Colin's Cornucopia

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Other Business

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Chapter 13

Other Business

During this time Colin met Simon and they developed together an electronic device for communicating automatic alarm calls over the public telephone network. Nowadays such devices are commonplace but Colin and Simon were the very first in Britain to have approved by BT a solid state telephone dialler.

Colin put the device into production and another company marketed it. One of the most serious problems was that BT had not yet introduced telephone sockets so that each device had to be permanently wired to the network and installed by an approved technician. These technicalities vastly increased the installed price of the device and much reduced its appeal that was otherwise a simple to use alarm dialler.

Around a hundred were sold but the costs of promoting it exceeded the costs of production. The margins were insufficient to support the operation and the product was sold. Colin got a thousand pounds for the design. Three years afterwards the new owner had done nothing with it. Such is the fate of leading technology. One can now buy a similar device that talks to you to tell you everything you need to know about its operation and its retail price is less than the components cost Colin fifteen years ago.

While Colin was busy with his special machines and projects Peter was developing another side of the business. He was manufacturing parts for high performance sports and rally cars. In the early days this was mainly for one customer who held important patents in that field. They were a design and vehicle building outfit and purchased all of the manufactured parts. Their main supplier over the next twenty years was the brother’s company.

In the early days Peter would often spend complete days in their design office advising the small design staff on manufacturing techniques for small volume. The way you make an item if you want one or ten off is nothing like the way you would make it if you were making a thousand a day. To the inexperienced eye the two end products might look the same, and would do exactly the same job, but the manufacturing methods would be totally different.

If you are making one thousand components a day you can specify exactly what material you want. if you are making one off you must use the best available material; some compromise will be almost inevitable. In the mass production environment you can afford a staff of experts to help when things go wrong. If you happen to scrap a dozen items, nobody even knows. Your boss might not be very happy but at the end of the day you have still produced one thousand items. When you are making one off, everything you do has to be perfect.

A typical product will require one hundred major operations and one thousand decisions. If you get 999 of them right and one wrong then all your effort is rendered useless. Ninety-nine successful operations and one failure and you get paid nothing. There are no prizes in this business for anything less than 100% performance; 99.999% will not do.

Under these tough, and often very harsh, conditions the business progressed steadily.


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