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Control Panel Manufacturer

Biography > Other Organisations

A new company was formed called Hills Electrical (Mercian) Ltd in early 1979 to concentrate on making high tech control panels incorporating micro-processors. The way it happened was that a man that we shall call Paul Green approached my father with a plan to build large control panels.

We had some spare premises and so the company was born. Paul was the ultimate ladies man, medallion man as we used to call them. However he knew all about  large control panels and came with a background of people who would give us work.

The main work was building control panels for Marwin Machine Tools who would then integrate them with large complex tools for the automotive industry – largely Ford. My involvement to begin with was just to keep the books and make sure we got paid.
Cashflow as always going to be an issue because it took a long time to build the panels, and then a long time to get paid. We were up to nearly a years turnover in cash owing when I went to Marwin and gave them an ultimatum, either pay on time or we won’t work for you. They concluded that they didn’t want us to work for them and that stream of work dried up.

There were others but we struggled to find more work. Paul announced that he was going to leave to get married. It didn’t seem to make much sense but there it was. We reduced our labour force and tried to find more work.

As part of that attempt I got involved with MEM, a large British electrical manufacturer in Birmingham. They had just set up a division to make micro- controllers. I was keen on selling them and tried really hard to find customers. They decided as part of their sales effort that they would like a large display board making up for Electrex 82 – an electrical exhibition. I quoted the work at a low price because I knew how much they expected to pay.

The display unit was to consist of a back board of hard plastic through which would be driled many holes into which would be inserted white lights and colour changing LEDs. These would flick on and off to indicate the working of an RCD breaker. It would operate in multiple modes. The lamps would be mounted behind a Perspex screen and the whole enclosed in an aluminium shell. The whole unit was to be driven by the MEM controller. It was about 4 feet square with a depth of about 9 inches. There were maybe 200 12 v white lamps which were intended for indicators on a car and an equal number of LEDS. So in total there were something like a thousand wires which all had to be wired in place.

Then the only person who could program the thing was me. Except I couldn’t get my head round it. I worked feverishly trying to make the blessed thing work. The issue was that programmable controllers work on a clock cycle – they loop continually around the code that is written.  Whereas a normal program, which I could have written easily, just starts, goes through the code and stops. One of the issues amongst many was the heat generated by the lamps which bowed the Perspex – so we had to bolt it down more and more.

With the deadline upon me I worked in the workshop in the freezing cold all through  the weekend – soldering and unsoldering, coding and making it work. Eventually I got it 80% right and gave up. I went home and thawed out in the bath with my wife pouring kettles of boiling water into the bath.

Looking back I have no idea why I should have been the one doing all of the work, except I suppose that finding any one who could write code was almost impossible.

Shortly after the this incident we gave up and closed the company.

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