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Die Story über Ampex (4) von 12

The Data Processing Boom

If there is one single factor that prompted Ampex growth, it is surely man's insatiable desire to preserve and manipulate information. Bing Crosby sought a device that would preserve his voice with fidelity when replayed to radio audiences in different time zones and stimulated demand for audio recorders. Scientists and engineers sought a device which would allow them to preserve transient phenomena for later repetitive analysis and brought about continuing demands for instrumentation recorders.

 

At the time the first audio recorder was introduced by Ampex, researchers were working with electronic devices, called Computers, which were capable of solving complex problems rapidly. These machines were the progeny of mechanical computers used since the turn of the century. When Computers entered the electronic world, they were generally assigned a natural arithmetic language which had always existed - one compatible with the positive and negative states in electricity. In this language, called binary code, all numbers, letters and other characters are translated into various combinations of "1"s and "0"s.

 

In their first applications, computers were used almost exclusively by scientists to solve problems which to this time, had been beyond the capability and patience of the human mind. Complex equations describing the movement of heavenly bodies and the structure of the atom were put to the new electronic marvel. Solutions resulted which would have required a lifetime of calculation by trained scientists.

Computers Come Of Age

From their lofty start, computers soon found their way into business to handle some of man's more prosaic tasks. Manufacturers are able to keep inventories to a minimum, freeing capital investment for other uses through inventory control records memory in 16 millionths of a second. (Today, inprocessed daily or weekly on a computer.) The world of finance was quick to recognize the value of the computer to banking. Virtually all business and personal checking accounts and other bank transactions are processed by electronic computers.

 

Soon even address labels were being processed by computers. As computers moved into areas outside science they were handed an overwhelming workload. To keep business and industrial records in order, faster and more sophisticated data processing equipment was introduced. Computer operations became more and more expensive as the equipment grew more complex. Computers are worked around the dock to earn their price tag. Terms such as "fast access time" and "storage capacity" became bywords of data processors as they sought more rapid means of feeding information hungry Computers.

 

In 1954, computer engineers began to look beyond the magnetic drums, acoustic delay lines and, particularly, punched cards which they were then using to store Computer data. They reached out to others areas in electronics in their search for greater capacity and flexibility in memories (the central storage of the computer, where information is held until called for) and off-line storage (methods of storing intormation outside of the central computer).

A New Direction for Ampex

Ampex engineers, returning from the Eastern Computer Conference in December, 1954, thought, that magnetic tape recording would be a logical answer to Computer storage problems because tape offered a faster access time and greater flexibility than the punched cards then used in most Computer Systems. Data which took a full day to handle with punched cards could be handled in less than one hour using magnetic tape. By April, 1955, engineers who were anxious to examine this new application for magnetic tape, had received approval to develop an Ampex digital tape transport which would be used as an off-line storage device for digital data processing Systems.

 

The major engineering problem in translating knowledge of audio and instrumentation recording to the Computer field was the rapid start/stop time which would be required to search reels of tape for digital information. A crew of engineers and consultants which included Harold Lindsay, designer of the first Ampex recorder, brought an Ampex tape transport to reality within eight months. The first prototypes of the FR-200 were shown at the Eastern Computer Conference in Boston in late 1955 and again at the Western Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco in February, 1956. The first production run was sold out within a month of its introduction. Some of the customers for the new digital tape transport included leaders in the Computer field such as International Business Machines (IBM), which purchased several of the prototype models, Remington Rand Corporation, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Philco, National Cash Register and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.

 

The enthusiasm for the new tape transport resulted from its ability to start and stop within less than .005 seconds, a simplified servo system, which controls the feed of tape, and the ease of threading which permits fast reel change - all timesavers to the data processor.

 

Ampex found the burgeoning electronic data processing markets to be appreciative of the company's prowess in magnetic recording technology. Many major Computer manufacturers beat a path to Ampex to test the FR-200 with their equipment. Enthusiasm over the Performance of the FR-200, which was designed for off-line storage of Computer information, prompted Ampex to continue development of tape products for the Computer market expanding into on-line (or central Computer) applications. The next Ampex offering to Computer users and manufacturers was the FR-300, a tape transport designed to act as a memory store in the central Computer because of its fast access time. Then came the FR-400, an improvement of the FR-200 design; and the TM-2, an advancement of the FR-300.

A Merger for Growth

Later, most of the major Computer manufacturers, seeing digital tape handlers as a necessary adjunct to Computers, began manufacturing their own tape transports. But in the late 1950s, the promising activity which surrounded the Ampex tape products for the Computer field, encouraged the Company to begin searching for ways it could expand its interests in this industry.

 

Dismissing merger possibilities with smaller Computer firms, Ampex was finally introduced to Telemeter Magnetics, Inc. (TMI) a pioneer in the core memory field. (Three types of memories are used with Computers: tape which offers large quantity storage but relatively slow access to the information; magnetic discs or drums, which are typically faster than tape but provide only medium capacity; and cores, which offer instant access to information but contain only a limited quantity of data.)

 

Running down a customer list, it turned out that Ampex and TMI were supplying the same custom-ers and their products were not competitive. Data processors looked to core memories for rapid access and to tape for its volume storage capabili-ties.

 

TMI, located in Culver City, California, near Los Angeles, had a firm hold on the core memory field. In 1954, TMI had introduced one of the world's first commercially available core memories. Cores, the storage cells in the memory are tiny "donuts" of ferrite material which are strung together by hair-thin wires to form flat planes called arrays. One array might contain up to 5,000,000 individual cores.

 

Information is stored in each core by magnetizing it with electrical current in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. The directions represent 1 and 0 in the binary coding System. The first core memory developed by TMI in 1954 permitted extraction of a bit of information from the memory in 16 millionths of a second. (Today, information is drawn from the cores in billionths of a second.)

Core Industry Leader

TMI had chalked up an impressive list of accomplishments before it was introduced to Ampex. It developed an all-magnetic core pulse source in 1955; a solid State core memory and a core buffer in 1956; a line of six microsecond memories and a core memory for small Computers in 1958; and in 1960, aline of word-select core memories.

 

The decision to merge with TMI created a marriage between a leader in the core memory field and the leading manufacturer of precision magnetic tape memory units. Immediately following the wrap-up of the merger, the Ampex digital tape engineering section was transferred to the TMI facilities in Culver City. The two activities were rechristened the Computer Products Company (now known as the Computer Products Division).

 

Hindsight indicates that the merger of the two computer-oriented groups could have been handled more gradually. In the burst of enthusiasm to get the Computer activity centralized, Ampex lost many of its digital tape engineers who would not make the move to Southern California. At the same time, TMI personnel who had basked in the success of their core memory development and manufacturing viewed their parent Company - this "giant" from the north - with skepticism. The reorganization and settling of the two activities under the same roofs resulted in the loss of some TMI personnel, also.

 

Fortunately, the initial merger problems were ironed out rapidly, and by 1961, the Computer Products Company was back on the track as a leading contributor to tape and core technology. In October of that year, Computer Products introduced the LQ, the first commercially available large capacity ferrite core memory with a rapid cycle time of 1.5 microseconds. Not even giants in the Computer field such as IBM had been successful in developing such a product.

 

Major customers for this fast core memory were RCA, Philco-Ford, the Aberdeen Proving Ground, the National Bureau of Standards and the Air Force. A request from Philco for even faster access to information spawned the development of the LZ, a one microsecond memory. Meanwhile, core memories were beginning to relive the history of the digital tape transport. Major manufacturers, once acquainted with core technology decided to manufacture their own cores, arrays and Stacks. Computer Products Division soon found itself with limited customers coming to Ampex for specialized core products.

 

In 1965, the Division did introduce a one-micro-second core memory, similar to the unit developed for Philco, but aimed at general market use. Soon after, however, in 1966, a major order was received for a more specialized large capacity core memory. This represented a multi-million dollar contract and a two-year engineering effort ensued which overshadowed all other developmental efforts at the division. Once the project was complete, attention was again turned to expanding the Standard product line. In the meanwhile, however, the division had lost some of its footing by devoting its attention to development of the mass core memory, the RM, and virtually ignoring the expansion of its line to serve the general market for core memories.

 

But a major step in revitalizing its line of core memories was taken when Computer Products Division introduced the RG memory at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in 1967. The RG was the answer to a data processor's dream. It not only matched or bettered other medium capacity memories with an access time of only 350 nanoseconds (less than half of one millionth of a second), but could be expanded from medium to very large capacities (up to 5,000,000 bits) simply by adding memory modules, somewhat like adding drawers to a bureau.

 

The pattern was set by the time Ampex entered the Computer market. Give the customer greater speed in obtaining information, greater storage capacity and, increased reliability. The appetite for improvements on these fronts never wanes. Add to these Iower cost and you'll touch the heart of every cost conscious Computer user.

 

This was the path Ampex continued to follow in its efforts in the core memory field. Meanwhile it was reaching out to a broader customer base through increased speed and sophistication, smaller size, Iower cost and higher reliability. A series of memories which were introduced in 1968 and 1969 feature faster cycle times and Iower costs with extended capacities. Ampex can now answer a query from any potential customer with quotations on products Standard in its line at competitive prices.

Tape Transports Improve

Meanwhile, digital tape handlers had not been forgotten in the pursuit of a greater share of the market for Computer peripheral equipment. In November, 1963, a new tape transport was introduced which featured a single capstan tape drive design pioneered and patented by Ampex. It was the TM-7, first of a series of transports to use the new drive. The design used 80 percent fewer parts than previous tape drives and completely eliminated the traditional pinch rollers, brake cylinders and follower arms which handled tape roughly and caused frequent mechanical failures. As a result, the TM-7 was easy to operate, required little maintenance, was Iower in cost and was more reliable.

 

Most recently, the TMZ Iow cost digital tape memory System, combining the economy, compact-ness and reliability required for use with small Computers and remote Computer terminals, gathered sales of $2.5 million in its first six months, and is now being delivered at a cost of only $3,500 each, a price achieved by large volume marketing, integrated circuit design and improved production techniques.

 

Many areas being investigated today at Ampex are the result of the Computer Products Division's exhaustive efforts to improve the techniques of core memory and tape transport development. In 1962, Ampex developed specialized test equipment for the government's investigation of electron beam recording techniques, an advanced concept for recording information. Today, continuing investigation is being carried out by Ampex, based on standards developed through the use of Ampex's first test equipment.

 

A major new direction in information storage for Computers is the result of developmental efforts carried on in the corporation's Research Department. Applying the principles of videotape.recording to the problem of large capacity storage of digital information, has resulted in a product called the Terabit memory, which uses video tape and contains the same information in a 36-transport System which is now stored in 20,000 conventional digital tape transports.

 

Ampex entered into a Joint venture with Toshiba Electric Co, in Tokyo in 1964, in a move to strengthen overseas markets in a field that becomes more competitive every year. The Joint venture manufacturing company is called Toamco (for Toshiba-Ampex) and makes and markets video, Computer tape memory and instrumentation products in Japan. (More on this activity in the chapter devoted to the International Division.)

 

What started as a quest for new efficiency in preserving and processing information moved Ampex into an entirely new product field, one which has shown recent gains and a promising future.

 

New-found profitability which occured in 1969 is largely the result of a dedicated team of engineers, production men and marketing staff. Eugene E. Prince, vice President and general manager of the division, who was named to head the Operation in 1966, is a man thoroughly dedicated to his operational plan. He has managed, in his tenure with the Computer Products Division, to increase manufacturing efficiency one-third while cutting overhead by a third.

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