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First-Hand:More Contributions of Russell E. Theisen

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IBM 1964 [ The power system problem] By Russ Theisen IEEE Life Senior Member

In 1964 I was employed by IBM in Endicott, N.Y. to help build the first IBM Solid Logic Computer, the IBM 360-20. This computer was produced using ceramic modules about the time the first Integrated circuits were products.

One of the jobs that I was assigned, was to develop a way for the printing vendor to make printed punch cards with ink that had the proper reflectivity, so the card readers could scan them and determine the proper punch timing.

I had calibrated a reflectivity density meter and it had been returned to a local printer vendor to print the cards.

The vendor called and said that the instrument was not operating and was no good.

My manager was up set that I had not calibrated the unit correctly. I assured him that it was calibrated correctly.

I asked if I could go to the print shop and observe how the vendor was using it. My manager said we do not make service calls outside of the IBM plant. I told him that I was sure the problem lay with the way the vendor was using the instrument. Finally with my managers approval, I called the vendor and asked if I could come over and help fix the problem. He agreed and I left for the vendors printing shop.

When I arrived the vendor took me to the printer. It was located in the back of the shop some 60 feet from the front offices of the building.

He showed me how he was using the test instrument.

It was obvious what the problem was when the lights dimmed each time the printer was operated. I asked him if I could measure his facility power. He agreed and I measured the AC, alternating current power at the 100 foot extension cord that he had plugged in at an office AC outlet and ran 100 foot back to the printing machine. It measured 92 volts RMS, root mean square. And every time the printer motor would cycle on, the power dropped to less than 85 volts RMS.

I showed the vendor what was the reading and then showed the power requirements of the reflectometer which was 120 Volts RMS + or – 5 volts RMS.

He asked me what he should do I told him to get a voltage regulator for the reflectometer and get the building facility power up to specification or not use the 100 extension cord that could not handle both the printer and the test instrument.

I told him that Solotron made a unit that could correct the power problem for the test instrument and that I might be able to get the loan of such an instrument from IBM. I returned to IBM and told my manager what I had proposed and he said we will have to charge him for it. I said that the reflectometer was a device that we loaned him to do a job for us, so we should try to make sure that he does a good job by helping him out. I finally got the OK and I returned to the vendor’s print shop with the Voltage regulator.

While I was gone the vendor went out and bought another 100 foot extension cord for the print reflectometer test instrument.

I connected up the unit and made sure the vendor know how to use it and we made several test to make sure he was satisfied.

This could have been a bad situation for both the vendor and IBM, but the problem was averted with both parties being satisfied.

I had many times that I was able to avert a bad technical practice during my 2 years at IBM.