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Information Technology Pioneers

Retirees and former employees of Unisys, Lockheed Martin, and their predecessor companies

In this Chapter

  1. Introduction by Lowell Benson
  2. Component Engineering
  3. Procurement, Component Acquisition by Svendsen
  4. Product Assurance by Dick Roessler
  5. Semiconductor Development by Mike Svendsen


1. Introduction - Component Engineering

To the customer we always appeared as a company with either a program manager or a project engineer as the primary customer interface. Behind every program manager or project engineer there was a multi-talented team of experienced personnel who were specialists in their individual fields. We didn't just buy parts, we specified parts requirements so that the parts would perform as we needed them to in the rugged environments of shipboard, the field, and space.

    Component Engineering tested and controlled the parts which were procured to assure quality products. Our design engineers worked with 'de-rating rules' for all components so that any designs would not overstress the limits of any component.

 The Purchasing Department worked hand in hand with Component Engineering to process orders and interact with suppliers. [lab]

Product Assurance included the Quality Control (QC) functions as well as a traveling cadre of inspectors who visited component suppliers to urge them to adopt quality standards that met our rigorous standards.

We had detailed manufacturing processes in place with critical point Quality Control inspections years before the International Organization of Standards (ISO) began formalizing the ISO 9000 series of requirements for manufacturing excellence. [lab] 

2.0 Component Engineering

2.1 Component Analysis by Larry Bolton

Univac Defense Systems designed military grade computers. Most components were electrically rated for operation over a case temperature from -55C to +125C. Back in the 60s and 70s, most integrated circuit electrical testing at temperature extremes was done by soaking the circuits in a hot or cold box, removing them, then quickly testing them in a socket before they warmed up. Usually, the box temperature was set a few degrees higher or lower than the desired temperature to account for some warming during the transition. This was good only for cold start characteristics and the parts quickly self heated so readings were no longer valid. This was not adequate for electrical characterization which can take several seconds or minutes.
Univac developed an apparatus in which a thermal air column was continuously directed at the bottom of the device under test. It included a heater for the hot temperature and dry liquid N2 for cold temperature. Temperature was controlled by monitoring the temperature of the exiting air stream just below the circuit under test. This held the temperature constant at any desired temperature for indefinite periods. After the initial prototype was shown to work, the thermal air column was integrated with our electrical test systems. A hole was drilled thru the bottom of the test socket so the air jet would impinge directly on the bottom of the component under test. One of the main problems with this system was the tendency for frost to form [especially in summer] on the test socket resulting in intermittent connections. The socket had to be thawed out and frost air-blasted off the socket contacts. A cover over the test socket also helped.
This is just another example of apparatus we developed for in-house use because there were no adequate things available on the open market. We successful loaned this apparatus to Motorola to correlate our data with their test methods. 

2.2 Univac Minuteman Program: A Short Story About Pulse Transformers (early 1970s)

One of the components used extensively in the Minuteman memory drawer was a pulse transformer. Each transformer consisted of a small core with primary and secondary windings of very small gauge wire. Four of these transformers were potted in a 16-lead dual-in-line package which was about 0.3 inches wide and 0.9 inches long. The fine wire leads from the transformer were welded or soldered to the inside pads of the package leads. An epoxy plastic compound was injected to form a body for the finished component.

Each electrical component in the Minuteman computer had to undergo rigorous qualification testing which included environmental tests: including temperature cycling, shock, vibration, and life test. Two nationally known companies were represented by the samples which would be qualification tested. At that time, southwestern Minnesota was considered an economically depressed area. A University of Minnesota graduate named Oscar A. Schott had established a business based on the design and manufacture of transformers. He had a small shop in Marshall, Minnesota which specialized in pulse transformers and other small transformers. I agreed to include samples from the Schott Company in the qualification test, assuming there was little chance they would pass. After all tests had been completed and corrective action had been attempted on the failures that had occurred, the Schott pulse transformers were the only ones that had passed. The main problems had been the internal lead connection. This created a dilemma for the Univac Minuteman program.

Another requirement of the Minuteman program was that all processes and procedures used in the manufacture of critical components had to be listed and revision controlled. Any changes to the ‘baseline’ were subject to review by Univac for impact to the program. Schott in Marshall was a small operation. All they had were informal sketches and verbal instructions for the assemblers. They also lacked enough people to create the numbers of documents required and needed guidance. Univac in St. Paul formed a team consisting of manufacturing and quality persons to go to Marshall for a week or two and help. They worked with the Schott engineers and manufacturing persons to create a set of documents which would meet Minuteman requirements. The Schott pulse transformers were used successfully for the duration of the program. Eventually, we did qualify two other sources for these transformers.

The former Minnesota-based Schott Corporation, although not an offshoot of ERA or Univac, has supported several programs at Univac/Unisys defense systems thru today, both with transformers and power supplies. The Schott Corporation has been a contributor to the U of M alumni association and TPT television, among other charities. Oscar Schott was added to the University of Minnesota Wall of Honor in 1996. Schott Magnetics is now a world wide company based in San Diego but still has facilities in Minnesota. They are another company which can attribute part of their success to the business relationship they had and still have with Univac/Unisys/Lockheed Martin. [Written and submitted by Larry Bolton]

3.  Procurement, Component Acquisition by Mike Svendsen

     In the early 60's, two new industries; computers and semiconductors - and a growing company created a major challenge for Univac Procurement. How do you specify and receive a high quality, state of the art semiconductor device when needed, in volume and at a reasonable price. They also had to manage the limited supply when it did not meet the demand. Each project within Univac wanted control of this activity and its documentation. Enough qualified resources did not exist to do these functions everywhere, and in fact we had to learn about the new semiconductor suppliers and their devices. Every project needed something slightly different. The quality levels we were familiar with were not adequate. Every supplier was promising anything to get designed in. Procurement could not acquire the necessary volume in time and at the cost needed by the projects.
     Out of necessity in 1962 a close cooperative effort between all functions was implemented. A mature industry (carbon composition resistors) was used to work through the issues of project control, documentation, device upgrades, ordering, and stocking. We combined 33 drawings into 8 Standards which were then used in both Military and Commercial systems.
     At the same time, a similar effort was started with semiconductors. We gathered together all of the device types used in existing computers and projects and categorized them by function in order to select candidates for standardization. The specifications were developed and the suppliers were put through rigorous testing to become qualified. The 20 highest volume devices were coordinated for all of Univac (both Military and Commercial.) It was felt that reliability and quality requirements were the same for both computers. This coordination included specifications, source selection, negotiation and quality verification. The Univac relationship with the Semiconductor industry was being developed. There were regular meetings with the suppliers to discuss new devices and to exchange info about the quality, price and delivery of devices under contract.
     The Reliability of early devices was not adequate - our Reliability Engineers shouted that message in many papers and forus in 1963 and 1964. New manufacturing techniques were required and developed as the devices became smaller and more complex. Feedback on these processing and assembly changes was crucial to fast corrective actions. The Univac failure analysis lab analyzed all of the failures and developed new techniques for identifying and documenting the failure modes to the suppliers. They took thousands of pictures and we made many visits to convey the need for improved control of their factories. We audited their corrective actions and continued to give feedback. We implemented vender surveillance with resident inspectors to shorten the time to improved devices.
A Quality Verification Test (QVT) was implemented which required the destructive analysis of a part from each lot/shipment of a device. These pictures and analysis checked the die configuration and assembly methods and provided early warning of workmanship problems or process changes. All of this information was given back to the suppliers for corrective action.
     Qualified resources - human and machine - were always in short supply, especially as Univac grew and more plants and organizations needed semiconductors. It was decided that Univac needed only one major interface with the Semiconductor industry. The concept of the Semiconductor Control Facility (SCF) was developed in 1972 based on the experiences of the ‘60’s. An organization was created in Roseville, MN., to handle all aspects of the acquisition of semiconductors for Univac world-wide. This included the gathering of requirements from all plants, negotiating and placing orders with suppliers, receiving and verifying their quality, 100% testing, inventorying, and then satisfying the demands from all plants. We also reported back to the Semiconductor industry on their performance and rated them against their peers. The total Univac volume made us one of their largest customers at a time when attention to every problem was essential. Our quality and overall performance feedback was the best they received and was very much appreciated and they used it to improve their support of Univac. SCF remained in operation in the Twin Cities until 1985 when it moved to California under Burroughs. During its 14-year existence SCF handled just over 1 billion dollars of the most precious commodity required to build computers.
    The cooperative efforts within Univac and with the industry helped make our Military and Commercial computers the most reliable in the industry. It was also very helpful to the semiconductor industry during its formative years.
B.N. Mike Svendsen Univac-1959 to 1984

4. Product Assurance by Dick Roessler, UNIVAC - 1956 TO 1989

     During the post World War II and Korean campaign era, military commanders determined that the existing command & control, navigation, fire control, weapons, and logistic/supply systems could not be depended on to provide a quick response and effective defense system for national defense and security. The alleged Cold War was in process and International issues continued to pop up. The analysis performed by the respective military branches revealed that their systems were often technically obsolete and inadequate in many respects. The commanders felt that a priority should be given to improve these systems. The systems often had an extremely low Mean-Time-Between-Failures. In particular, the electronics of many systems they felt needed to be upgraded to the next generation. The need was for a significant improvement of their readiness of deployed systems.
     In the early 1950’s, the U. S. Navy expressed a great interest in the development of digital computer managed systems as an improvement over analog computers. The Navy became very active in encouraging the development of one of Defense Systems Divisions fledging organization, Engineering Research Associates to begin work in that area. This combination of Naval leaders and local talent this new company was formed. It soon became very proactive in the development of digitized circuitry. ERA was acquired by Remington Rand and we know the history as it becoming Remington Rand UNIVAC. (Referred to as the company in this report.)
     Procuring agencies in the Navy, became very cognizant that improving readiness of military systems in an operation deployment must be given a high priority. It began specifying this important factor in competitive procurements. The company quickly found that in the design of digital computers, using vacuum tubes in operational equipment would create low MTBF and be a significant readiness issue. We also know historically that the invention of solid state transistors as discrete components was a significant breakthrough and followed by enhancements with the advent integrated solid state devices. This achievement was able to breathe life back into future successful digital electronic designs.
The company also began to understand that successful defense contractors would need to develop the capabilities to perform and demonstrate to defense customers that it possessed the technical disciplines and skills to assure a system/product which would meet any/all contract requirements of Quality & Reliability. These factors are the heart and soul of Readiness.
     The company Contracts Administrators and Program Management recognized that in order to satisfy competitive design contracts and to qualify for production contracts, would require a very skilled and disciplined technical team. This meant that beginning to develop a technical concept modifying the transition of a new design product to production. Design Engineers would take into consideration every detail of the customer contract relative to design specifications including mil-standards and in particular those relative to reliability and performance criteria. It would also mean that as a team with Production Engineers, that the design plan would include the building of a prototype and perform testing to assure that not only does it reflect conformance to contract requirements but that it is reproducible!!! No more throwing a new, untested product over the wall to Production engineers in the factory.
     Company management became actively involved in establishing the necessary organizational disciplines and accountabilities to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction. Product Readiness became the customer and company goal mantra. The company internally interpreted that for practical purposes, the company would be cognizant of Product Readiness and assure conformance by implementing Product Assurance practices. This meant that every technical or administrative team member be aware of what is required in achieving the highest level of Product Assurance and in meeting Design or Production Contract requirements. The following represent some of the disciplines and considerations given to Product Assurance:

  • Product Assurance includes hardware, software, systems, documentation and services.
  • Includes disciplines encompassing reliability, & quality.
  • Assurance that discrete components meet all of the mil-standard and performance criteria.
  • Inspect and perform tests of products being manufactured to assure that the products meet performance requirements; includes environmental tests to assure readiness under adverse conditions in deployment.
  • Establish a process of internal auditing of hardware build to assure customer quality audits are satisfactory when held. Have capabilities to perform thorough failure analysis of any discrepancy in contract performance.
  • To develop disciplines to assure that vendors and subcontractors are conforming to the purchase agreement or subcontract agreement.

     Implied in the above is that in order to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction and to assure a profitable contract, compliance with Readiness conditions was paramount. Product Readiness and Product Assurance was a discipline which evolved over a period of time and a variety of contracts. The customer during the 1960’s and 1970’s often would provide contractual funding to achieve the expected readiness. Often times it meant that the company would work as an Associate Contractor with the Customer’s team of contractors and funding would be provided to perform additional tasks during design and into deployment.
     As the customer began to become more confident in its system procurement practices, it began funding contracts to assure that a defense system during deployment was properly supported. Frequently this was provided under a contractual agreement to have the company provide Integrated Logistic Support. This funding was provided to have contractor’s staff deployment of operating systems by considering the availability of adequate technical manuals, crew training, repair parts, on-call technical services, diagnostic programs, etc. This demonstrated that effective readiness needed to be a commitment on contractor and customer personnel as well.
Another but somewhat related element of customer Product Readiness was agreements to perform on contracts requiring the company to prepare Installation Design Documentation and install deployed products. In other instances, because of limited military personnel to maintain operational systems in remote areas, company field engineers would staff these sites. Often the profit margins on these contracts were quite good because the contract was tied to performance indicators.
     Product Readiness and Product Assurance took a rather significant detour when special “ruggedized” hardware was no longer a procurement requirement. Available “off-the-shelf” became a very common practice. It completely changed the procurement practices and certainly made for very competitive bidding.
     One last thought. The company performed a very important role by providing exemplary support and service to our military and civilian agency customers during the early days of introducing improved customer Product Readiness. Certainly the learning curve for the design, manufacturing, quality, test and field engineers was rather steep. We also learned that software, as a deliverable product, needs to develop similar disciplines and assurance testing that hardware does. A good lesson for us…..
     My hat is off to the many individuals who had major roles in providing their energy and talent to assure Product Assurance. It was a great team that evolved and it is a legacy we can be proud of during the time that Readiness was vital. It probably permitted some military commanders to feel a bit more secure during the ‘cold war’.

  June 11, 2007 [RAR]

5.0 Semiconductor Facility Development 

Mike Svendsen has written a document about the Semiconductor Facility, embedded in the history of Semiconductors activities by UNIVAC.