Industry Profile - Texas Instruments Ltd
The Texas Instruments story began in 1930 with Clarence Kaccher and Eugene McDermott setting up a company called Geophysical Service Incorporated. They had to design and build their own equipment and relied heavily on electronics technology. During World War II, GSI built military equipment for locating submarines.
In 1951 Texas Instruments was formed and was the first company to produce commercially available silicon transistors and these rapidly replaced earlier germanium devices. GSI was still retained as a subsidiary for seismic research and development.
In 1956, Texas used their advanced scientific computer for oil exploration, enabling a new type of 3-dimensional geophysical survey.
Today, Texas employs over 89,000 people and has more than 50 plants in 19 countries. When TI's plant at Bedford opened in 1957 it was the first extension of the company outside the USA. It is the UK headquarters for Texas Instruments and Geophysical Service International. In 1970 a new factory started operation at Plymouth and is now one of the main plants within the EEC manufacturing integrated circuits.
The 'IC' was a Texas innovation, invented in 1958 by research engineer Jack Kilby. An IC is basically an electronic circuit containing a large number of individual components, mainly transistors, on a silicon chip of wafer-thin silicon. Silicon itself is the second most abundant element on the earth's surface, occurring naturally in quartz or as common sand. It is refined to an ultra-high state of purity and then formed into a single cylindrical crystal, several inches in diameter, from which the thin circular wafers are sliced. Each slice will yield dozens of IC chips and complex fabrication techniques allow hundreds of thousands separate transistors to be fitted into a total area of quarter of an inch square.
By 1971 Texas had produced the first single chip microcomputer which enabled their advanced calculator products to become pocket sized.
TI Semiconductor Division established a large circuit design facility in Bedford. Here the specification is decided and the circuit designs and logic diagrams are produced. This is then analysed by computer to evaluate how well the circuit will perform. A functional layout is made that adapts the logic to the silicon chip and this is digitized and stored in the computer which allows design changes to be made as necessary and finally assembles all the circuit elements into a complete layout. The computer tape now holds all the information on the circuit geometries so that the chip is completely described in digital form. This information can be rapidly transmitted to an area where electron beam equipment will place the circuit patterns on to slices of silicon which are then processed and tested.
Finally, the processed slices are split into individual chips and assembled in finished packages at the highly automated plant in Plymouth.
In Bedford, a team of over 50 software and applications engineers spend their time solving customers' problems. New products like Zero One — micro electronic control of several trains running on a single track — developed for Hornby model train sets, and the superb speech synthesis card which is featured as our main project this month. High voltage power transistors are designed and manufactured at Bedford while opto-electronic devices and a whole range of linear, digital, bipolar and MOS electronic circuits are also produced by other Texas companies.
The three main areas of development for Texas are in semiconductors, consumer electronics and distributed computing systems. The latter allows the end-user direct access to computer facilities, relying on low cost, flexible computer terminal and storage systems. The Digital Systems Division of TI at Bedford produced the portable 'bubble memory' computer, storing large amounts of data even without power connected.
The production, administration and communication of the company obviously benefit from its computer systems and a satellite based global communications network — the largest private on-line system in the world Microprocessors are used in sophisticated robots which assemble low cost calculators and take over the tedious job of connecting the tiny bond wires in ICs.
Consumer electronics is a rapidly growing area and all started in 1954 with the first commercial transistor 'Regency' radio. But the single chip pocket calculator in the early '70's bought the biggest step forward, with Texas producing low cost scientific and business designs such as the first solid-state analogue watch and a wide range of learning aids including the popular 'Speak and Spell' instrument which uses an IC to synthesise the human voice. Speech synthesis is also used in a new language translator and in TI's home computer (which also makes music!).
Government radar and laser guidance systems along with airport surveillance, marine communications, infra-red scanning, space probe research and industrial control products all make up the wide scope of Texas Instruments.
It is hard to describe in a few words the tremendous activity that goes on at the Bedford plant. My visit proved very informative and Chris Followlel, responsible for hobbyist consumer relations, was at liberty to show me all the relevant factory departments, despite the 'restricted area' notices!
Gathered under one immense roof in the design/software applications building are many highly qualified engineers and this forms just one part of the large plant area built up around a central quadrangle. Efficiency and productivity are definitely key words for any TI employee and the promise of 'equal opportunities' for promotion is also a major factor in the company's success and to enable the Bedford company to beat the recession, managing director Robb Wilmot has instigated 'people and asset effectiveness' programs to increase the productivity per employee.
Most of the staff are graduate trained in scientific and computing subjects and the senior engineers are definitely orientated to sales and marketing as well. Since Texas net sales exceeded £1772 million in 1980, it is indeed encouraging that the company's interests can extend right down to the practical hobbyist market, where profits must be insignificant.
The whole atmosphere seems conducive to good research and development, with groups of engineers sited in 'cubicle' sections that give a surprisingly quiet background noise in the building. Many engineers spend much of their time working on projects that require travelling to the company concerned. Mike Lloyd, in charge of TI implementation of our WORDMAKER, certainly ensured that the project kept to its deadlines, despite a business trip to Belgium.
At present, the Bedford factory areas produce power transistors and a new 'clean room' will soon be completed for maintaining the high quality required in manufacturing silicon based components.
The future looks good for Texas, and with the combined development of home computer and general consumer products, we can look forward to further innovative ideas from this large company.
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