May 4, 1964 Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Electronics,
published 1930 - 1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
In the light of having just marked
the 75th anniversary of the D-Day (Operation Overlord, June 6, 1944), which marked
the beginning of the end of Hitler's ruthless siege on all of Europe, please note
how Electronics magazine editor Lewis Young cites, in 1964, the continued
rebuilding of Europe as the reason many - maybe most - companies there are still,
two decades later, concentrating engineering and financial resources on getting
back on a solid footing rather than chasing after the latest and greatest in nonessential
technologies. It was probably an accurate assessment of the situation. However,
I do take issue with his admonishment to American companies to emulate Europe's "practical
approach" to innovation and manufacturing. There was absolutely no reason to dissuade
and throttle activity here, there, or anywhere for that matter.
It truth, engineers, scientists, and businessmen of Europe were probably not
happy with the existing mindset of government policymakers and would have
preferred to progress without restraint. Hopefully, Mr. Young
eventually regretted his editorial piece.
Lesson from Europe - Editorial
Europe will not have color television until
1967, possibly not until 1968. The reasons (see Newsletter, page 17) are strictly
commercial, not technical. European manufacturers believe there just isn't a market
yet for color television sets.
This decision reflects the straightforward approach Europeans take in matters
electronic. It's pragmatic, practical, very commercial and economic. One executive
confided: "Our engineers don't try anything unless we can see a way to make money
from it." And most European electronic firms (except a few computer builders) are
enjoying handsome profits these days.
British Hold Off on Color TV
Newsletter, p. 17)
Britain's plans for beginning color tv broadcasts as early as 1965 have collapsed.
Instead, the postmaster general has decided to wait until after a decision by the
International Radio Consultative Committee (CCIR) on one system for Europe. He says
the earliest start for color tv will be 1967 or 1968.
The CCIR won't decide until next April. At its last conference [Electronics,
March 6, 1964, P 17] it was unable to choose between the American, German or the
French system. The British Broadcasting Corp. said it would go it alone, using the
American color tv system, but then had second thoughts.
Meanwhile, engineers in Britain are saying the delay in selection of a European
system is due not to a technical but a marketing stalemate. A German delegate to
CCIR is supposed to have told his English counterpart:
"We are insisting on our system only because we know France demands theirs and
that means a deadlock. We are just starting to sell black and white television and
stereo in Germany. When we see a market for color television sets, we'll be willing
to go along with England and accept the American system."
Engineers in the United States can learn a little from this down-to-earth approach.
Sometimes you forget the simple and straightforward when you get caught up in the
fervor of fast-moving technology and a wealth of research and development money.
Europe's peculiar circumstances have dictated such a realistic view. Building
from widespread destruction after World War II, engineers could not afford the luxury
of waste nor of complex and expensive techniques.
In addition, there has been no deep well of government money for research and
development. In some countries, even Holland with its huge Philips Gloeilampenfabrieken
electronics complex, money for military electronics has been scanty.
So what you see in Europe today represents mostly commercial development, accomplished
with a minimum investment.
In general, engineers admit their technology trails that of the U. S. from two
to five years. They carefully screen developments in America, grabbing what is immediately
practical and economic and throwing the rest back. Research projects are terminated
quickly when the prospects of success dim.
That hasn't ruled out some intriguing new work in pockets of technology, surpassing
what has been done elsewhere. For example, Europeans have designed some superb electronic
display tubes that are now sold in the U. S.
Touring European facilities and watching their down-to-earth approach to design
gives you a fresh appreciation of practical engineering. In industrial applications,
for example, multiaperture magnetic devices are used ingeniously in fail-safe circuits
because they are reliable and inexpensive. The relay shows up in many communication
applications because it can cost far less than semiconductor circuitry.
Some European engineers have zeroed in on technological areas that Americans
have leapfrogged, such as cold cathode tubes.
Happily, some of this practical approach is returning to the U. S. When IBM introduced
its system/360 last month [Electronics, April 20, page 101], experts noted that
its microelectronic approach strongly resembled what is being done in Europe. Although
many companies there are interested in microelectronics, almost nobody is building
integrated circuits - combining active and passive elements on a single chip. The
usual European approach is the hybrid, connecting transistor and diode chips to
resistors. In fact, IBM's new system turned out to be the product of the company's
world-wide engineering force, and the approach for system/360's unsophisticated
microelectronics - unsophisticated by lab standards, that is - did come from Europe.
All this shows that solving many technical problems takes more than money. As
military budgets are tightened in the U. S., more and more engineers will find that
money isn't everything. There is still a place for straightforward practical engineering.
Posted June 11, 2019