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Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim

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'''Flurscheim:'''  
 
'''Flurscheim:'''  
  
No, I won't do any more. So that's all my engineering career. I was rather pleased to be made a Doctor ScD, by Cambridge, and to be made an honorary Fellow of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. The IEE have 100,000 members; they're not as big as IEEE. They make two honorary Fellows a year, one of which is usually outside the engineering industry, like Prince Phillip, or someone like that, and one is a member. I was honored to be elected an honorary Fellow ten years ago.  
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No, I won't do any more. So that's all my engineering career. I was rather pleased to be made a Doctor ScD, by Cambridge, and to be made an honorary [[IEEE Fellow Grade History|Fellow]] of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. The IEE have 100,000 members; they're not as big as IEEE. They make two honorary Fellows a year, one of which is usually outside the engineering industry, like Prince Phillip, or someone like that, and one is a member. I was honored to be elected an honorary Fellow ten years ago.  
  
 
=== Management & Design Philosophies  ===
 
=== Management & Design Philosophies  ===
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Thank you then, this has been very helpful.  
 
Thank you then, this has been very helpful.  
  
[[Category:Business,_management_&_industry|Category:Business,_management_&_industry]] [[Category:Defense_&_security|Category:Defense_&_security]] [[Category:Power,_energy_&_industry_application|Category:Power,_energy_&_industry_application]] [[Category:Components,_circuits,_devices_&_systems|Category:Components,_circuits,_devices_&_systems]] [[Category:People_and_organizations]] [[Category:Engineers]] [[Category:Inventors]] [[Category:Corporations]] [[Category:Business]] [[Category:Research_and_development_management]] [[Category:International_trade]] [[Category:Culture_and_society]] [[Category:World_War_II]] [[Category:Generators]] [[Category:Nuclear_power_generation]] [[Category:Standardization]] [[Category:Aerospace_and_electronic_systems]] [[Category:Aerospace_engineering]] [[Category:Circuitry]] [[Category:News]]
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[[Category:Business,_management_&_industry|Category:Business,_management_&_industry]] [[Category:Defense_&_security|Category:Defense_&_security]] [[Category:Power,_energy_&_industry_application|Category:Power,_energy_&_industry_application]] [[Category:Components,_circuits,_devices_&_systems|Category:Components,_circuits,_devices_&_systems]] [[Category:People_and_organizations|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:Engineers|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:Inventors|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:Corporations|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:Business|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:Research_and_development_management|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:International_trade|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:Culture_and_society|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:World_War_II|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:Generators|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:Nuclear_power_generation|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:Standardization|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:Aerospace_and_electronic_systems|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:Aerospace_engineering|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:Circuitry|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]] [[Category:News|Oral-History:Charles Flurscheim]]

Revision as of 16:10, 11 September 2009

Contents

About Charles Flurscheim

Dr. Charles Flurscheim's early interest in aircraft and mechanical engineering shaped his subsequent pioneering career. A graduate of Cambridge University and a college apprentice at the Metropolitan Vickers company, Flurscheim became an accomplished specialist in electronic switchgear and circuit breaker operations. During the second world war, Flurscheim designed vital electrical systems which increased British military aircraft safety. Subsequently he contributed to electrical and nuclear power station research. His high-voltage circuit breakers are used in power stations throughout the world.

The interview describes Flurscheim's enduring love of mechanical and electrical engineering and some of his research and development contributions during and after World War II. Flurscheim discusses his experiences at Metropolitan Vickers, with the Associated Electrical Industries, and then as an independent consultant for electrical projects. The interview also examines Flurscheim's management philosophies and publishing accomplishments.


About the Interview

CHARLES H. FLURSCHEIM: An Interview Conducted by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, September 23, 1993

Interview # 179 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Charles H. Flurscheim, an oral history conducted in 1993 by William Aspray, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview

INTERVIEW: Dr. Charles H. Flurscheim
INTERVIEWED BY: William Aspray
PLACE: London, England
DATE: September 23, 1993

Childhood and Education

Aspray:

Would you please start by telling me about your parents' careers and your early education?

Flurscheim:

My father was a naturalized British subject and his father owned an engineering firm in southern Germany. My father was brought up as a boy in England, and then went to Winterthur, Switzerland to learn engineering. When he got his engineering degree he decided he wanted to be a scientist, so he took a scientific degree in Geneva and doctorate of science in Heidelberg. My grandfather, who was German, married a Parisian girl in 1870, in the middle of the Franco-Prussian war. You wouldn't think that was possible?

Aspray:

You wouldn't think so, no.

Flurscheim:

In those days it was. He was rather a socialist and tried to run his factory in a socialist manner and fell out with the Bismarck scenario in Germany, so he emigrated to England. That's why my father was brought up as a boy in Bournemouth but then did his training in Europe. He married my English mother, in Switzerland, about 1900, and then set up his own research laboratory in our home which he built in Hampshire, England. He was one of the last of the scientists who could possibly do this because he was well enough off to build and operate his own research laboratory and work on atomic theory. So I had a scientific and engineering background.

Aspray:

When were you born?

Flurscheim:

In 1906. Quite a long time ago, in Hampshire.

Aspray:

And your full name?

Flurscheim:

Is Cedrick Harold Flurscheim, generally known as Charles. I lived in Hampshire, just near the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough. In those days, they had very primitive aircraft. An American by the name of Cody developed his own biplane at Farnborough, and used to allow little boys like me to watch him working. When I was six, I made up my mind that this was what I was going to be, an engineer, and I've never changed since. When I was about seven, Cody took a passenger on this plane and although it was strong enough to fly with one person it wasn't strong enough to fly with two; the wings collapsed and they were killed. That was a disaster to me. But anyhow, I remained an engineer in thought, and as a child I did nothing but think about airplanes or design them and draw them and make them. When I was about fourteen I drew a cross section of a Mercedes aircraft engine, and designed and made model petrol engines. I went to Wellington college which is a "public" school (private school in reality). It was basically a military education, and about three quarters of the boys went into the army but I went from there to Cambridge.

Aspray:

Which college?

Flurscheim:

Trinity College, where I read engineering. I got an "exhibition" there for so-called merit. Basically I'm a mechanical engineer. I can use a slide rule and a spanner, and although I specialized in electrical engineering my mind works better mechanically.

Aspray:

When you studied engineering could you specialize in electrical engineering at Cambridge at the time?

Metropolitan Vickers

Flurscheim:

In your third year you could specialize in mechanical or electrical engineering. This was in 1926 and the professor was a mechanical engineer. There was only one professor for all engineering in those days. I could understand and appreciate what he taught but the electrical specialist I found difficult to follow. He was brilliant, but not good at teaching. In 1927 it was very difficult to get a job anywhere in England because of the high unemployment, but there were several engineering apprenticeships available and the most prized one was at Metropolitan Vickers, in part because they paid the most, two pounds fifty shillings a week. I was one of the fortunate ones who managed to go to Metropolitan Vickers as a college apprentice. (Metropolitan Vickers was formerly British Westinghouse.) I did two years on the shop floor, the foundry, machine shops, drawing offices, and never felt so fit as after several weeks stoking the cast iron furnaces for a while. I was then taken on as a specialist switchgear trainee which I accepted in part because switchgear has interesting mechanical design problems as well as electrical.

Then in 1932 Metropolitan Vickers were training the Russians to design turbines, and we had a force of engineers there teaching and erecting turbines. I was then asked if I would go to Moscow to teach design of circuit breakers. This was in the days of Stalin, and I did not wish to go to Russia with him in charge, so asked for a salary Metropolitan Vickers would not accept. Fortunately this worked, for shortly after this Stalin needed something to distract attention from widespread troubles, and they invented suitable crimes and put all of our engineers in prison. It took the British government six months to extract them, and they were never the same again.

General Electric and Circuit Breakers

Flurscheim:

A couple of months later, instead of sending me to Russia to teach I was asked if I would go to General Electric, U.S.A. to learn how to design these circuit breakers. General Electric at that time had some financial interest in Metropolitan Vickers (instead of Westinghouse) and International General Electric ran a fellowship scheme whereby they paid for one engineer a year to go to General Electric and work there at their expense. I was selected, so in 1932 I went to Schenectady and to the General Electric circuit breaker factory in Philadelphia. The boss there was an outstanding engineer, David Chandler Prince, with a very intellectual wife. They decided they would train me; firstly on engineering, and secondly to be a bit more civilized!

I was put under Prince's wing and my year there was spent developing the General Electric circuit breakers of the future, which included the 287,000 volt Boulder Dam circuit breakers, which are still in service after about sixty years, which were Prince's invention. I worked on these in the research and development stages and on other new designs. Mrs. Prince saw to my general education by taking me to music shows in Philadelphia, to Lincoln's Memorial to tea with Rachmaninoff, and so on. I'm a skier — ski mountaineering is my ideal life. The Princes owned a chalet in the Adirondacks, which they used to lend me; I went there in winter and with a German working at General Electric, Vincent Schaeffer, who made his name in later years putting seeds in the clouds to make it rain. He and I did the first winter traverse of Mt. Marcy in the Adirondacks, from the Ausable Lakes over Marcy to Placid. It was quite tough, minus forty degrees centigrade at the top, and the last 1,000 feet we had to crawl up on ice, trailing our skiis, with wind you couldn't stand up against. So I had a wonderful year in America.

Aspray:

It was the Great Depression in the United States?

Flurscheim:

Yes, the Depression was at that time. GE was working "part-time." The engineers were paid about two-thirds of their salary, but they still came in for the whole week. They were very loyal to the firm. I remember we worked thirty-six hours non-stop on some power station tests. I worked with two young engineers, Ed Poitras and Gene Bochne, who were quite outstanding in their abilities as electrical engineers. They understood the theory of all these designs much better than I did and it was a real education to work in this atmosphere. At the end of the year I went back to Metropolitan Vickers. My contract was to go to GE for a year but I had to come back to Metropolitan Vickers, so I returned to them.

Automatic Gearboxes for Automobiles

Flurscheim:

At that time. I had an idea for designing automatic gearboxes for cars, and I explained this to the director of our turbine department. He gave me an expense order for one hundred pounds to have this built in the factory, but I had to provide the car and design it in my free time. As I had enough friends in the factory it was built for a hundred pounds exactly. It was the first automatic gearbox which depended on car speed plus throttle position to control an epicyclic gearbox, which is what the modern boxes do. The control system was hydraulic, the gear change being completed electrically. I fitted this to my MG car with a Wilson epicyclic gearbox and drove about 10,000 miles with it. It worked just like modern gearboxes, but nobody was interested in it. Nobody in England wanted an automatic gearbox in 1934. Of course, there are many design steps between a manual box and a modern fully automatic box, and mine was just one of them, but it was very interesting. My control system was built as a separate unit for the existing gearbox, and to measure the car speed it had a belt driving it from the shaft going to the back axle. Once when I was doing about seventy miles an hour this belt jumped off, so the gearbox thought the car had stopped, and that it should change down every second, fourth gear, third, second, first, which broke the back axle! But as long as the belt worked the gear change was correct. It was a great disappointment that nobody would buy it.

High Voltage Circuit Breaker Design

Aspray:

Metropolitan Vickers was not in this business?

Flurscheim:

No, not at all, and perhaps they supported this exercise as a form of training for me. As a result I became well known, and this may have contributed to my being promoted to be the boss of high voltage circuit breakers. I then spent several years developing high-voltage circuit breakers and doing research on the problems of voltage division on multi-break designs. Normally voltage division is controlled by capacitance, and if the contacts are enclosed in a steel tank full of oil, the capacitance distribution is very uneven, perhaps 85% and 15% on two breaks, so the second break is not much use, and the distribution can be even worse with more breaks. I carried out experiments on our short circuit test plant using cathode ray oscillographs to measure the actual distribution immediately after current zero at interruption. This disclosed that with plain break circuit breakers the post arc currents flowing were sufficient to overbalance the capacitance currents and provide a more or less equal distribution of voltage across all the breaks.

However, with arc control devices the interruption was far more effective, the post arc current was almost zero, and the voltage distribution followed closely that controlled by capacitance. This was used in support of a 66,000 volt single break design, made by one of our engineers, for a London power station, as the theoretical justification of building it with only one break, at a time when competitors' designs had several. Those circuit breakers operated in London for about fifty years. I received the John Hopkinson award from the IEE for my paper on this work. After that my work was largely electromechanical, developing new forms of circuit breakers, some based on Prince's ideas, but applied to British requirements. In these, the oil, instead of being pushed by the arc, was pushed mechanically across the arc. His famous Boulder Dam breaker had eight breaks in an insulation tube, with capacitance voltage control, and a very large spring mechanism which forced the oil across the arc. This breaker operated in three cycles from trip to interruption, on a 287,000 volt circuit. My impulse circuit breakers used compressed air mechanisms which I thought were simpler than the spring designs. When the war came, we were all put on war work...

Aspray:

Still working for the company?

World War II: Aircraft Electrics

Flurscheim:

Yes, still working for the company. My initial work was developing portable outdoor substations to replace bombed-out substations. Then I was sent for by the Ministry of Aircraft Production and I was given a rather unusual task. They said, "Your job is to improve the electrics in our aircraft." Rather wide terms of reference!

Aspray:

Yes.

Flurscheim:

This is what I spent the rest of the war doing. I always had an interest in aircraft, so I was delighted to do this. I went 'round Bomber Command and Fighter stations, and examined captured German aircraft to see what needed improvement in our electrics. The first thing I found was that all our aircraft electric circuits were protected by fuses. In consequence, if any system was damaged in action sufficiently to cause an overload, the fuses blew and the pilot had no possibility of re-energizing, although in many cases of slight or temporary damage if re-energizing had been possible the system could have been made to work. This was causing many avoidable losses of aircraft and crew. I therefore suggested that these circuits should have circuit breakers, which would trip, but then make it possible for the pilot to re-energize the system. I developed an aircraft circuit breaker and demonstrated this at Bomber and Fighter station, and they asked to have those. To get them in production they had to be tested by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, but they said, "We've always had fuses, we don't need circuit breakers, so we won't test them." So I returned to the Bomber and Fighter Commands and I said, "If you want these circuit breakers you must make Farnborough test them." They were tested. In all I developed four different types with many rating two to 200 amperes twenty-four volts, 4000A short circuit, and these went into mass production in several factories.

Aspray:

What aircraft were they used in?

Flurscheim:

They went into the later edition of the bombers and fighters towards the end of the war. It took quite a long time to get all this done. For example, the Lincoln used forty of these.

Aspray:

Yes.

Flurscheim:

Another development was electrically operated undercarriages. We had a bomber, called the Stirling, which had an electrically operated undercarriage. When the undercarriage was down, this generated half the total air resistance, so it was vitally important when taking off to have quick retraction. It was also important that if you lost the electrics, you could wind it down by hand reasonably quickly. This undercarriage took a minute to retract electrically, ten times too long, and if they lost the electrics it took an hour to wind down by hand because the mechanical efficiency of the mechanism was about 12%, and crews were being killed. Clearly electric undercarriages required high efficiency. I developed an electro-mechanical scheme intended for the Lancaster which would have 90% efficiency and went to the Ministry of Aircraft Production with this. They were doubtful about it working and gave us an order to develop if for the Airspeed Oxford Trainer, the undercarriage of which was similar to the Lancaster but on half the scale.

I developed this, and it operated perfectly, protected by my circuit breakers, with electrical and manual operating time of about six seconds and it weighed less than the hydraulics it replaced. I went on the test flights for this and the pilot was so astonished with the quick retraction he started playing with it, as you could raise and lower while you were flying. The motor was only short-rated because you didn't need a continuous-rated motor for an undercarriage. I thought "Do I stop him doing this, or do I trust my circuit breakers?" I trusted the circuit breakers because I thought it would be disastrous psychologically to tell him he must stop. He went on operating and every now and then the circuit-breaker tripped, then the circuit-breaker would reset and he could continue. This unit worked safely for many years. Following these tests the Air Ministry said, "All right, we'll give you an order, full-scale for the Lincoln Bomber," which was being developed as the successor to the Lancaster, the primary bomber in the war. My design used a ball recirculating screw which is a screw system in which the load is taken by balls, and these recirculate and return themselves into the nut through a spiral circuit. This was invented about 1850, but it requires extreme accuracy to make it work efficiently. Its first successful operation in production appeared about 1939 in the steering gear of a car. I developed the first electrically driven recirculating screw applied to aircraft. It had to extend about three feet and swivel during this movement. I developed the screw thread form and the whole system from zero. It had a motor driven gearbox, and electrically operated brakes to lock the down and retracted positions, and an emergency compressed air operation; it retracted or lowered electrically or in emergency by compressed air in six seconds, had 90% efficiency, and weighed 10% less than the hydraulics system it replaced. The two stage development delayed this too long, and it only completed its type tests as the war ended. Metropolitan Vickers then gave up all its aircraft interests and except for a number of smaller ball screw actuators I had also developed, these never went into production.

Early Fusion Torous System

Flurscheim:

As I felt the aircraft industry would be reduced in size by a factor of about ten, I decided to stay with Metropolitan Vickers and then developed air-blast circuit breakers in voltages up to 500,000. In due course I became Chief Engineer of the Switchgear Department and then Assistant Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Vickers Company.

In 1955 we received an order from the Harwell Atomic Energy Research authority to design and build what was one of the earliest fusion torous systems. It was a very complicated structure and I had overall responsibility for managing the design, which was carried out by four of our product divisions. It was completed on time and worked as its specification, and although it did not achieve fusion, it was used over the next twenty years for fusion development research which has now, at last, been successful in producing 1000KW for one second. We have a long way to go still, perhaps another thirty years to achieve a fusion power station. I then became Technical Director of Metropolitan Vickers, at a time when we were employing about 20,000 people.

Duties as MV Technical Director

Aspray:

What were the responsibilities of a technical director?

Flurscheim:

These varied with changes in the MV-AEI organization, but included influencing overall company policy through the Metropolitan Vickers main board; managing the company's research, development and engineering policy, and finance; the extent of long term and more immediate development; promotion or recruitment for senior engineering positions, and salary policy.

There was also managing central engineering service, including system engineering; central computer service; central standards department; industrial design for engineering departments (which I set up); advanced technical training courses for inhouse engineers; special contracts such as the engineering contribution to the Bhopal heavy electrical engineering factory constructed by Metropolitan Vickers for the Indian government - which involved provision of generator, transformer and switchgear designs for Bhopal to manufacture, and several years’ training in the Metropolitan Vickers factory of about 200 Indian engineers to operate the engineering departments at Bhopal. We had many problems with this, but it was very interesting and I thought worthwhile in helping India, although we lost money in the overall work involved.

Aspray:

As Technical Director, where were you in the management structure of the company?

Flurscheim:

I was Director of the Manchester Company. The company had a Managing Director, Technical Director, Director of Manufacture, and Commercial Director.

Aspray:

Did you meet as the internal board management for the company?

Flurscheim:

Yes, we had weekly meetings about the running of the company and I had an engineering meeting periodically with the chief engineers. We had sixteen departments, so sixteen chief engineers.

Man-Machine Engineering & Circuit Breakers

Aspray:

Did you have dealings with customers when you were at that level?

Flurscheim:

I had dealings with customers as a director and earlier when I was designing equipment. The Metropolitan Vickers policy in my department, was that, as I designed the equipment, on important projects I should go out and sell it, because I knew more about it than the sales people did. So I traveled around the world selling circuit breakers - Canada, Australia, India, South Africa, Finland, Spain and of course England and Scotland. I also had dealings with important clients as Director when company policy was involved. I had a particular interest in man-machine relationships. When I was designing my undercarriage for the Lincoln bomber, I was associated with an engineer by the name of Roy Chadwick, who was the designer of the Lancaster and the Lincoln bombers, a brilliant artist as a designer. The Lancaster was designed originally with two Rolls-Royce engines, with twenty-four cylinders each, but these proved to be unreliable. He was told to change it to four twelve-cylinder engines. To change a bomber from two twenty-four-cylinder engines into four twelve-cylinder engines is a major task. The Lancaster came out of this the best bomber in the war. I had an association with this engineer and admired him greatly. Just after the end of the war, he was going on a test flight in one of his bombers and it crashed, and he was killed, and the reason was that the ailerons were connected in reverse, so when the pilot thought he was banking one way, it tilted the other way. This was possible because you could connect the ailerons in reverse, but a thing like that should be designed so that you can't connect it in reverse.

This drew my attention very forcibly to man-machine engineering. This became rather an obsession of mine, all aspects of man-machine design, ergonomics, aesthetics, and safety and I specialized in this very much. For instance, my high-voltage circuit breakers were designed with special reference to accessibility. At that time, to change the contacts of a high-voltage circuit breaker took anything from about six hours to a couple of days, according to the design. I organized mine so that it could be done in three minutes. The Snowy River scheme in Australia wanted 300,000-volt circuit breakers. In England we had no orders for this hydroelectric system at all and I was sent out to Australia to try and get the circuit-breaker order. I said, "Well, I'll go out to get the orders, but only if you'll send them one of my circuit breakers out there." And one of my 300,000-volt circuit breakers, (single pole) was sent to Sydney. We had a factory there, and I trained one of the fitters to get the contacts out. You switched off, let the compressed air out, and in three minutes the contacts were on the ground. The power company sent their engineers, and I demonstrated this to them. We got all the orders for all the circuit breakers! Apart from this these breakers were otherwise at that time "the best available".

Aspray:

And this would have been how much business?

Flurscheim:

Well it was all the 300,000-volt circuit breakers they needed, which was about twenty of them at that time. I suppose in today's money it would be several million pounds.

My experience is that it is very important in business transactions to ensure that what one says is strictly true. When I was a young engineer and had just been appointed in charge of our high voltage circuit breakers, I had to go see the chief engineer of a British power company who wanted some rather non-standard high voltage circuit breakers, which I had only a few hours to study. This man was known to dislike Metropolitan Vickers. He had never given an order, and our local agent was terrified of him! He cross-examined me about our design, and I managed to answer the first dozen questions. Then he asked me a question for which I did not know the answer, so I said, "I'm sorry, I don't know the answer to that", to which he replied, "Then you can have the order". I got quite a reputation for this quite unexpected success.

In all, I designed about twenty-five new circuit breakers, but became involved in one serious failure, in which the physiological reaction was rather similar, when one of these blew up in Finland. I went there to investigate and found their insulated neutral network was so designed that it put almost double the normally accepted voltage system across one phase. I said, "My circuit breaker has failed because your network design put excessive stress across it, but we have supplied this equipment to work on your network so we will redesign these breakers to meet these conditions.” The Finnish engineers said "Come back tomorrow." I did, and then they said, "We agree our network is very bad which has caused this failure, which is as much our responsibility as yours, so we will pay half the cost." The Finns are very honest people.

Efforts to Standardize AEI Products

Flurscheim:

Later I became Technical Director of Associated Electrical Industries, which included Metropolitan Vickers, British Thompson-Houston, and Fergusson Paillion, and other companies, but AEI had come under financial criticism by the city of London.

When I was Chief Engineer of Switchgear I had proposed that the three switchgear companies within AEI should rationalize their products rather than compete against each other, but this was refused at top level. Ten years later this was done for all AEI products and significant economies were initiated, but this was too late in improving AEI finance to convince the city, which supported the take-over of AEI by GEC (England), which had a rather brilliant financial wizard who ran it. I saw there would be major problems in rationalizing the overall engineering within GEC and agreed to join them to help in this work, but this was a mistake as the Managing director of GEC and I had different ideas of what a technical director should do, and I left the company.

Aspray:

Will you elaborate on that point?

Flurscheim:

I felt the Director of Engineering should carry out most of the functions I have listed above and, especially, assist in reducing duplication of similar design activity in the expanded GEC division. GEC policy was however to give these divisions complete autonomy, except for centered financial control, which made this ineffective. GEC and I looked on this function from quite different viewpoints, so after a year I left, and at sixty-three became an independent consultant, working for various firms, but especially Merz & McLlellan and the Design Council.

Consulting Work & Textbooks

Flurscheim:

Soon after this, five British electrical consulting organizations asked me to be Chairman of the nuclear engineering consulting "Associated Nuclear Services" they had created to handle their joint nuclear interests, and I held this until I was seventy.

While I was doing this I went to Australia to lecture on behalf of Merz and McLlellan, and electrical professors from Sydney and Melbourne suggested I should write a book on circuit breakers. At that time I had no intention of doing this, but when I got back I decided this was in fact a good idea, and I organized to edit one on Theory and Design of Power Circuit Breakers, writing part of it myself and bringing in about eight specialists to write parts of it. This was published by the IEE in 1975, and still remains the only textbook on this subject available anywhere. The largest sales have been in the United States.

Aspray:

So it continues to be reprinted?

Flurscheim:

It's been reprinted and re-edited twice. It's now in paperback, but I'm not sure whether the IEE will reprint it again — it's nearly twenty years old. I wrote it supported by Merz and McLlellan, who provided me with a secretary; it would have been quite impossible without one. I wrote about a quarter of it, and the rest was written by the specialists. Then I thought, "Well, I have written one book - I'll write another one!" I wrote this one myself, on the problems of managing complicated engineering jobs. That was published by the Design Council, which is the independent body here concerned with industrial design, but also to some extent engineering design.

Aspray:

How was this book received?

Flurscheim:

It sold about 2,000 copies, not very many. It's very specialized, but it was well received by people who read it. My switchgear book is also very specialized and not many people need it. Only those who need to design or use circuit breakers will use and read this, so it sold about 5,000 copies.

Then I thought, "Well, a major interest of mine is industrial design and the man-machine interface. "I decided to edit and write a third book, which is on human-factor engineering, (if I use American terms), and I wrote about a third of that, and got industrial designers to write the sections. Industrial Design in Engineering was published by the Design Council. Again, it's been well received by those who read it, but only about 2,000 or so have been sold.

Aspray:

So it covers topics like ergonomics, machine graphics, and man-machine interfaces and such?

Flurscheim:

Yes.

Aspray:

How long have you continued to work for the consulting firm?

Flurscheim:

Well I retired from being the Chairman of Associated Nuclear Services, at my own request, when I was seventy, in part because I thought they should have a younger man, and in part because I was going to have a hip operation. I went on working for Merz & McLlellan for another seven years, and my last paid consultancy was in 1991 when I was eighty-five. I'm now retired.

Aspray:

Unless something enticing enough comes along?

Flurscheim:

No, I won't do any more. So that's all my engineering career. I was rather pleased to be made a Doctor ScD, by Cambridge, and to be made an honorary Fellow of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. The IEE have 100,000 members; they're not as big as IEEE. They make two honorary Fellows a year, one of which is usually outside the engineering industry, like Prince Phillip, or someone like that, and one is a member. I was honored to be elected an honorary Fellow ten years ago.

Management & Design Philosophies

Aspray:

Do you want to take a few minutes to tell me about your management and design philosophy? Some of the things that you felt that you wanted to write about?

Flurscheim:

Well, the management of engineering is largely a question of how you organize engineers. Do you organize to have a design team that designs everything? Say, taking a turbine, do you design a complete turbine, or do you have specialist teams, one to design the blades, one to design the bearings, one to design the condensers, one to design the rotor, and a coordination team that puts together all these bits. For circuit breakers this might mean sections for closing mechanisms, interupters, immulators and their assembly into circuit breakers. There are cases for doing the whole design in one, and there are cases for having specialist designs, and the management has to decide which of these methods is best for the particular circumstances. If you are designing a large number of different turbines, circuit breakers, it may be advisable to have specialist sections. You then generate highly-specialized knowledge and just stick it together. However, it can equally well be advisable to design the whole machine right through in one team if you're only making a small number. You get better standardization by having separate sections, but if you're only making a few and standardization is then less important, it may be better to have one team designing the whole because the coordination of the whole unit is better.

A little point of philosophy is that if you employ a consultant on, shall we say, the safety of a machine, you should bring him in at the start. You don't wait until half way through and say, "Now, what shall we do about safety? What do we do about appearance?" It's too late. The consultant should be brought in at the start, so that he's part of the team. An American friend of mine Philip Alger pointed out that if you have employed a consultant, for instance, to advise you on thermal stress in a rotor, you should make sure this is acknowledged, because the only recognition a consultant usually gets is what's given to him by the design organization. A consultant is a human being; he likes and needs to have acknowledgement, not just the fees.

When you have a new product, you shouldn't allow it to be shipped until it has been proved to be reliable. This may require quite a strong stance to be taken by the engineering management because the commercial force will of course press for it to be delivered on time. There should be a safety analysis done on all machinery where there is some risk. You need to avoid stupid things, for instance causing an oil leak in the sea. The reason for one of these oil leaks was that there was a valve which could be put on the right way up or upside down, and somebody put it on upside down. Just like that aileron situation. So you need careful reliability analysis of 3D design and control systems, and on complicated and important machinery; this should be done by independent engineers who aren't influenced by internal pressures. No doubt this is done in aircraft, but in ordinary industry it's not done as much as it should be. You need independent analysis, not only for reliability and safety, but also perhaps for your own protection legally. With the legal situation in America, designing things must be a risk nowadays. We here in England are gradually copying that legal situation. So it's highly important that equipment is not only designed safely, but that you can show it has been designed safely, and you've taken the best contemporary advice you could to prove this.

Some other aspects of engineering policy include influencing the extent to which specifications for new products are written prior to initiating the development. These tend to be inadequate to afford an effective basis for guiding and controlling the direction, time scale and cost of subsequent work. The degree of standardization of new products, then sub-assemblies modular components, details and materials are other important policy issues affecting company performance. These are some of the aspects of engineering which I consider important for the technical management to influence.

Aspray:

What can you tell me about training engineers for management?

Flurscheim:

There are two kinds of training, in house and academic. Both seem to me to be important. For example, the Academy of Engineering here, which comprises the 1000 senior engineers from the 200,000 qualified engineers in Britain, finances a number of young engineers to go to academic training courses for management of engineers in various countries - USA, France, Switzerland.

Aspray:

Did you find it difficult to identify engineers coming up through the ranks who thought would be qualified to be a manager?

Flurscheim:

I did not find it difficult to identify the few outstanding men. For example, Mel John, who later became President of the IEE (& FIEEE), whom you may like to interview. I organized "in house" training for him to become my successor by sending him to a range of departments, with different problems. He is now senior partner of Kennedy and Donkin, consultants, (as he left after the GEC takeover). It was also easy to select Dr. Mortlock (also FIEEE), who succeeded me, because of his obvious brilliance - (the IEEE gave him one of their senior awards).

I found it more difficult to select from those who are perhaps "good" but not "outstanding", and one or two promotions from this category were not as successful as I could have wished. A director's work is not of course the same as that of a company managing director, but I never had the ambition to be Managing Director.

Aspray:

And why is that?

Flurscheim:

Well, my interest has always been design and management design. I have never wanted to manage the commercial or manufacturing functions, and doubt if I would be very good at it, whereas I think I was competent as Technical Director.

Aspray:

Do you think it is important for a managing director to have technical training and experience in a technically oriented company?

Flurscheim:

I think it is important that there should be a balanced approach to finance and engineering at the top level, perhaps shared between Chairman and Managing Director, if one is financial and the other technical, as long as they cooperate. I think MVSAEI suffered to some extent from excessive engineering power and GEC from excessive financial power. It is very difficult to maintain an optimum balance, as there are very few top level managers who have deep experience of both engineering and finance. You really need broad minded people as managers. When I was Technical Director of Metropolitan Vickers, the first managing director was an outstanding research chap, but not financially conscious. When he left, he was succeeded by a manufacturing man, an Australian, who was very down to earth, an excellent managing director. He understood engineering and manufacturing very well and the importance of finance, and he was excellent at dealing with people, which is very important in a managing director.

Circuit Breakers & Turbine Generators

Aspray:

Maybe we can turn to the other subject that I had wanted to ask you about. We face this problem of not being engineers, and planning to write a book covering many of these topics, and we need some guidance about what were some of the important things that happened during the period of your career in these areas that you know so well. If you could give us recommendations about what are the topics that are most appropriate to put into an account, a one-volume history, of electrical technology, that would be very useful to us.

Flurscheim:

I'll tell you about circuit breakers, which was my career. I suppose the major steps were from plain oil break to arc controlled systems. Effective arc controlled devices were introduced around 1930 or so. Later oil was changed to compressed air, to air blast circuit breakers about 1945. The next major change was using SF6 gas as an interrupter about 1960. It was a method developed originally by Westinghouse. In parallel with that there was the development of vacuum circuit breakers done originally by General Electric in America, and by Metropolitan Vickers in England around 1960. This was one of the difficult subjects when I was Director. I maintained vacuum development for many years, which was very expensive, even though it was objected to by the board. They said, "No way!" because of its cost. But in due course it became highly successful in the lower voltages up to about 22,000 volts, although not at the higher voltages which I had hoped for because of cost in comparison with development of SF6. Vacuum interruption and SF6 gas interruption are the present day systems. SF6 is used at all voltages and is therefore more widely available.

If you look at turbine generators, the major changes to consider are from air cooling to hydrogen cooling. Hydrogen cooling was developed in USA and then followed water cooling of the stator conductors. This was developed by Metropolitan Vickers, and is now general practice. One might think that super-conductive cooling of the windings may one day be economical, but not until conductors operating with liquid nitrogen cooling are mechanically satisfactory.

Aspray:

What about circuit breakers and other electromechanical devices for the aerospace industry?

Flurscheim:

Well, I told you about the ones I developed, which were new in their time. Unfortunately I have not kept up with what has gone on since then, so I am not knowledgeable to talk about modern aircraft.

Aspray:

If you were to identify just a few other people from your field, not only in the UK but from worldwide, people who had made real contributions, or who knew a lot of people and a lot of events, who could give a good overview, who would you suggest?

Flurscheim:

My trouble is that nearly everybody I know of is dead! At eighty-seven, not all that many are still parading. In England, you should go to Mel John at Kenley and Donkin who has a wide knowledge of the electrical industry. Dr. Mike Reece, just retired from GEC Research, is very knowledgeable on theoretical aspects. Perhaps, on further thought, the engineer with the widest experience of all is my friend Professor Edward Allibone, formerly Director of the AEI long-term research laboratories (similar to the GE Laboratories in Schenectady), then Chief Scientific Officer of the Central Electricity Generating Board, and who also worked on the atomic bomb in the USA during the war. He is still doing research in London universities despite being over ninety.

Aspray:

Are there any other things you would like to talk about?

Flurscheim:

I think I have probably filled enough tapes, haven't I?

Aspray:

Thank you then, this has been very helpful.