the Schwarzer Bock in one piece, and we checked into the rooms.  As I said the date was to be important to me - it was July 20, 1969 - the very day America landed on the moon ..... we watched it on TV.  Little did I know that the Lunar Lander had Fairchild transistors on board in the computer module - my new product line at Fairchild Europe. That was a wow ....... and still is for me.

 

From here on it is all about Fairchild, so I will stop here, other than to say that Mac Wilson, Ray Rees and Jean Harris all joined me at Fairch in Germany within about a year or so.  Great times ..... would do it all again.

 

 

 

Background

 

Ed: the wiki requires details of prior activities from ~1952 when Marconi introduced specialised components, primarily in the microwave and high power lest load areas.

 

Details of Marconi Electronic Devices (MEDL) are here which requires integration

 

Marconi Elliott Microelectronics Ltd. was formed as a separate company in July 1968 to exploit the combined microelectronic resources of Elliott Automation and the Marconi Company.  Details of the operation in 1969 are available here.

 

 

Company Articles

 

Date 

 

Article description 

Details

1966 Microelectronic circuits for our new products  here
1966 Microelectronics Company (from 1966 Catalogue) here
1967 Witham microelectronics plant  here
1967 Fitting out Witham  here
1967 Getting Witham into production  here
1968 New Witham plant opened  here
1968 Microelectronics Company (from 1968 Catalogue)  here
     

 

Other Articles

1968

New microcircuit factory - Electronics & Power August 1968

here
2010 Electronics Weekly September 2010 here

 

 

Statement of intent

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (2)

Alan Hartley-Smith said

at 8:56 am on Jul 27, 2017

Test comment as agreed

Ian Gillis said

at 9:00 am on Jul 27, 2017

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