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Marconi in Microelectronics

This version was saved 5 years, 9 months ago View current version     Page history
Saved by Alan Hartley-Smith
on October 2, 2018 at 1:27:52 pm
 

Introduction

 

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

 

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!

 

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 MarconiĀ“s Witham and Beehive Lane sites, that they ceased.

 

Input from Robert Blair October 2018

 

 

Background

 

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

 

Specialised Components are now located here and are a work in progress.

 

Marconi-Elliott Microelectronics Limited was formed as a separate company in July 1968 to exploit the combined microelectronic resources of Elliott Automation and the Marconi Company.  Details of their operation in 1969 is 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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