Heurikon from the Air 2

Heurikon from the Air 2

 A photo courtesy of Darrel Meyer:

"Just a couple of pictures I took flying around one day."

Heurikon from the Air 1

Heurikon from the Air 1

A photo courtesy of Darrel Meyer:

"Just a couple of pictures I took flying around one day."

 

Our Beginnings

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Original publication date: October 1991

Heurikon Historical Highlights

A series of articles for The Horizon
by Jeffrey Mattox

Our Beginnings

With this issue, The Horizon starts a series of articles about Heurikon’s early years, in particular the middle to late 1970s.  During that period, Heurikon went from a basement start-up to being a hopeful “other” in the Multibus I market.

The company was born out of Chris Priebe’s association with two electrical engineering students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Chris was working on his master’s of fine arts degree and asked the engineers to help with his art projects that involved sound and light.  In 1972, the three students decided to start a business.  They had intended to build an alarm system to prevent in-store thefts of turntable cartridges and styluses (“The Cartridge Cop”).

Sheldon Street

Heurikon’s basement beginnings, 1972-1974 at 621 Sheldon Street.


basement

John Burdick looks on as Chris works on a mechanical drawing (the drawing board was in an upstairs bedroom).  Another room was used for circuit board fabrication and a third room housed a large copy camera.


Instead, Heurikon’s first product was an electronic timer-sequencer called the MTS-2000.  It had a small keyboard for entering time values to control the on/off sequencing of 20 output signals.  General-purpose microprocessors weren’t available then, so the device used hundreds of simple logic chips and a “brute force” design to implement the functions.

mts

Only five of these instruments were ever sold, but that gave us our start.  This was Heurikon’s first product, the MTS-2000, a multichannel timer-sequencer.  It sold for $690.00.


For the first two years, the operation was a part-time venture, and extraordinary efforts were used to keep costs down.  For example, the circuit boards for the MTS-2000 were photographed, etched, and drilled in the basement workshop, and the benches were made from plywood and two-by-fours.  In 1974, one of the engineers left the group, so Chris and the remaining founder, John Burdick, advertised for their first employee, an electrical engineer.  That would be me.

On my initial visit to the basement, I was at first dumbfounded by the dilapidated environment (I had expected to find something more like our current offices), but I was soon impressed with the keen vision and plans that Chris and John had for Heurikon.  At that time, they were preparing a booth for an international machine-tool trade show in Chicago, and were about to ship MTS-2000s to NASA, JPL, Cal-Tech, and American Cyanamid — our first customers.

Our First Micro

About the same time as I joined Heurikon, the technology was changing from discrete logic to microcomputers.  Within a few days, we bought our first Intel 8080 chip at a single-piece price of $360.00 (compared with only a few bucks today).  My job was to design and build a prototype microcomputer around the chip.  I clearly remember wire-wrapping our first board, double- and triple-checking the work, installing all the chips (except the processor!), and doing a smoke test.  Finally, after everything else was working, I inserted the 8080 and crossed my fingers.  I had the feeling that if that first 8080 went up in smoke, so would Heurikon.

Fortunately, it didn’t smoke — it worked perfectly on the first try.  There weren’t any microcomputer programs back then, so the first bytes that we “toggled in” were for a simple routine that just blinked the lights on the front panel.  But that was good enough for lots of cheers and many hours of gazing.
Heurikon’s product focus changed as much as the technology did during the early years.  After the MTS-2000, we directed our efforts toward industrial controls.  Unfortunately, there already were some large and well-established players in that market, so we never got very far.  However, while contacting people and trying to sell them general-purpose controls, we came across many applications that were perfect for custom microcomputer designs.  Soon, we were doing custom work for companies who were just beginning to use microcomputers in their plants and products and, as yet, had no in-house design ability.

We began to seek out custom design projects, and we built the business on them.  For example, we made computer controls for outdoor advertising light displays, data acquisition systems, and point-of-sale terminals.  While we were doing that, the microcomputer industry was being born in Silicon Valley and so, too, were companies such as MITS (who sold the first home computer) and Apple Computer (one of the few originals who are still around).  At our beginning, we were not unlike some of those early ventures; I believe the main difference was that we were in Madison, far from the California-based microcomputer mainstream.  All things considered, that may have been good; there was no frenzy here.

The MLP-8080

Many of our early systems used the “MLP-8080,” our first microcomputer printed circuit board.  (“MLP” stood for micro-logic processor.  When we switched to the Zilog Z80 chip, we simply changed the P to a Z.)  The MLP-8080 was a two-layer printed circuit board and sported 2,048 bytes each of ROM and RAM — not too bad for those days, but no match for the 10-layer boards with megabytes of memory that we make today.  At that time there were no standard buses such as Multibus or VMEbus, so we defined our own bus and built a series of other boards and products based on the MLP-8080.

mlp8080

This MLP-8080 was Heurikon’s first microcomputer board.  The wide power traces shared the two circuit layers with the data and control signals.  The two 40-pin chips are the 8080 processor (center) and a UART for the single serial port (left).  Each of the eight ROMs held only 256 bytes of data.  Price: $1035.00.


The systems we built in the early years were “turnkey.”  That is, we took on the responsibility for the entire system working properly, and we wrote the customer’s entire application program.  Our customers needed to add very little.  On the other hand, we built only a few of any one thing, so we moved quickly from one project to another.

In the following issues of The Horizon, I’ll describe some of those projects and the stories behind them.  Although small by comparison with our current customers and production levels (today, we ship more every week than we did in all of 1979), those first customers and projects were responsible for our early success and are the foundation for our being here today.

Many of the computers we built back in the ’70s are still in operation — you’ll be surprised at where.

NEXT MONTH: Our name is put up in lights.


[SIDEBAR]:  “Read More About It”

To learn more about the evolution of the home computer and those exciting times, read Fire in The Valley; The Making of the Personal Computer, by Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine (Berkeley: Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 1984).  Their book chronicles the people and companies who were responsible for the birth of the home computer and much of the microcomputer industry.  Find out how Apple Computer, Microsoft, Byte magazine, and dozens of small fry got their start.

Employee List - October 1987

Employee List 1987

I oughta be able to find an older one if I keep digging...

Heurikon Historical Highlights – Introduction

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 Heurikon Historical Highlights

 

Between October 1991 and September 1992, I wrote a series of articles for the Heurikon Horizon, our in-house newsletter.  Over the next several months I'll be posting those articles to exHeurikon.com (hopefully, a bit more frequently than when they originally appeared).

 

  • Our Beginnings (original publish date: Oct 1991)
  • Arrow Sign Company, Inc. (Nov 91)
  • Oscar Mayer & Company (Dec 91)
  • Cue-Nique Micro-Logic Manufacturing, Ltd. (Jan 92)
  • Sonic Boom Lines (Feb 1992)
  • How Programs Were Made in the Old Days (March 92)
  • The General Electric Company (April 92)
  • The MLZ-DAQ – Madison Water Utility (May 92)
  • EEKK and Del-Monte Corporations (June 92)
  • NIKA Corporation (July 92)
  • Our Domiciles (Aug 92)

 

One of them describes the world's first portable computer.  Yes, Heurikon built it.  Stay tuned.

 

Oh, when you see "today" in the articles, that means circia 1992.  Enjoy,

 

Jeff.

Optimism

optimism.jpg This from an ex-Heurikon engineer who sent me this image:

 

The image speaks for itself.

 

I had a paper version posted in my office, back in the days when it all seemed possible. :-)

 

Christmas at Heurikon

A little history.  These were sent out to the whole company back in 1994 and 1995.  They mention some of the old boards we sold back in those days.

 

 

Chistmas at Heurikon (or the Nightmare before Christmas)

'Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the place
all the people were hustling at a remarkable pace;
The boards were stacked-up in shipping with care
In hopes that Fed Ex soon would be there.

The Engineers were nestled all snug in their cubes
while visions of Laguna danced on their tubes
And all the VP's, having just finished eating
Had just settled down for a long budget meeting.

When over in sales there arose such a clatter
I ran down the hall to see what was the matter
Right past purchasing I flew like a flash
noticed the fish bowl and grabbed a fist full of cash.

The glow of the lights on the big shiny bell
which foretold of an order like a bat out'a hell
When in front of my face I saw Cindy C
Holding an order for Nitro-LC -
An order so large, she shouted with glee,
I knew in a moment it must be B.E.

And then Tom out of breath, a runnin' he came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:
"Now Vortex! Now Nitro! Phase I, II, & III
On Malibu, Laguna, and V960D.
To the top of the charts, right off the board
Now, Sell 'em, Go Sell 'em, Now Sell 'em, he roared.

Then Cheryl and Sandra and wee little Phylis
reminded us all that soon it'd be Christmas
and with so many reasons, we should all have a party
with food and with prizes, we can all eat up hearty.
We'll have 7 main courses and 30 desserts
we'll all gorge ourselves, we can eat till it hurts.

Our glorious leader, merry old Bob
conferred his approval with an all knowing nod
then he sprang to his desk, to his team gave a whistle
and away they all flew, with the speed of a missle
And we heard him exclaim as he faded from sight
"Make the shipments for the month, or I'll be back tonight."

But ignoring his warning, we broke out the beer,
Singing "Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year."

A. Byron, S. Raasch, P. Roberts;  1994

 

 

Chistmas at Heurikon (or the Nightmare before Christmas)

'Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the place
All the people were hustling at a remarkable pace;
The boards were stacked-up in shipping with care
In hopes that Fed Ex soon would be there.

The Engineers were nestled all snug in their cubes
While visions of Ciena danced on their tubes
And all the VP's, having just finished eating
Had just settled down for a long budget meeting.

When over in sales there arose such a clatter
I ran down the hall to see what was the matter.
I flew like the wind,  as fast as I could,
Lest Adriane catch me and make me give blood!

The glow of the lights on the big shiny bell,
Which foretold of an order like a bat out'a hell
When in front of my face I saw Melanie R.
Holding an order for Nitro-QR.
An order so large, she shouted with glee,
I knew in a moment it must be B.E.

And then Tom out of breath, a runnin' he came,
And he whistled and shouted and called them by name:
"Now Baja, now Greyhound, now Nitro NP!
"On Command Video and HDLC!
"To the top of the charts, right off the board
"Now sell 'em, go sell 'em, now sell 'em," he roared.

Then Tammy and Karen and wee little Phylis
Reminded us all that soon it'd be Christmas
And with so many reasons, we should all have a party
With food and with prizes, we can all eat up hearty.
We'll have 7 main courses and 30 desserts
We'll all gorge ourselves, we can eat till it hurts.

Our glorious leader, merry old Bob
Conferred his approval with an all knowing nod
Then he sprang to his desk, to his team gave a whistle
And away they all flew, with the speed of a missle
And we heard him exclaim as he faded from sight
"Make the shipments for the month, or I'll be back tonight."

But ignoring his warning, we broke out the beer,
Singing "Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year."

A. Byron, S. Raasch, P. Roberts;  1995

 

Manufacturing Video from 2002

This is a video I made back in 2002 giving a tour of the manufacturing facility at (then) Artesyn Communication Products.

 

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