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Professional career

DESIGN ENGINEER

1978 - 1984

Marconi Research Laboratories

(became Marconi Research Centre)

In the year I graduated (1978), jobs for graduates were relatively plentiful; in fact, I seem to remember that GEC alone were boasting that they alone had more openings than the number of new graduates. How things have changed in 33 years! I applied for jobs at BBC Research, Dana Instruments (part of Racal) and Marconi Research (where I had spent the previous summer vacation). The BBC turned me down, and I chose between the other two on the sound basis of £200 more per year (my starting salary was £3,400 I seem to remember).

 

We worked at the forefront of technology from 0830-1701 Mon-Thurs and 0830-1626 on Fridays and then retired to the pub. For me, this routine continued for 5 years until I received a ‘phone call from from an old friend of mine from Marconi Radar: The previous year Geoff Lunn had moved from the Radar company to a television broadcast electronics company in Suffolk called Screen Electronics.

 

They were expanding and looking for design engineers at the time, so I moved to Screen and spend a further 6 years working there.

 

After designing a versatile teletext encoding/decoding board, we won a contract with the BBC to revamp their teletext subtitle replay and transmission system. In those days the BBC stored their subtitles on 8-inch floppy discs and we had to design our own floppy disc controller! My main task was to design a “Subtitle Combiner” which intelligently interleaved the subtitle pages with the general CEEFAX teletext magazines. The system was a great success and, for the first time in my life, something I had worked on went into general service. I have to admit I gained a great sense of satisfaction from the project, and I would regularly dial up page 888 when watching BBC TV to keep an eye on my handiwork.

 

Finally, Geoff and I left Screen Electronics to form our own electronics design consultancy, first as a partnership which we called Insight Technology and then as a Limited Company called Invision Microsystems. Our first contract was with Pont Data, a financial information systems provider. We developed a PC plug-in (ISA) card which could interface with an EGA graphics card to display full-screen or quarter-screen live video - one of the first such products in the World. Then we developed a fax card for the Macintosh computer which won a 10-way product comparison in Mac User magazine.

 

In 1993 we gained a contract with Dover Harbour Board to supply three large outdoor passenger information displays. Again, the project was successful, and led to a total of five displays installed at the Eastern Docks, Dover, plus smaller projects at other ferry ports around the UK plus customer information systems for both UK and French Eurotunnel terminals.

 

By 1994, we had demonstrated live video on an outdoor red/green LED screen and we were amongst the first companies in the world to demonstrate a full-colour LED module shortly after bright blue Gallium Nitride LEDs had been made available by Nichia Corporation of Japan. I even appeared on television in a feature on LED video screens. We supplied early LED video screens to Aston Villa FC in 1997 and The Trafford Centre and Leeds United FC in 1998.

 

1997 was a year of change at Invision Microsystems. One of our customers bought a stake in our company and we obtained further equity funding from the venture capitalist 3i plc. Despite the fact that we had been growing exponentially since 1989, 3i wanted to strengthen the management team and, by 1998, I had relinquished my position as Managing Director. I fulfilled a role as Projects Director for a while, but found that I was being sidelined to an ever-greater degree by my replacement.

The situation was resolved by spinning off a new company, Technographic Displays in 1998, owned by me and managed in conjunction with two like-minded Invision colleagues.

 

I spent 12 years running Technographic Displays. Initially we developed a graphics controller to drive Invision screens but Invision failed a year after we left, so we re-developed our controller to drive display modules manufactured by Unitek Displays, the only other UK-based LED video screen manufacturer. This became ACTIV-Banner, which was marketed jointly by Technographic and Unitek and was used at numerous live events and in a number of permanent installations (see my portfolio page).

 

In those early years, we also re-developed the Dover Harbour PAXIS displays into a full-colour system. We upgraded all five PAXIS displays which had been installed by Invision and added two more new displays. The displays featured dual-redundant power supplies in every module, pixel-levelling capability, air-to-air heat exchangers and real-time feedback of module status via the fibre optic data connections.

 

Technographic Displays designed and installed a number of one-off custom LED displays, including the iconic Energy Ring at London’s Science Museum in 2004.

 

ACTIV-Banner was replaced by TechScore, WebScore and TechEvent, Windows-based user interfaces for live scoring and event presentation, with applications at sc Heerenveen, Emirates Stadium, Twickenham Stadium, GF38 (Grenoble) and Trent Bridge and Headingley Cricket grounds.

 

ACTIV-Media was developed to control LED advertising screens such as the Coca Cola screen in Piccadilly Circus, London.

 

 

TELETEXT PROJECT MANAGER

1984 – 1989

Screen Electronics Ltd.

MANAGING DIRECTOR

1989 – Dec 1997

Invision Microsystems Ltd.

PROJECTS DIRECTOR

Jan 1998 – Sep 1998

Invision Microsystems Ltd.

MANAGING DIRECTOR

Oct 1998 – Sep 2010

Technographic Displays Ltd.

OWNER AND DIRECTOR

Oct 2010 - Present

SysDev Ltd.

 

 

Technographic’s products were all manufactured in the UK to a high level of quality and always proved durable and reliable, but, over the last decade, screens manufactured in China have come to dominate the market. In 2010, Technographic Displays relented for the first time and bought in a Chinese screen for an indoor display project in the UK. The screen turned out to be poorly designed, poorly manufactured, unsafe and it exceeded the statutory  limit for radiated RF emissions by 40dB (13 times in terms of power)! We tried to obtain a refund from the UK importer: Initially they were sympathetic and offered a better quality replacement, but could not offer any guarantee that it would comply with EU legislation. They stopped returning our communications, went into liquidation, then carried on trading under a very similar name, so buyers beware! Our only viable option at the time was to close down Technographic Displays.

 

My own feeling is that this display represented the tip of an iceberg. Most Chinese LED screen manufacturers will claim CE compliance, but actual compliance is doubtful in many cases. It amazes me that European governments will happily put in place stringent legislation, increasing the costs of their domestic manufacturers, whilst not protecting the market from illegal imports with false CE certificates. One day, if I had the time and resources, I would love to expose those manufacturers and importers who are flaunting the law so unfairly.  

In 2010 I set up SysDev Ltd in order to continue technical support to Invision and Technographic clients. SysDev offers a number of services such as  consultancy and project management on the selection and installation of LED screens, based on my 17 years of experience in the industry.