ANITA at its Zenith
An article in the journal 'New Electronics' of February 1970 describes the ANITA at its zenith:
Production of Anita Now Well Established
While the Japanese have been receiving a lot of attention for their use of MOS technology in desk calculating machines and the prophets have been forecasting that they will swamp and dominate the world market, Sumlock Comptometer has built up its production of Anita calculators to the stage where, at latter part of last year, it passed its long-aimed target of producing several hundred calculators a week.
Now the parent company, Lamson Industries Ltd., has recognised the expansion of the Anita calculating business and has formed a new company, Sumlock Anita Electronics Ltd., to be responsible for the design, development and manufacture of all its calculators. Sumlock Comptometer's sister company. Bell Punch, previously responsible for this activity, will concentrate on the production of ticket issuing machines, tickets and totalisators.
It is interesting to look a little at the history and development of the calculator business within the company. Bell Punch was formed in 1878 with the express purpose of producing ticket issuing systems and preprinted tickets. From these fare-collection systems, it broadened into the entertainment side, with totalisator machines, and then into the whole totalisator public indication business. After this came taximeters.
All these are figure instruments and a request came from London Transport before the last war for a simple adding machine. Thus, Bell Punch found themselves in the calculator business but all the machines made were of mechanical design. It says much for such a company with absolutely no previous electronics experience that it launched the world's first electronic calculator in 1961. Though this did nothing the previous models could not do, it eliminated operating noise and removed the delay in obtaining answers. These first Anita electronic calculators contained cold-cathode trigger tubes and, with the number of moving parts greatly reduced, it was hoped to improve the reliability factor of the machine.
At first, the company experienced a fair bit of trouble with these trigger tubes and, along with this, it took the market some time to accept the electronic machine. After about two years, however, sales took off and the company has not looked back.
Next came the transistorised Anita machine and now the MOS IC Anita 1000 series, of which there are currently five models. The company claims to have just under 50 percent of the U.K. market, a market that is expanding. Sales are mainly in the U.K. but outlets do exist overseas through distributors. Any competitor is considered seriously, according to R. Walter, managing director of Sumlock Comptometer, and with the price of the machines becoming an increasingly important factor, it seems the company must expand its export activities to keep the volume of production high and so minimise unit costs.
Production of Anita machines has trebled in the last five years, with the greatest increase occurring last year when the 1000 series was launched. A big selling point is service and some 25 percent of its machines on the market are rented. In fact, this side of the business is increasing with the percentage having risen from 20 over the last year.
With 34 offices across the country, rapid servicing is possible by qualified engineers. But any such operation like this is expensive and so a drive to improve reliability has been conducted along with the technical development that has taken place.
The printed-circuit boards plugged into mother boards principle is now used with the result that the majority of servicing can be done on the spot. Installation and service engineers, though, have been used to handling much more complex problems as previous machines did not contain PC boards. This ability to tackle difficult situations and the factory watch on reliability, has meant that the company is now able to boast a service call rate of 1.045 calls per annum since the new IC range was announced.
Apart from following the normal trends of reducing the machine size, improving reliability and increasing the speed of operation, another aim has been to make life easier for the operator by minimising the amount of human decision making. The use of up to seven Marconi-Elliott custom-designed MOS ICs, each containing some 200 transistors, has allowed this greater operating flexibility
Each machine has some 25 'active' PC boards and a total of 31 in a complete unit. These boards, which have their contact areas palladium plated, are made by the company itself and are produced at a five-figure rate a week to a high-standard.
Some 550 people are employed in the company's Portsmouth factories. A lot of these are still to be seen assembling components on to boards and one imagines that, for future models of Anita, the aim will be to increase the complexity of the MOS ICs, thus reducing the amount of assembly work to be done and the number of joints made.
From the servicing point of view however, there is an optimum unit replacement cost and here the company must decide where this lies. In the long term further developments could mean having an Anita small enough to fit in your pocket.
As well as the Portsmouth factory manufacturing circuit boards and keyboards, and assembling the calculators, a factory was opened in East Kilbride, Scotland, in the early 1970s where moulding and other piece-part production was centralised.
Calculators made by other Companies
For the first time in the late 1960s and early 1970s Sumlock Anita filled in some gaps in its calculator range by marketing calculators made by other companies. These included the mechanical Plusograph, and the electronic Wanderer Conti, Nixdorf Visible Record Computer, ANITA Business Computer, and Sumlock Business Computer and are described more fully in the section "Calculators made by other Companies".
The Lamson Industries Ltd. (the parent company) annual report of March 1970 was very upbeat about its calculators: "Sumlock Comptometer doubled its unit sales of electronic calculators on the home market, no mean feat against continuing pressure from competition supported by the full weight of the Japanese electronics industry".
Note that electronic calculators were still very expensive machines and that 25% of those manufactured were being rented. At this time the semiconductor manufacturers were working frantically to cram more and more functions into a single chip. The year 1971 marked the introduction of the first 'calculator-on-a-chip' by Mostek, to be followed later in the year by a more capable model by Texas Instruments. Other semiconductor companies were close behind. This was to have a great impact on the price of calculators and also on the size, as hinted in the last sentence of the article above. The effects on Sumlock Anita were to be enormous.
The financial reports of Lamson Industries, the parent company of Sumlock Anita, begin to indicate how affairs were changing around this time.
The journal 'The Economist' for March 6th. 1971 reported:
"Despite earnings that improved by 19%, Lamson Industries' final results for 1970 were a disappointment for the market which had counted on them to be the brightest spot of the week. ...
... The market for business forms and office calculators, which are the mainstay of Lamson's sales, is growing very rapidly and the company has never had any trouble increasing its sales: this year up by 20% to £61 mn. Decimalisation [ie. the decimalisation of the British £sd currency], contrary to many forecasts, provided little of a once-and-for-all sales spree, although it was a good time for Lamson to push its successful electronic calculator Anita. But costs and overheads have reduced margins to drop another few percentage points in the current year, then Lamson will be back to its dull performance of the mid-1960s, when for four years earnings increased not at all while sales went up by a third.
But with almost half of its sales and production overseas, Lamson's earnings will not be too much the slave of the moribund home economy."
Single-chip Desk Calculator
In June 1972 the financial report of the Ferranti electronics company stated: "Sumlock Anita have ordered a complex CDI chip containing all the electronics for a desk calculator".
The journal 'Electronics Design' had previously reported:
"A bipolar integrated circuit is invading MOS country with what its manufacturer believes are a number of advantages over MOS.
Using the CDI process (collector diffusion isolation), the bipolar IC will go into a new desk calculator being built by Sumlock Anita Ltd., in London.
The CDI process, first pioneered by Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, was later refined by Ferranti, Ltd., in Manchester, England, where the bipolar IC is being manufactured under a $1.25-million order. Ferranti says it's the first breakthrough of bipolar devices in the modern desk-calculator field. Until now, these new, sophisticated machines have been designed with MOS circuits.
The bipolar CDI IC, Ferranti says, has a greater switching speed than its MOS counterparts. Its plastic packaging is simpler and cheaper than the ceramic required by surface-sensitive MOS devices. And the bipolar device will provide the high density of MOS circuits without the corresponding high voltages that am MOS must have, Ferranti says.
The CDI circuit operates with a 1-to5-V power source, which permits the use of a cheaper, low-voltage battery with a longer operating life.
The Anita calculator will operate with a single chip. And while the company declines to reveal the size of the chip because of proprietary interests, it is known that Ferranti has not made CDI chips smaller than 140 by 140 mils [thousandths of an inch].
"This new bipolar technology," Ferranti says, "could well provide the first high performance 'computer on a slice', or maybe on a single chip."
The cost of the the bipolar chip is also secret at this time, but a company spokesman says, "It compares favourably with the cost of MOS circuits.""
However, the calculator chip market at this time was very fast moving and was getting very competitive, with both Mostek and Texas Instruments already marketing 'calculator-on-a-chip' integrated circuits. Apparently Ferranti could not supply these new integrated circuits in a timely manner, and so it was Rockwell rather than Ferranti which went on to supply the single chips for the ANITA calculators, such as the ANITA 1211 LSI, and Rockwell shortly afterwards actually bought Sumlock-Anita, as explained in the section 'The Rockwell Connection'.
Clouds on the horizon
By now clouds were appearing on the horizon. The journal 'New Scientist' pointed out a truth about calculators in Britain: "In the UK, Sumlock initially became the dominant supplier, and it remains the largest supplier to the present day. However, the British market was at first slow to take off, being artifically held back by the then non-decimal currency. For this reason, Sumlock originally failed to make a world-wide impression, despite the widespread use of its electro-mechanical Comptometers."
The financial report of Lamson Industries in December 1971 reported steady profits, but noted:
"Unit sales of electronic calculators by Sumlock Comptometer were at record levels, but 1971 has seen a marked reduction in average selling prices."
The interim financial report issued in August 1972 reported a drop in profits compared with the same period the previous year, and stated ominously:
"The continued slackness in the capital goods market during the first half of the year, coupled with the effects of the dramatic change in the pricing structure in the market for electronic calculators, has resulted in the Engineering and Business Equipment Division showing a loss for the period, vigorous measures are being taken to redress the situation ..."
'The Times' reported: "Lamson profits fall 25 per cent
A price war in electronic calculator, coupled with a general slackness in capital goods, steeled the market for uninspiring first-half figures from Lamson Industries.
Lamson describes the change in the pricing structure in the electronic calculators market as 'dramatic'. It has resulted in the engineering and business equipment division actually losing money in the first six months ..."
For the full year of 1972, Sumlock Anita Electronics Ltd. (the manufacturing division) reported marginal profitability and Sumlock Anita Ltd. (the marketing division) reported a loss for the first time. 'The Times' reported: "Lamson got its sums wrong last year on the extent that the price war in electronic calculators would hit profits. Demand for calculators rose and the market expanded. But a flood of cheaper overseas products into the United Kingdom slashed between 35 per cent and 50 per cent off prices and the engineering division plunged from a £1.1m profit to a £290,000 loss".
There would soon be big changes ...
The Bell Punch Company & the Development of the Anita Calculator
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Text & photographs copyright © 2002 - 2023 Nigel Tout, except where noted otherwise.