First-Hand:To Be an Engineer is Sometimes an Adventure
Submitted by Ing. Paolo M. De Gaetano Polverosi
The beginning: 1958 -1960
My final work dealt with a Single Side Band Transmitter, something quite new at the time. Prof. Matteini, Radio Engineering (Electronics as a name was still not used in Italy at that time)had bitterly complained about “your bad habit of using a 13 cm sliding rule ” but at the same time had recognized the validity of the economic evaluation on the last page, from which it was clear that using the SSB for the transmissions between Rome and Buenos Aires instead of a conventional transmitter was far more convenient, apart from the better quality of the communication.
Satellite communications have made SSB and big antennas obsolete a few years ago.
Normally the candidate were asked questions often of practical matter which had little to do with their degree work. Prof. Angelini that insited on the importance of practical knowledge had asked something about the problems of the gasoline engines how the diesel engines with their better performance could be an alternative. I had just had the experience of converting a big beautiful Studebaker, with conventional gasoline engine, to diesel and was happy to discuss how it worked and how the almost constant couple of the diesel engine permitted to drive a relatively heavy car even in on a very steep road.
On the staircase access to the huge building, built on a design of Michelangelo, there were a few female beauties, waiting for their future husband. Women were rarely independent and usually worked in their home at that time, only a few were capable of driving a car. Only gowns, no trousers, a severe education were part of the life of a girl.
At home there was no special celebration. My Father, a distinguished Naval Officer who had become an Engineer after WW2 was particularly pleased, I had passed the 14 examination out of 34 that I needed for the degree in Industrial Engineeering in 16 months, quite an achievement, as he had suggested.
On the following day I started with a specialization course in Electronics; I thought to dedicate myself to research but apart from that I thought I needed it as I had spent spent much more time looking after the family farm than to the University, I happened to know what to do when a few hundred chicks were born on the same day, of the possible illnesses that could empty your poultry farm, of raising chicken and cows and planting hazelnuts than building factories, electric circuits or Decca Integrate Navigation Systems.
The course included a lot of theory, the lessons were rather boring or maybe I was not really good for research. It was a pleasant time, I made many friends but I did not learn much nor get any brilliant results. So I was very glad of being called by a few companies, I believe six; in 1958 Italy had not totally been rebuilt after the war and there was a need for Engineers, the Companies called the young Engineers with the best marks. The best offer came from AGIP, a big oil Company, and consisted in an interesting job of technical marketing in Scandinavia. President of AGIP was Enrico Mattei, a genius of finance who had succeeded in making a big enterprise out of AGIP, a small Government owned Company destined to be closed.
His clear ideas and brilliant capability of finding new ways of business and creating new markets brought him many important acquaintances and friends, ljke the Rockefeller family, then powerful owners of oil companies in the US and elsewhere. Very open minded, Mattei was criticized because of his opening toward men with borderline ethics.
Enrico Mattei had openly declared that for the innovative activity he had in mind Engineers were the best and he started giving to Engineers Manager positions in many of his Companies.The results were mostly good, mainly because of the deterministic education given to students in the Engineering schools.
He died in a plane crash too early to see his plans fulfilled but but in the meantime the Italian oil and chemical industry had started to develop.
In 1959 Rome was much smaller and better to live in than now. The offices of ENI/AGIP in Rome, with the top management were in the heart of Rome, in Via del Tritone. There was a good canteen and after lunch you could walk and see celebrities passing by, I remember a splendid Rita Hayworth, famous actress at the time, in an open car, wearing diamond earrings and smiling to everybody.
There were many girls working as typist and secretaries, mostly originating from the rather poor area of Pesaro; Mattei had done his best to help his people. They certainly had not been educated in a monastery, the students of Engineering in the S. Pietro in Vincoli, a former Monastery, were in comparison modest. A few, not many had a degree, and were usually wery good ; I have alwas been in favour of women rights.Only the Managers of various level had right to a Secretary; when I was in Rome if I needed a typist I had to ask, there was a big room were 40 girls spent their time at the noisy writing machines of the time. The alternative were the two Secretaries of the European Service of which I was part.
Mission to Sweden
After just a month in Rome I was sent to Sweden for a market research together with the designated Managing Director of AGIP Suisse, Carlo Budriesi, a first class Manager with a great experience of the oil market; the purpose was to collect data to decide which was the best palcce to build a refinery which should serve a network for distribution of gasoline and other products, including service stations, deposits, warehouses and in some case streets to access them .
Mattei’s AGIP had just started its challenge to the ‘Seven Sisters” as the big oil companies were called at the time. The challenge was in a way mitigated from the personal friendships and other associated of Mattei like the Rockefellers.
From Rome to Stockholm Mr. Budriesi and I took one of the best and fastest airplanes on the market: a DC-7 of SAS, Scandinavian Airlines Systems, named Ole Viking that landed in Kopenhagen. And there came the surprise: SAS had just bought a new French aircraft, the Caravelle, the first commercial aircraft that could fly at a height 10000 meter at a speed of 900 KMh and covered the distance between Kopenhagen and Stockholm in less than an hour. We were surprised seeing the sunset with a rainbow of colours after 8 pm.
Sweden was a rich Country, very civilized and traditional but with a high level of tax ; I remember a doctor that made three months of holiday a year which was much more convenient than working the whole year, the tax agency would have taken away what he could earn more. A Law had just been issued stating that no one should be submitted to a tax exceeding 100 % of his income.
The Italians were not well seen but there had been an improvement since 1954, when I had been there for the first time. There still was left hand drive ; the funny thing was that Norway and Danemark, had right hand drive like most of Europe and every day there was an accident at the border. There were speed limits everyehere; Mr Budriesi had to remind me from time to time; we had rented a small car, a Morris Minor which was much easier to drive and faster than the family Studebaker.
Apart from Stockholm, a town that I like and where I later have spent many holidays with my wife, we succeeded in seeing some other interesting places like the Cathedral of Uppsala; it took me a good half an hour to get up one of the towers while Budriesi patiently waited for me. Forty years later I was there again with my wife: no way, the towers were closed since 20 years, I was told.
I had to go to Goeteborg to meet the local Agent. The train from Stockholm to Goeteborg was a fast only first class train, and covered the not small distance in a reasonable time. The AGIP Agent was a modest, ancient guy, owner of a small office where letters were typed and copied. Mainly, his activity consisted in writing to the possible Customers offering the products of AGIP but he never had seen any of his Customers. Therefore he was no good source of information of any kind. On the other hand, the AGIP organization had not many products to sell at that time; still I did not like it even if I did not understand its seriousness for lack of experience.
I believe that the indication of that guy had come either from the Embassy or from the Consulate, but Formentini, the head of the Europa Department in Rome, was not happy at all.
Budriesi left me on my own, he thought that we had made ourselves an idea of how the Country was, at least from the point of view of our interests and with some luck I could get back to Rome with much information, including pricing and pricing policies.
The market research was completed in Rome with the help of Dr.Budriesi and of Roberto Lenci, a specialist in organization and economics that became a friend of mine. A simple application of the method of poligon of forces, substituting the forces with the consumptions of the single places brought us to the conclusion that the best place for the refinery was the Norwegian coast, not far from Stavanger, in the South. Clearly, the “bunker “ that is, supplying the Norwegian ships in their ports had a big influence and the center of consumption of oil was more on the seaside, while the energy needed for house heating was supplied by the big electric power units existing all over Norway.
The rich oil deposit called Ekofisk south of Stavanger and not very far from the coast was discovered some time later. If I remember well AGIP owned 25% of it.
The method of the polygon of forces was applied with success from Swiss AGIP for the localization of the Swiss refinery. The AGIP experience was in general interesting. In Rotterdam I participated to the preliminary discussions for the rent of a big oil deposit that was destined to sell oil to the industries of Northern Europe. A series of dinners took place, a quantity of snaps was drunk and man toasts were made, the oil industry was going well.
Another valid experience was the birth of AGIP Germany. The Management wanted – and succeded – to have available a network of modern gasoline service stations like the recently born ones in Italy with the six-legged dog brand of Italian design.Building one from scratch appeared difficult mainly because of the long procedures needed to get the permits and authorizations.
A solution could be to buy an already existing net of stations. .Together with an Italian specialist I visited some 100 stations, mostly small and sometimes really ugly, spread in the mountains of Bavaria. It was bought by a U.S. Company, CONOCO; I heard of the purchase much earlier than my friends in Rome because traveling from Rome to Munich I was seated near to one of the Managers of CONOCO. The journey took two hours and a half on one of the fastest planes of that time, a DC-7 C ;a kind guy, the CONOCO gentleman invited me to drink with him and as he was going to be the buyer had no problem to talk of what he considered a small but apparently convenient deal. I think I did not have limits in deciding the price to be paid: he said something about the price which was acceptable.The only limit he had was time, he had to be back in his office, the strategic decision had been taken and approved already. During the following winter I did some sales activity together with a more experienced employee, Mr. Androvich, visiting Goteborg, Malmoe and Stockholm. The planes were usually small, often DC-3 which were not very stable with bad weather; sometimes the flight was canceled because of bad weather. In one occasion, the pilot asked the passengers to decide and the decision was to fly although the weather forecast was horrible. It went well, the hostess sat between the passengers and offered cigarettes and chocolate. When we arrived in Goteborg I noticed that the engine slowly lost some oil, but there was nothing to worry.
Another trip to be mentioned was in Danmark, where we could sell fuel oil containing a high percentage of Sulphur; not accepted in Germany and not in Italy, we could sell to the power stations which did not have heat regenerators. It was May 1rst, I was together with Mr. Androvich, we did not have much to do and we decided for a visit of a refinery ; we were shown everything, very interesting from the engineering point of view.
Back in Rome I had a new boss who was of the opinion that work must be created if there is no work.I therefore spent some time writing studies that could have had some value if somebody had read them, and I started looking for other solutions. But all the Department was hoping in something different after the death of Mattei in an accident with his plane while landing in the fog. Some people said that it was a crime, it will be difficult to know the truth.
There were two Companies that manufactured TV-sets and car-radios in Rome, Autovox and Voxson. I wrote a a letter with my CV to Autovox that replied immediately and offered me a position as staff of the new group of people destined to sell abroad. Autovox had all the negative sides of a company owned by a small group of people ;the MD also was the major shareholder and was feared because he often fired employees without a serious reason.
The competition came from Voxson which also had a factory in Rome and from some big factories in Northern Italy, followed by German and French factories, specially German, good quality and reliability and clean lines. The colour television was initially less reliable and much more expensive and people seemed to prefer black and white.
But the real reason why both Autovox and Voxson lost the market was colour television and the inertia of the Government in defining a standard, either the German PAL or the French SECAM ; when the moment came the competitors had already an experience that the Italian industry did not have yet.
During the not many months I spent in Autovox I had an excellent relationship with my Colleagues, with the Factory Manager and Quality Control that shoul be of great help in the future too. I bought a Lancia Appia with was a small car, all aluminum, good acceleration and amusing to drive, I had many friends in the Company and outside, but still I was not an Engineer and I had not yet understood that Marketing and Sales are needed and that the first Salesmen in a Company are the President and the General Manager.
The production lines of the television consisted in number of girls that mounted the 350 capacitors and 200 resistances for each set; a push-pull, with the new components, the transistor Philips OC-26, and later OC-27, a choice of the production line of the OC-26. The Engineers played with the counterslope of the slope obtaining even good results; the quality was good but our prices put us in the upper price band of the market.
I spent most of my time traveling Europe, contacting Customers and calling my boss when there was a bigger contract or a decision to take, usually a price reduction. When I was in Rome spent all my free time at the tecnical/Design Office, whose Head said openly that either I spent a part of my career in his Department or within sales, in both cases a good knowledge of the product within the sales dept would have been very useful.
On suggestion of a Colleague I contacted the Italian State Television, RAI where found some kind people that made me write some small text that were broadcast; nothing special, I just wrote something simple on the new technologies, the integrated circuits and the car radios that were more and more used. Autovox manufactured a model that could be taken away and worked either as little portable or static radio. The fact of being independent was important because of the many thefts that took place with the consequent breakdown of a door or of a window. The problem stopped when all the cars started being sold with the radio on board.
Toward the end of the sixties of the past century both Autovox and Voxson were critical because of the saturation of the market and of the limited competitività, notwithstanding the good relationship with FIAT that had a massive presence on the Italian market and mounted the Autovox radios on all their cars.
CIRCE (Componenti italiani per radio civile e industriale) Pontinia, 1961 - 63
Occasions are frequent in life, sometime you do not even need to look for them. I had been with Autovox only a few months and I still was in the so-called “test period” when I was called by the French Group CSF, later Thomson CSF. I could leave with only a few weeks of advice. Of course the Mangers at Autovox were not pleased, but it was an occasion difficult to refuse, it was a position of Factory Superintendant at CIRCE, near Latina. Required were the degree in Engineering with acceptable marks, good knowledge at least of French. I was not particularly good or particularly experienced as an Engineer but my French and English were more than acceptable and my German good, due to my German governess, Frau Hildegard, I had been practicing in Germany and in Norway as a blue neck and I had the experience of my fathers small ceramic factory.
CIRCE had been one of the many manufacurers that had enjoyed financing at very low bank rates; it was apparently a beautiful factory, with a covered area of 6000 cubic meter on a surface of 40000 meter but it had poor services while the manpower was mainly peasants and make of the local workforce qualified workers and employees in general was not that easy but this I discovered later,
I started on May 1, 1961. I was not yet 32 and I was very happy both for the position and for having the possibility of helping the people of an undeveloped area to grow up. I had to start almost immediately because my predecessor, Paolo Carraro, had been killed in a car accident and had been provisorily replaced by a French Manager, Hubert Regnault de La Mothe, a former Naval Officer coming from the head office in Paris.
Many attempts of draining the marshes in the South of Rome had been made in the past centuries with no success; using modern machinery and powerful pumps in 1931-34 a big area had been recovered, small towns had been built that still exist, Littoria (nowadays Latina), Aprilia, Pontinia, Pomezia, Sabaudia; in 1930 the peasants still lived in simple big houses, often sleeping on straw, fighting for their life with malaria mosquitos. It was a big effort; many thousands of peasants came from other poor area of the country. The participation of private companies and small owners of land was a big help to the State institutions. Just to give an idea, FIAT Group had suppled 40 tractors at no cost and the draining system had been designed and built with care, the pumps and the channels still exist and perform well notwithstanding the damages of WW2.
Pontinia was a small village with a fertile land around, a few shops, a church with one single priest who was a big help after the war, the Carabinieri barracks with a Sergeant that kept order. There had been some local war because of cows and milk and in Sabaudia there was a Carabinieri Leutenant that was a powerful authority. The Municipality (former Casa del Fascio), when I arrived, was a small building with a big oblique crack in front of which nobody seemed to care; there was a road to Latina, and “ viale Italia “ where the Factory was located. The acronym CIRCE, by pure chance, was the name of a witch that sang from a cliff to attract the sailors and sink their ships.
The houses for the peasants had some land around, enough for couple , water in the house, lavatory, and accessories, and all that was needed for cultivating the land, much considering that for most of Italy and I believe Europe houses of that kind were a luxury. The Italians were prolific, until 1942 or ’43 for each son that was born the family received 1000 lire which was quite a sum for that time. But the farms were too small and a decent life was not possible without some other initiative, a modern industry was needed to get work for an increasing population.
There had been some fighting in the area too but the towns, Latina with its modern building had been rapidly rebuilt and so had the other towns. But there was not much industry, qualified manpower was difficult to find, the average boys had not gone further than primary school, there were very few people with a degree.
The Prefect, Mr. Pignataro, an excellent state employee tried to use his authority and is acquaintances to convince the companies of Northern Italy to build factories in the Agro Pontino. The economic/financial conditions were particularly favourable: large sums were available for investment at 2-3% a year for 30 years. But there was no time and no competence for a market research; it was just clear that the best way was to try with the light industry, pharmaceutical or mechanic. The errors, unavoidable in a situation like that, would be corrected with time. Survival of the factories was difficult to assure: a few Km from Pontinia there was, in Sabaudia, another factory which made capacitors and electronic components with similar production lines, and after three – four years both had sales problems. The French proprietors of CIRCE, a Bank, did not hesitate (wisely) to sell as soon as they had made a sufficient profit. Naturally I did not understand anything of it, in 1961 I was very optimistic about the future.
The impression I had from the factory the first time I saw it was not particularly good. It was late afternoon, the clincker floor tiles and the illumination with the yellow light of the incandescence lamps gave an impression of darkness and sadness. There were forty girls working on winding machines for capacitors. The two technicians, Ardetti and Roscioli, who were responsible for two production lines, ceramic and wound capacitors, were very young and this was their first job and so was Mr. Calandrini, who had a degree in Engineering. Calandrini should have been responsible for the production problems, machines, tools, a tough job for a joungster without any experience. A third production line of elecrolytic minicapacitors, the Microlyt was in the strong hands of a lady with a maternal expression who, I was told, was the former municipal midwife of Pontinia.
The Microlyt gave us a few problems, as every new product is supposed to. Both ends were closed with an epoxy resin with a brilliant colour, red or green, pot life about one hour and polymerization time about thirty hours.
The wound capacitors were manufactured starting with two plastic bands with an aluminum band in the middle and were relatively simple to manufacture but there was a problem of cardboard boxes were the finished product had to be packed and we had no machine to count them, all had to be made by hand.
Accounting was centered in Milano ; there was a noisy, slow center working on Hollerith cards of which I refused to know more of what was strictly needed. A few Km away from Pontinia there there was another CSF factory that made small resistances and from a certain moment transistors too. I soon discovered that having worked in Germany and Norway as a blue collarneck and in the small Father’s factory was a big advantage, I was the only one capable of using the small precision lathe that was kept covered and never used and tried to teach what I knew ; we spared time and money avoiding to send bearings and other parts and sometime entire machinery that needed to be overhauled or repaired to Milano or to France.
I always was in white and in every occasion reminded the workers of the need to wash at least the hands. The factory had just been built and some services considered essential were missing; we tried to give work outside, in Pontinia the small existing shop were happy to work for us and gave proof of unexpected ingenuity. Even the nuns were of help: the ceramic capacitor manufacture started with the separation of thin ceramic plates, patience and thin hands were needed.
The relationship with the Management in Milano and in Paris
The Management of the CIRCE was in Milano. I had to spend a few weeks in Milano nd in Paris for training and when I came back I decided to live in Sabaudia, on the lake.In the factory I had in the beginning the help of Hubert Regnault de la Mothe, an person whose correctness was of other times. He left Pontinia to get back to Paris and left me on my own after some time.
In Milano I was at my ease, there were Engineers I knew.
Strangely I liked very much Milano to, nothwistanding the climate; the hotel where I lived, not far from the seat of our Company had no air conditioned and in certain days it was unbearably hot.
Northern Italy was full of immigrates from the South. New activities were born continuously and in a random way, I am under the impression that taxes would be paid only by a few people.
Every month I spent one day, sometime two, to report on CIRCE’s activity; I carried a briefacase full of documents. I had to leave early in the morning to take the plane of 8 am., which meant getting up at an ungodly hour. Alitalia, then the flag airline of Italy, was normally in time and at 9.30 I normally was in the head office.
First thing I usully went to the Purchaing Office because in Pontinia we found nothing of what we needed, not even screws and nails and even in Rome there was not much of what we needed.
One time the Chief Purchasing, a true son of Milano, his town, sent me away, out of the buildinCompany because there was the Guardia di Finanza, the long arm of the Office oftion and came back to Milano with the finished products.
At the beginning I spent ten days in Paris for training and went back many times in the following year, to see the new products and/or the improvements to the production lines. From this point of view my predecessor Mr. Carraro had not had a good experience: in many occasions he had been left on his own, it seems that Mr. Farnoux did not appreciate neither him nor Mr. Calandrini maybe because he was not aware of the situation on the spot and asked for solutions not easily available.
In general the 5 or 6 french factories of CSF Thomson (now Thales) around Paris were well equipped ; today you would say it is industrial archaeology but there even was an attempt of automation. The personnel was well trained and competent in general. There was a factory in Courbevoie, in the middle of nothing. It took some time to arrive there in a single track tramway; all has disappeared today, there is La Dèfence today in its place with its beautiful buildings.
A typical problem in France that we fortunately did not have, was the presence of manpower of african or algerian origin or of different tribes that did not hesitate to solve small problems fighting, sometimes you could even see the flash of a knife. I had on a couple of occasion to try and part them; the necktie that I always was wearing and – I’m not a racist, believe me – the colour of the skin too kept me out of danger.
I had to bring Calandrini with me to Paris; the first time I believe the guy was expecting women and champaigne, and he was a little disapponted when after a heavy day I found nothing better than taking him to the Sacrè Coeur from which you could have a marvelous view of a Paris all white of marble and beautiful buildings.and on the classic Boulevard, St. Michel, St. Germain, where I was going to be again years later with my wife Beatrice and still later with my three daughters.In the late fifties there were constantly disorders in Paris because of the liberation of Algeria, one evening while at dinner with Calandrini there was an explosion not far from us, fortunately only material damages.
My relationship with the General Manager Mr. Pons was good but he seldom showed in Pontinia. A “piednoir”, that is, born in Algeria from a French family established there since a long time and a refugee in France, he had a modern ideas on Company Management, differently from the AD, Abel Farnoux. Farnoux was rather conservative and did not care about new techniques; he constantly had problems with Olivier Garreta, Manager of MISTRAL that made transistors of the first generation and sometimes with Regnault de la Mothe. Farnoux was destined to important appointments at Government level for political reasons in France. What we all regretted was his tendency in changingd his mind easily, and was therefore difficult to follow.
Carlo Pietra, replaced Pons as a General Manger at the end of 1961. Pietra, an Engineer who had spent twenty years manufacturing thermionic tubes had some understandable problem in the reorganization of the Milano and Bologna factories that made passive components, therefore most decisions were left to the undersigned with some risk of mistake, specially in the difficult relationship with the Labour Unions. But generally speaking the fact of having a boss at 500 Km of distance with the not very efficient telecommunications of the late fifties was not a problem for me, the Company in general had good Customers which were ready to cooperate; in the case of Autovox due to my personal friendship with the Head of QC I could make any test I wanted.
The idea of Sergio Pesaro that the quality had to be in the product had a good confrmation when an agreement was made between Autovox Procurement and our sales that all the capacitors refused because out of tolerance would be sold to Autovox at a reduced price. I was told after a few months that it had been an excellent deal, no radio or TV had to be sent back to the factory because of defective components.
Our real problem was the lack of new product in a reality rapidly changing reality.
My first experience as a teacher in the University is of this period of time: I became a Voluntary Assistant of Electronic Components. The teaching material consisted in duplicated lecture notes, written by Luigi Ferrero di Cavallerleone, who had translated and resumed parts of good american publications and were interesting to read, there was also some element of statistics, needed to understand the behaviour of devices and systems during time.
The idea of the Professor, Saverio Rotella, was to mix theory with practical experience and was centered on a need that positively existed; unfortunately the students were more interested in what they had to learn to pass the examinations than in any other problem. The examinations were made by a small commission that included two Assistants and the Professor, but as the Professor was frequently busy the Assistants had full responsibility and seldom asked why to use one type of part or another.
During my academic life I examined a few hundred of students.
Life in Pontinia and Sabaudia in the ’60s
When I arrived in Pontinia there were about 60 workers; when I left after two yeard we were over 350, of which about 30 males. The girls were very young, the minimum age to start working was 13, and they were all daughters of the peasants that had arrived in the area during the big work of draining in 1931 - 34. Crossing two different races, those that had come from an area near Venice, strong, religious, and parsimonious and the bandits from the area of Sezze, Minturno and the lakes of Caprolace both equally poor, had given good results, robust, beautiful girls and boys. But the area available for each family was not enough to feed the children and everybody was very happy to work in the factory. Most of the girls had eight years of school and learned rapidly; I had chosen them personally. When I went home in the late afternoon, during the summer, I frequently saw one of them with the family cow or cows of the family. The local cheese, mozzarella, was good but came from water buffaloes.
For the families to have a daughter working in the local factory was good, the peasants survived but specially in certain times of the year had a problem of cash and the daughter could help, she had a monthly income. It was a start of emancipation of the women. Marriages were supposed to be decided by the Family but more often were the result of simple romantic love on the sand with the witness of Mount Circeo and the sea. Sometimes the local Chief Petty Officer of the Carabinieri had to convince the guilty father with his own methods. The dynamic brother of Mr. Pietra, who was a Jesuit and was a big help for me on practical matters like the organization of the meals for the personnel, was very skeptical about the success of this kind of marriage and so was I.
A typical case was that of one of my Colleagues, that after a factory dinner in the open on a warm night was compelled to marry. The bride was a fair-haired big woman, not a beauty (the husband said openly “quel cesso di mia moglie”). I remember with some sadness the marriage ceremony and how the poor girl tried to hide her belly under a big yellow hat.
There were happy marriages too: the manager of a factory not far from CIRCE, an Engineer of good family married one of the girls of his factory. She was clever and nicelooking, everybody liked her. At the ceremony there were on one side her family, fishermen and peasants, and on the other the family of the Engineer, a Roman traditional family; fraternization zero, but I heard that the two lived happy together notwithstanding a big difference of age.
Typically the life in the small towns of the area was made essentially of gossip.There was no TV and the nights were long; the person that I saw more often after dinner was Lt Mazzullo of the Carabinieri, an important person in our small community, with his kind wife and a couple of children.Normally I went to the restaurant “Giggi” for dinner.
Giggi’s wife did not have a good name but Giggi did not seem to care, at the entrance of his restaurant there was a ceramic inscription with a local old say that openly said his opinion.
Mostly I met there the Manager of the only Bank in town, a person I liked to talk with; but in most evenings he had to go away early because of his commitment with one of Gigg’s maid, nicelooking but “wild”, he said. For 500 lire, not a big sum at the time, you could eat whatever kind and quantity of food you wanted; often Walter Cerutti was with us and I do not think Giggi would make a profit on his meals because Walter was 22 and had an incredible appetite. Sometimes the Maire came to have dinner with us; the Maire was also head of the local rangers, and had the responsibility of a wide area; his two red-headed daughters were very popular.
New structures: the canteen and the mechanical workshop
As I said before we had some thirty males in the factory who dealt with maintenance, mechanical and electrical, and small construction works. Mostly young and full of good will you had to educate them, often they woul make damages just for ignorance or lack of attention, like closing the main steam valve with no reason.
After some discussions with the Management and with the help of Don Pietra, brother of the Ganeral Manager, clever, full of energy, and very advanced for 1960, I succeded in organizing a canteen capable of offering industrial quantities of pastasciutta or sometimes soup. Meat was still unknown on the tables of the peasants, with the possible exception of the Sunday.
We built a mechanical workshop with the machines we estimated to need. The swiss mlling machine was very expensive but it was nothwithstanding its complexity easy to handle.
The illumination was important. On Mr. Pietra’s advice I asked three quotations with design and cost and gave the best of the three to our specialist and head of the maintenance Mr. Sassoli. I am a bit ashamed, today I would never do anything like this but the cost of Mr. Sassoli was much lower.
I produced a few simple sketches of simple cabinets for polimerization and for QC and Mr. Sassoli with his team built them, convalidating my theory according to which proper drawings are only a loss of time.
We had a serious problem with lavatories and showers: I was accustomed to the German way of cold shower at the end of work but I did not succeed, mainly because of a problem of space.Cold water would not have been a problem, during the winter movies were made at the sea side, normally after 6 p.m. with big lights illumination.
The Labour Unions
At a certain point I had to accept the “ Commissione Interna”.. Fortunately the members were always very reasonable ; a few years later the Labour Unions were to make of damages, more for lack of information on the real situation than anything else.
The head of the CI was a fair-haired girl, who tried to bring electors to the left wing of the Christian Democrats ( DC). Sassoli, DC too but of a different wing, did not tolerate her for two reason: because she had different ideas and because she was a woman.
Even in a small place like Pontinia there was space for various “currents” of DC; I had agreed with the medical Doctor of the town on the basis of which he would spend an afternnoon a week in the Factory., for political reasons (I discovered later that he was the Head of the Christian Democrats) or more likel because of ethical reasons. On suggestion of Walter Cerutti who had some imagination she was promoted head of the cleaning women and was deeply offended. Out ofmy office there was Mr.Sassoli waiting for her with a broom. Ten minutes later I had the doctor in my office and in the following ten minuts we made an agreement: no strike, an Rina had again her position of specialist.
At the end of 1962 the Japanese started introducing on the market products of good quality and much cheaper than ours, due to a better technology and different materials. Nobody at the high level of the Company worried and things went ahead for some time but at the end of 1962 it was clear that some change was needed. One of this was a reduction of personnel in the Italian factories and a more tranchant approach to the sales in the new markets that were emerginging, particularly the Communist states, USSR (Russia today) East Germany, Roumenia.
In the end I was offered the prestigious job of Director of Marketing and Sales and of course I accepted. Unfortunately a Visa was needed and I did not get it. Reason given was my previous experience in the computer and missile fields; actually, my Father was again in the Navy and his position made impossible my commitment in that area. The problem still existed many years later.
CSF became a Division of Thomson (Thales today).The factory in Milano, Microfarad, was closed and Ducati in Bologna concentrated on the motorcycle market at the level of electric component parts too.
The factory in Pontinia saw many changes. Around 1985 it was still active with Sassoli as a Manager, but it was demolished at the end of the century. Its value of 40000 square meters, of which only 7000 covered, in the middle of the residential area had become very high.
May the women and men who worked and fought in the CIRCE factory have a good memory of it.
The “Missile Ladies”, Sigme, Società Italiana Generale Missilistica
I must confess that I never liked bureaucracy and at SIGME there were lots of it but it was a difficult moment and I had to accept what I found. Not only I was supposed to have a boss in Ceccano, that in turn replied to a boss in Rome, but the activity of the factory was limited to the assembly of the parts.
The warhead was made in the nearby factory of BPD in Colleferro, the guidance in the Selenia factory at Fusaro in Naples while the engine was made by somebody I don’t remember on licence of Aerochemie.
First thing it was decided that as a deputy director I had to be the Security Officer; I had nothing against but I did not like the idea of having steel bars on my window. Moreover the rooms nearby had no bars and I wondered how sure they could be. Another thing that worried me was the way the Director used to inform Rome of the activity of the day “we smoked four cigars” he said, to indicate that four missiles had been assembled. The procedures to avoid loss of secret documents etc. were rather tight, we even had a retired officers of the Carabinieri, the Italian Military police, who had the responsibility.
But after some time my wife who was still wery young (we had just married) discovered i believe talking with the fruitmonger that she, the wife of the Director Adm. Oggioni and the gracious young wife of Commander Carducci, QC Manager, were called “the missile ladies”. Another thing I discovered was that there was no need for a Deputy Director except in time of war, therefore I spent most of my time studying the handbooks of the Missile HAWK which were well done but repetitive;there was no need for it but it was better than doing nothing, and anyhow it was very useful in one of my further experiences. I had tried, like one does in a case like this, to take over the work of somebody else, but I only had found the test of the “safety and arming device” that I did together with the storeroom manager in a predetermined place to reduce the damage to the minimum in case of an explosion.
The factory or HARMCO Center was an old ammunition factory of BPD, a specialist in explosive, to which a leight structure divided in bays to perform an assembly operation according to the procedures. had been added. The five ton crane that was used to lift the parts of the missile as they were ready gave us some problems at the beginning because the drawings of the step on which the crane had to interfacewere incorrect but a solution to thre problem was easily solved cutting a segment of the step.
The last bay was destined to the go-nogo, final check of the missile. It consisted in a sort of big console to which the missile had to be connected; a series of switches were closed, if something did not work red lamps would light in correspondance to the wrong function. The repairs were made in the production factory with a complex procedure of transport, a big lorry with red lights with a jeep before and another jeep following it. There was some proposal to change the procedure, which was cumbersome and dangerous as the vehicles with the many lights could attract the attention of terrorists.
From the factory to the town of Ceccano the distance was of a few Kilometers but there was the railway: very old locomotives could be seen dragging old railway cars from the hills of Fabrica to Ceccano and Frosinone.The train was never on time and you could see long lines of cars, busses, horse and carriage waiting. I normally went to the office with my old Mercedes while Commander Carducci was brought to the office by his wife with her FIAT 600.
In the office the Director, Gen. Oggioni, was a good man but his ideas were old and the procedures were the first thing for him; he would have liked me to be resident in Ceccano and even to sleep there. To me the idea of being far from Rome and from the civilization and the friends in principle was not acceptable;more over there were further complications, like changing the nameplate of the car which was neither simple nor cheap.
I went to Rome to Gen. Rizzi, the General Manager, who was worried already because of discomtent crreping among the Personnel mainly because there was no canteen, and he established that Managers were entitled to maintain their freedom.
Two young secretaries were employed, one worked excsusively for me:a good girl.Teresa came from Sora, a small town in the mountains. She was very reliable and I had given her the job to open and close, using a security key, the cupboard containing the confidential documents. The work I had to do was not of big satisfaction, but it could have been worse.
The workers were not many, I think 25 to 35., one, De Sario, the electrician with whom I’m still in touch nowadays after over 50 years, then there was Mr. Micheli that represented the labour union;Mr.Ferri had fabricated six daughters waiting for one boy and asked me secretly if the rumours about DNA and on Chromosomes were true and if it could be possible and was not pleased when I told him that it was true.
The factory was not finished and we had some people working at the structures; the young technician that followed the work, a nice boy, had fallen in love with a daughter of one of the wardens. I had told him to be careful but they were too much together and a child came…
There was a problem with the vehicle used to carry the mounted missile into the storerooms. It had a tendency to capsize, due to its high center of gravity. The driver was fined when the carriage capsized the first time and menaced of being fired when the carriage capsized for the second time but it was clearly not his fault. Again there was an intervention of Gen. Rizzi and from a visit to a specialist somewhere in central Italy I came back with the drawing of a carriage with small hard rubber wheels to capsize which a big crane would be needed.
To interrupt the monotone work there was from time to time a trip to Paris for the meetings of the CED European Community of Defence, which became NATO after France had left. The meetings took place at Palais de Chaillot, a beautiful big building with a series of fountains and the Museum of the Navy on one side and big rooms and halls on the other. On the right wing of the building where we were an inscription admonished “Tout depend de celui qui passe si je suis tombe ou trèsor - ami, ne passe pas sans dèsir”. The meetings were long and boring; I often sat near a Norwegian Colonel who did apparently not remember his mail but he invariably replied : ”we certainly have it in our files, Sir”.
On my return to Rome I always wrote a detailed report that I gave to our President, a former Chief of Staff of the Air Force who used it for his own archive. Col. Manfredi, a pilot of Italian S-79 bombers during WW2 whose stories were impressive read them with a smile, like his Norwegian Colleague he did not have any confidence in a United Europe.
There also was a Chief Accountant whose main job seemed to be to give problems to the others. He was ready to discover that I had been confirmed in my position of Deputy Director without having finished my 15-day test period and therefore I had no right to a paid wedding holiday. It was late for me and my wife to change plans, the matter was controversial and in the end I took 17 days of unpaid holiday, with the full authorization and maybe envy of gen. Rizzi while Gen .Oggioni was somewhat dubious.
We saw Paris, London, Amsterdam, Munich in Germany and all the major art galleries of Europe with the exclusion of the Louvre, giving the precedence to the impressionists at the Jeu de Paume, lived at the Palais d’Orsay that had not been converted yet in a Museum in Paris, we saw a show with 105 expressionist paintings in Munich, we saw Volendam and Marken….
When about one year later, October 1964, CIDA; the Union of the Italian Managers, organized a relatively unexpensive two-week trip to the World Exposition in New York we could participate thanks again to gen. Rizzi.
Alitalia was at that time one of the first airlines of the world and the treatment was more than just tourist class.. The meals were prepared by Chez Maxim.one of the best restaurant in Paris. The places were assigned on the base of age, and being among youngest we were in the last row of a new generation DC-8 that together with the.Boeing 707 covered the Atlantic in 6 hours.
We did not limit ourselves to New York, which is a particular aspect of the US, we rented a Beetle Volkswagen for the sum of 5 US$ per day and 5 cents per mile and went towards South through beautiful landscapes. I remember Shenandoah Valley and a house with a big garden and an old black waiter who kept by the hand two white the Boeing 707 children that said hello to us.
The battlefields of the Civil War were well kept, with the guns and the carriages of the time.. We saw big rivers like the Tappahannoc and slept in small nice motels like the Rappahannock one where we got a cold, we were not accustomed to the air conditioning. I owe my thanks to Beatrice my wife who was waiting for our first child and did not complain for certain limitations.
Back to Rome I had my first serious experince of Labour Unions. The workers wrote offensive inscriptions in the toilet that I refused to see also because I was not involved and gave a lot of minor problems; but there was indeed a serious problem : the company had no work, something that happens when you have no sales and no marketing specialist . The Management hoped in a second order that did not arrive, also because due to a change of government it seemed less important to have weapons available for the defense of the Country.
A pity because many of the technicians were good ; De Sario migrated to South Africa where he designed and built an electric network and came back after a few years, two technicians went to Germany and did not come back.Like the others I had to try and get another position.
The HAWK missiles were used in the desert as targets many years later.
WIESNER and the AIFEL
I had no work and had a wife and a small nice child to maintain. I started to reply to the requests of qualified personnel on the newspapers, Corriere della Sera and so on. After a time that seemed infinite, I think three months, I received a call from a big Company in Milano that was in the field of commercial refrigeration. The owner, Mr Eisner, a pleasant guy, was a bit uncertain; we spent a couple of hours together and at the end he said that he could be what his friend Wiesner in Rome needed: he is a Jew like me, he said, he is a man with new ideas and does not give much importance to money. And called him immediately.
It was all true: Alfred Wiesner was an architect of Austrian origin, and after the war had used US made ice-cream machines and had invented the Cremino Algida, an ice cream lined wth chocolate which still exists under various names.After a few years had sold the Company to a big multinational making an unexpected amount of money.
Wiesner had genial intuitions that were sometimes too advanced for Italy, moreover he had too much confidence in the banks and their capacity to finance a complex business.
The Company he had founded, AIFEL, gave work to some 130 specialists, with machinery that today is part of industrial archeology and therefore with a low performance.metteva frequentemente in contrasto con l’A.D., Wiesner.
The person that really counted in the company was a 28 year old accountant, Giorgio Polesel, a man of common sense and of a managerial ability unexpected in a man of his age.
Wiesner had the good habit of arriving in the office at 5 or 6 p.m., freshly shaven and rested.His preferred scotch was the Johnny Walker Red Label. One or more whisky would never be refused to any of the Managers during the long meetings.
I should have been the Technical Manager according to my contract but I did not have enough experince of Mechanical structures and it was decided that I should have the Quality Control.
In my time Engineers learned on the books but the big help came to me from the technicians, in particular Mr. Teodosio, a specialist. My big problem were the aestetics and the barock finishing that the Customer wanted, I always conceived the drawings as quoted drafts and I’m no good as a drawer. Once, after a discussion, Wiesner told me smiling that I had to make an effort to get in the menthality of our Customers, mainly icecream and salami sellers.
Wiesner had initially made an agreement with a big german house, Neckermann, that sold by correspondence; the purchasers worked with the precision of which the Germans only are capable, but fortunately after some time we knew how to behave and therefore the relationship became less important.
Just a few weeks after my arrival the first accident happened: Neckermann ahd ordered a big quantity of small freezers that were esthetically nice, rather unexpensive and not too noisy. They had a small Necchi compressor on board that had a low consumpion; the refrigerant was Freon 502, a mixture of Freon 22 and Freon115, having a better performance and less dangerous. Somebory had forgotten to give an input to the thermostat with the result of polar temperatur inside the freezer and much higher consumption of electricity. It was winter and it was very cold, at the Rome airport the mother of one of the two technician had come with a heavy woollen pullover and we laughed, but we were in a quite different mood when we arrived in Frankfurt.
It was evening, all the shops were closed, no restaurants, we succeeded buying chocolate and bananas at the shop of the railway station. But we three were very happy to visit the town which has since then changed a lot.
An important occasion came with an Company, FOGEL in Filadelphia from which we procured a series of licences. One in particular was interesting because the cabinet was conceptually quite new, it had electricall heated windows; the conditions seemed good at first, all the drawings and the know how for 5000 US plus a reasonable royalty on each unit sold.
The first trip to Philadelphia was not easy, there was a snow snorm in New York and we landed at the Newark airport. We had booked a hotel in Philadelphia and we did not know how to get there, with the high snow and in the end we went to the Sheraton Hotel on the 76th where I had been with Beatrice.and we slept there.
There were Gigi Velani (sales) Eng. Maricchiolo (production) and Zeliko Rendeli, Wiesner’s nephew. The most interested, the head of design office, a fifty year old guy, theoretically my assistant and very prepared, did not come at the very last minute because he was afraid and because his mother had written him “ why do you want to go to the US which are so far away?" In November 1966 seemed still very far and many Italians were afraid to fly.
Even in an apparently simple case like this the technology transfer gave some problems. There were some differences in the European specifications of the components; there no always was a full cooperation on the other side, we silly Europeans use the 220/380 threephase Voltage..In the end 91 component parts had to be remade in some way.
There also was a problem of specialists.In some case the situations were almost absurd like in the case I had to go to Bèziers in the South of France where the local Agent was complaining that nothing did work.
Scenario: early morning with a FOGEL licenced big cabinet and some 20 people looking and waiting. The compressor starts and stops after a minute wthout any apparent reason. “Donnez moi un tournevis”, I turn a screw, the compressor restarts, everything OK.. Applause. Nobody had looked at the wiring diagram, a simple one. There were two thermostats and to repair all the devices was just a good technician was needed. Le patron offered me a well paid position that I did not accept, Bèziers is nice, but I had a wife, two small children each with their school problem – often the interests and problems of the family are not considered.
From a certain moment Mr.Wiessner left to the two senior Managers the responsibility of the Company.The sales abroad went well while Italy had the usual problem of the payment and delays and in the end the offer of a multinational was accepted.
In the meantime I had left becaus of a heart problem which fortunately was not asserious as it seemed.
The fact of not having a good administration very expensive. Not having the books in order has serious consequences. Polesel used to say that you do not learn these matters in a University of but Engineers should know them too, they are important.
Finally, note that the FOGEL was only apparently favourable as the 5000 Dollars covered the drawings and the know-how of an american device, buit according to specifications that were different from the european ones. Moreover many component parts that were commercial in the States did nor exist or were very different in Europe;Therefore we had to redraw or rewrite the spedifications of 91 parts. Moreover, the royalty of 7% on each piece sold was near to the profit before the tax. This was the reason of the sale, Mr.Wiesner made a loss every day.
From the point of view of GDP, Gross Domestic Product, when an Italian Company is bought by a foreign Company, it is generally submitted to some kind of restructuring. If after the restructuring it produces profits, these do not remain in Italy. In the case of many companies, considered not to be recovered, they are closed and disappeared.
From The Mainframe To The Minicomputer And To The PC
Italy of the Sixties had the problem of the migration of a few million of peasants from the South to the Center and to industrial North;in 1963 a network of motorways was being built, FIAT had a first class position between the big car manufacturers, while ILVA in Taranto the most important steel manufacturing facility of Europe was being built.
In the field of administration after many not all positive experiences with the computers available at the time, an IBM computer had been very much appreciated because of its reliability , the IBM360 followed by the IBM370. Programs were written in languages near to the machine language whicch made programming relatively easy.
With the IBM 360/370 series ends the pioneer phase of the development of modern computers.
It is commonly believed that the birth of the computer is due to military needs. During WW2 very important was decripting the enemy messages, apart from the usual problems of ballistic and of structure. Thie need was felt not only by the Allied, but also from the Germans and the Italians. Electromechanical rotor machine were built that were specialized for decripting and could be sold freely, the ENIGMA. Unfortunately the Germans and the Italians firmly believed that they were impossiblr to decript.
Great Britain had started with a special unit in Room 40 in Whitehall in London in 1914; with the support of the Prime Minister. Winston Churchill, who had been First Sea Lord during WW1 and thanks to the capture of codes captured on board of enemy ships, a Center was created in Bentchley Park, 40 km from London and ULTRA was created.
From a certain point ULTRA had available the “bombes” (electromechanical computers of high power) and a first class staff that was able to decript a big part of the messages of Supermarina, the General Staff of the Italian Navy. Some success (Duisburg convoy, Maritza convoy and in part Matapan)are certainly due to ULTRA. Actually it seems proven that it could be possible to decript within a short time all the messages sent in copy to the German Staff.
It is from the work of the genius, crazy Turing and from Neumann that it seems that the first machines were born “capable of modifying the memorized instructions, and make possible the solution of any problem of computing”. The first digital computer, with electronic tubes, was born in UK thanks to Turing.
From the above said studies the first big mainframes like ENIAC, EDSAC and EDVAC, big expensive machines were born. They occupied a lot of space and had a consumption of a few kWh.
In 1951 UNIVAC used an electronic computer for census; big computers had been used for ballistics until then.
Later the big computer manufacturer like IBM and UNIVAC succeded in amortizing the high development costs and had a relatively light life because there was a lot to do in the administrative field. All the companies, big and small, normally had hundreds of employees that made addictions and subtractions with mechanical machines. The problem of needed time was sometimes more important than cost.
There have been three generations of computers:
1946-1958 (first generation, still electronic tubes) like UNIVAC 1 e 2, Bendix e Ferranti. The IBM 650 had success, 2000 pieces were sold.
1958-1964 (second generation, transistor and auxiliary tape memories ): of IBM 1401, 10000 systems had been sold at the end of 1964: followed by IBM 1620 for scientific purpose and a series of less known modelsserie di modelli meno diffusi, IBM 7090, 1440, 1410.
ICT 1301 had a certain success in great Britain.
UNIVAC 1004, at the end of 1965 had 3500 installations. In Italy Olivetti ELEA with 110 machines sold was rather popular, and together with GE founded OGE which did not have a big success.
1964-1990 third generation, IBM 360 is followed by IBM 370. Production stops with the advent of PC.; miniaturized circuits, interfaced with external memories, good expansion capability, modularity. Production terminates with the advent of the Personal Computer. PC.
Selenia And The GP-16
My experience in Selenia, Group IRI, began at the end of 1968. I was destined to the Automation Division which had just started to put on the market a Minicomputer, the GP-16.
Selenia was, in 1968, a Company of the IRI State-wned Group, with a Raytheon participation. The Managing Director, Mr. Calosi, was a Director of Raytheon and had brought to Selenia modern Technologies and methods but unfortunately did not have astrong support in the IRI Group.
Prof. Saverio Rotella was at the head of the Division; I had been in touch with him as his assistant for Electronic Component parts. He was clever, ambitious, well prepared but had little industrial experience..
The GP-16 had been designed in Rome and was currently manufactured in the Fusaro facility and was near the HP2116 manufactured by Hewlett Packard;this made the training of the Personnel much easier.
The bootstrap was done toggling with a series 16 switches, followed by perforated tape which with an ASR-33 teletype was the interface of the minicomputer with the external world.. In general, the GP-16 was a reliable good machine.
Initially the GP-16 was destined to scientific applications but there was not enough interest for this kind of market – actually GP-16 had no application software and we believed it could be destined it to the industrial market.
After a fast but accurate Market Research, on about 60 important industries it came out the the market required machines small and not too expensive as Rotella thought, but with all the application software needed.
The competition had already understood what was the problem. Our most important competitor, DEC, Digital Equipment Corporation had hundreds of technicians preparing software. There were other competitors that sold simple applications, like NOVA that claimed to have sold 10000 minicomputers, .
IBM was present with a computer in alll the Companies havin a certain dimension and always had a machine competing with the GP-16 ready for delivery.
A firm market base was created by our Eng. Zibellini with Olivetti, that used GP-16 for supervion of terminals like M20 and M24. We had a lot of help from Marisa Bellisario, a strong, clever woman, unfortunately disappeared too early.
Personally I did my best: I succeded in selling two supervision system to ENEL for standard 620 MW Groups.I must say that I was honest and I said that the supervision systems were not yet true automation.But they were easier to program than the cabled logics used until then. I cannot say that they were more economical. .
A few episodes: one of the ENEL Directors asked me if Selenia could give him, no cost, a small radar for his boat. Fortunately we did not manufacture any radar of that kind, otherwise It would had been embarassing. I gave tot the guy the telephone number of the Director of the FURUNO, the Agency of the japanese factory that I had met.
We had sold a system for the control of the electric supply in Stockholm, Sweden, that went out of use on a Sunday during a storm. Sweden is a civilized Country and our maintenance technician was at home, the beautiful metro stopped……
The delivery of a tender in Venice was due on a Monday morning at 11 a.m. and I decided to deliver it, a big heavy package, personally, It was early morning when I discovered that there was “acqua alta” and in a motorboat, one of the beautiful wooden ones they had in Venice, and to get to the office of the Customer was not easy, there was a bridge and here we had to get back, a nightmare. My Father was born in Venice and fortunately I know the town and all ended with a not small sum of money tht Prof. Rotella was happy to reimburse since we won the tender.
Some system for industrial application was sold by Pierre Denivelle, my no. 2 and G.G. (Graham Gilbert Kemp, a silent very capable British software specialist and we also started using the GP-16 as a remote intelligent terminal; but obviously we had no monopoly and it did not last, any mini would have been good for that.
On the other hand, the scientific market was difficult to attract. I sent a copy of a hamdbook obtained with a lot of work to some 100 professors, the only one that replied with thanks was Margaret Hack…..
We participated to Fairs, did some advertising and profited of a State oranization that was far from efficient to try and increment export. In the meantime it had become easier to visit the “ Iron curtain” States; in the 60es I had not been allowed to get to the Czech Republik and to other Countries from the Italian authorities because of the position of my Father, the “old sailor” worked for NATO. My activity in the missile field and with the Navy was less important, but still had a certain weight..
USSR and the Iron Curtain
Selenia could therefore send me to the URSS, in Moscow, to try and make som kind of alliance for the GP-16. I was sent to Moscow together with two Engineers of Finmeccanica and it was clear that the Soviets considered me sort of responsible of the mission, I was older indeed. The arrival at the Cheremetjevo airport in a rather cool atmosphere was not particularly promising, the interpreter that was with us all the time had no idea of a program for the meetings, but we were in an official mission and therefore we were brought around in 5 m Sowiet concept of Cadillac, length about 5 meter; the difference with a Western Cadillac was that it could pass even with a red light in the beautiful, broad streets downtown.
Our partners were at University level but were not very competent in modern digital techniques.and used what we called cabled logics obtaining good results. On the Moscova you saw hydrofoils larger than the Italian Rodriquez ones. And I cannot say that the river was romantic but certainly among all the uniforms it was nice to see young soldiers with their girls.
We also visited Warszawa and Bucarest. In Warszawa there was very little of interest; more interesting was Bucarest where we spent ten or 15 days at an important fair and where it was clear that the population suffered under the dominationwas ination of the Communist party.The visit had been well organized, to the point of having a team of young ladies escorting us and the atmosphere was friendly.So I declared that I had an experience as blue collar neck and they made me see factories and laboratories, unexpectedly because in that time there was Breznev and the relationships were bad.
The Floppy disk, the killing application
The GP-16 still was too expensive and the Division further lost money, inavoidable as the competition, having a more flexible product and a much wider market, could spread the costs in a better way.and still good margins. I proposed to sell systems with a DEC computer instead of the GP-16; our technicians invented an input and control system which was a step forward and was appreciated., but in 1974, at the Hannover Fair, in what is now called CeBit, then limited to a couple of pavilions, IBM presented a workstation with two keyboards and two operators, which had a floppy disk as a memory, with casual access, the killing application on which the first PC Generation was based. The plastic disk had many advantages, it was light, it could be sent by mail and, most important, it had casual accces.which made corrections and insertions very easy..
Unfortunately nobody took me seriously when I presente a report on the subject but the input systems disappeared very fast. A reorganization was needed ; person of undoubted capability were set at the head of the Division but there was no way, the Division was closed.
Rotella and the other people that had worked with him had been too optimistic ; they had tried to solve a serious problem with unsufficient resources.and a limited coordination at higher level.
The minicomputers have been replaced by much smaller devices.I must say that we were honest and believed in the automation, it was still the old story of the evangelic curse “you will work and sweat” that we had past or at least the first phase, most of the heavy work had been eliminated, powerful cranes made the work of the men, you could go from Torino to Roma in a few hours, almost all the houses had an elevator, it was just the last step.
But we had forgotten something: work means sweating, work at the lathe standing for the whole day was exhausting, the girls working in a textile factory had to be strong ; but at the end of the week or of month there was the payment, a nice envelope with the money inside.
With the automatic systems and with the introduction of chips, rare earth dc motors, with unthinkable moments, the big rooms full of machines started to be empty and instead of the 30 – 40 boys and girls in blue you started seeing a technician in white.I can go on with the examples but the truth is that there is less work, there is virtual underemployment, 3 people when only one is needed. At the beginning the “luddites” destroyed the machines but we are now thinking of other solutions.
Probably the remedy is to find new technologies and new methods of work and some have already been found. I do not insist t because I am not an Economist and these are serious matters.
John Maynard Keynes, a famous Economist, in 1937 wrote that once men are at a level of universal well-being only a limited number of people would be allowed to work, while the others would only be active in cultural, sport and pleasure activities. Let’s go ahead boys and girls, best wishes for your future.
It was not possible, in Selenia, to give me the position in production that I wanted; I was an outsider and my tendency to “throw sand in the gears” had been noted, which were relatively old. I had instead a promotion to Responsible of Public Relations, a job for which I thought not to be prepared nor suitable. My first reaction was negative, but I understood that the Managing Director was looking for an Engineer with some production experience and a good knowledge of Foreign Languages. I accepted, with some doubt thinking to a possible career and that other people could be doing worse.
I found myself in a strange environment. There was the habit of the small Christmas gifts, I had to buy a good number of small calculators: the red LEDs lights were something quite new at that time and as the quantity was not negligibile I could get them at an acceptable price. But in other cases the situation was quite different. I had already discovered that the cooling fans for the GP-16 which were the same I used for the cooling cabines were much more expensive.
Then there was the urgent need for a teleobjective for somebody that had to write an article for us. No problem, taking photos has been one of my favorite hobbies ; I went to a shop downtown where I was well known, paid with a credit card ……. and the owner of the shop made me a substancial discount, almost 30%, explaining that the credit card paid within a few days keeping a small commission, while the payment delays of the Company were unbearable.
I could not believe it, I went to the General Manager that due the amount had sign for authorization and it came out that tests and controls had the same weight, it was enough tha an object passed through the door of the factory for the acceptance and the cost went up. But the article was well written.
I must say that in that period of my life I learned how careful on must be specially when talking.One example: I had an excellent relationship with a young, clever journalist, nowadays editor, that asked me by telephone what I thought after we had lost a big tender abroad. I quietly replied that it had been a political success (it was true) and that “if our Government had done one third of what the French had done we would have sold three times more”. The sentence was published, somebody at high level did not like it, I was called by the General Manager, and could not deny.
The choice at company level had been clearly to avoid interventions at political level and to avoit criticism to decisions taken ; I did not know and I had istinctively rowed against also because I always believed that the “cost of not doing” can be very high ; in that case it was high, we lost the market.
I was invited to resign, I was relatively well treated from the economic point of view and found a new position almost on the same day but today I still ask myself up to which point I was wrong.
The Arabian experience
From Aroldo Riccio, a friend of the University time with whom I still was in touch, I was invited to work for an Italo-American Company, FraserWeir Inc of Chicago. The Company had a beautiful address in the loop of Chicago.I never visited them in the States and I strongly suspect that their office consisted in a desk or little more; their activity mainly consisted in planning and cost control of harbours, airports, roads in the underdeveloped Countries of the time, specially the rich ones-Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Emirates, Kuwait, had all launched themselves in a series of big development programs. It was just the beginning.
Julian Webber, from the human point of view the best boss I had during my long career, was a South African of British origin. Julian had developed new management techniques, derived in good part from the PERT/CPM techniques used by the USA during WW2 for the development of the atomic bomb. In general, the employees were reluctant to accept the new techniques just because they were new. Introducing them in Italy had been difficult because the Companies did not want to spend money on an unknown accessory. In the nearby Switzerland it had been easier notwithstanding the language problem, most of the Copanies that would qualify were in the German speaking part of Switzerland, and the results were not proportional to the big effort needed.
Life In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Most of our work came therefore from a big construction company with Offices in many countries, in Rome and in Jeddah; they too had problems, the most important of which was the instruction of personnel as nobody was able to properly prepare the computer input. Therefore I had to go to Jeddah for the training : my experience was almost only on scientific computers and of minicomputers. Fortunately we had available the excellent IBM literature; I had to produce a training course, naturally in English with flow charts and some details on the peripherals. The participants were about thirty. At the end it came out that two of them were Italians and they were too shy to ask for lessons in Italian, but at the end they put me a number of practical questions. We even talked of religion, because the majority of the attendees had asked for a stop to pray as asked by the Moslem Law. I explained that I would not have had any problem to pray in public but I liked our habit to do it in silence.
As I mentioned earlier nobody was able to make the system, an IBM360/40 work properly ;we ended up making the rather complex planning of an airport by hand, Julian was not pleased. Today the problem would be solved with a PC, the software is no more a problem ;but what happened was that the Saudi Management substituted the technical manager with another Engineer that first thing fired him.
Another problem we had to deal with was water that was never enough. There only was an electric power unit in Jeddah, used almost exclusively for water dissalation ;more water came from an oasis in the North where I had to go many times for a consultancy. It seems stupid but in the elegant hotel where we were lodged there were beautiful flowers but watering them was a big expense. There was something else. One evening, while I went back with the owner of a big farm, that was starting to give fruits apart from making possible the life of a few thousand pigeons, we were caught in a sandstorm. The car, a Buick or other American brand, broad and long as it was, rolled as a motor launch;we were afraid that the engine would stop. We had no water and the car was one of the first not to have water but a cooling liquid in the radiator.All went well; on the following morning the swimming pool of the hotel was half full of sand with a slope of 45% It took days to take the sand away.
A big Italian construction Company.I believe Vianini had to build a dike for rainwater and discovered that the local water brought skin problems;the most economic solution was to import water by air with the DC-8s of Alitalia, which at that time was a good, profitable Company. The research of water gave good results but it seems that it was much more convenient to search for oil instead. While Julian was the most active and most competent of us on Company management, the best in Engineering and in Mathematics in general was Bill Musgrave, who was in the Rome Office and at midafternoon started offering to all the Colleagues some Scotch with milk and went ahead until the end of the day. It was reported, almost as a fairy tale, that at the end of the war Bill, who did not lack neither impudence nor courage, had a problem that he solved on his own.
At end of WW2, the Allied Forces, specially the United States, in the Pacific, had the problem of bringing back home millions of soldiers and of nurses that had fought in the most far away war theaters. Programs were made, and it came out that delays of not only months but of years too were to be expected, specially for the Pacific, were the climate was in many cases unbearable. A half revolution took place, the General Staff had to review the programs, find other solutions, make available more ships and airplanes, a quandary. Bill who was a young fighter pilot at the time, took off with his plane to South Arica where his relatives lived. He had to refuel a few times, but it seems that the personnel of the bases did not even put too many questions. Naturally a Court martial waited for him but somehow he could get back to the University and take a degree.
We had a few not trivial problems, from the R22 air conditioning refrigerant (today illegal) to the generator. In general, specification did not take into account certain aspects, like the fact that using an enormous compressor for air conditioning the voltage of an entire area would possibly go down. There were transportation problems: you could see the rests of the Hegiaz railways destroyed by Thomas Edward Lawrence in 1916-17, almost no roads, transportation of cement from ship to shore was sometimes made by helicopter, to avoid penalties for delayed delivery.
I had learned a few words of Arabic from the taxi drivers but understanding television was almost impossible, also because of the transmissions were of religious content.
I lived a lot at home in air conditioning because of the heat which decreased in the evening, but at the same time there was an increase of the relative humidity, to the limits of the “well-being Chart”. This was not always true, one evening I was among the people invited by the Maire, a cultivated person and a relative of the King (who I believe had a few hundred of cousins) and the combination temperature-humidity was acceptable, seated on the sand, with a big plate with a lamb or sheep cooked on rice. The replies given by the Maire on administration of justice and on the situation of the Country were quite interesting. As far as the justice, he was of the opinion that a honest thief or dealer of stolen goods cannot change profession easily and therefore he has to be kept in jail. Corruption and concussion were widespread, as in all the other countries of the world, but a Law of King Abul Aziz, the Wise, had established a limit of 3% for the Acquirers and Purchasing Agents that often were asking for money.. The taxes were very low but the situation has changed now.
In general in Jeddah the environment was rather depressing, all the women dressed in black, no social life and during free time you only could read a book. I had a personal friend at the US Embassy where big quantities of alcoholics, Scotch and Bourbon in equal proportion, were drunk. At the Italian Embassy they were much more temperate. The Saudian surprised drinking out of the diplomatic seats risked corporate punishment.
Among my jobs there was the cashier one too. For one of the usual planning works I had to go to Abu Dhabi and to Dubai, that was at the time a village where the fishermen repaired their boats inclining them on one side. The Customer brought me for dinner to a very particular hotel, a former French transatlantic which had been transformed removing the machinery and installing a powerful air conditioning plant.The cook was a celebrity; the ship had the name “Le bon vivant”.
After three days of intense work we were paid to the last Rial ; to make us forget the delay in payment they brought us to a show that did not leave us particularly impressed.
If you take in your hands an Atlas of that time, you’ll find the name “Coast of Pirates”, but the Emirates of today are something very different, with their skyscrapers and artificial islands. I do not know what you can find today in Abadan, oil terminal where there was absolutely nothing. That’s possibly why Abadan means “never”.
When I left FraserWeir to become manager of a factory near Milano, in my last visit to Jeddah I had money advance that I had not spent.
As usual I had the documentation of all the expenses, taxi receipts enclosed and I still had some 750 Dollars that I wanted to give back. There was the Accounting Manager and three or four employees that started to laugh. “Paolo, buy a necklace to your wife”. My expenses had been too low.
SIMC: October 1979 – August 1995
From the end of 1995 onwards I have had the opportunity of a diversified activity, both independent and interesting, first with a small Company, SIMC, and then on my own with my wife Beatrice and one of the daughters, Maria Luisa.
All started one morning in a beautiful building of Place Cavour. I was visiting with Claudio Chiodelli, founder and President of the first Italian Credit Card, Diner’s Club, almost disappeared now.
Claudio Chiodelli, the son of a pioneer of radio, Raoul Chiodelli, had a degree in law and had a knowledge of economy and finance that was almost exceptional, therefore an interesting person.
After a small consulting activity for Diner’s I had met Chiodelli during the holidays that he normally spent in the mountains and I was now asking his advice. I was not happy with my work, and I wanted to avoid the mistakes that I hade made in the past. I told him of how I had been offered a position in Southern Italy that could be interesting, in a Company to be restructured but there were 800 persons to be fired and, I said, I’m not a killer.
The offer of Dr.Chiodelli was totally unexpected. The seat of the Company was in Rome, activity technical marketing in various fields, not only in Italy, heavy financial responsibilities, it certainly was not an easy work but I accepted immediately. I was expecting the usual formalities, medical visit various certifications ; my interlocutor took instead the writing pad he currently used, wrote the contract, signed it and brought me to the fotocopier. I signed too, he retained a copy; I had promised to be available in the shortest possible time. I forgot to say that he had given me the position of General Manager in a small Company, SIMC s.r.l.
CAE and INDAL
One month later I was on an aircraft directed to Canada, for training in a simulator factory, CAE in Montreal, and afterwards at Indal Technologies, in Mississauga near Toronto. INDAL Technologies mainly built systems for the Navies, like telescopic hangars and traversing systems for helicopters.
Both CAE and INDAL were primary companies in their area.
Flight Simulators - CAE
I would like first of all to clarify what was a flight simulator in 1979. In the civilian field the simulators were primitive, consisting mainly in a box containing the pilot seat and the essential controls, while for the commercial aircraft the Canadian CAE, the British Rediffusion, and a handful of other companies had to prepare complex mathematical models to be used for the most powerful scientific computers existing on the market. The standard simulator consisted in a reproduction of the cockpit, as similar as possible to the original, to the point that sometime the simulator manufacturer bought one or more original cockpits from the airplane manufacturer.
The simulated cockpit was connected to a powerful scientific computer, typically a DEC VAX and very often but not always a hydraulic system that simulated the movements of the aircraft/cockpit; the behavior of the system was usually well reproduced, I remember the pale faces of a few employees of Fokker after a training session on an F100 simulator.
This was and is still now very important for the simulation of the failures; to train a pilot to land with only one engine running out of 2 can save lives in the real world. The instructor seating out of the cockpit could and can simulate all kind of landings and of problems. The most important developments came with the big commercial aircraft, Boeing B707, 747 and DC-8 and later with the Airbus.
Very important is to simulate any kind of weather. But the big importance of the simulator came out from the fact that you have to train all the pilots: in 1980 Alitalia, I’m told, had 16 or 17 pilots per aircraft and they all had to be trained. As a result the simulator was used 24/7 and the pilots had to train at the hours it was available, 3 o’clock in the morning because to use the real aircraft would have been unthinkable because of the costs of fuel, repair and maintenance in general and risk.
Little attention is now given to the moving simulation system while an increasing importance is given to the visualization where a big progress has been made.
The simulation became part of the design of the aircraft. For the simulation of the military transport aircraft and bombers same criteria as for the commercial aircraft are used, while for fighters the matters is complicated by the inherent characteristics of the aircraft. While a commercial aircraft tends for construction to fly horizontally, and if both the pilots die the aircraft in theory maintains his route until finishing the fuel, a fighter does not have enough aerodynamic lift and it needs a series of accelerations. I was allowed to pilot the simulator of a fighter bomber, the TORNADO, during a series of tests, and I was impressed by its characteristics; but to land without problems you must be a professional pilot. Every time I crashed a bell rang on the background…..
For the helicopters the flexibility of the simulator allows many applications out of standard. Traditionally and also according to the specifications the crash of the helicopter with a bird had to be simulated. The weight of the bird was established by the specs so you took a plastic chicken of that weight and you launched the against the helicopter. The problem was that sometimes it was forgotten to bring the plastic bird at ambient temperature so it was almost like a stone.
The simulator tests represented a big progress, specially in terms of time needed for training the pilots. that was drastically reduced. Nowadays for the small aircraft a PC is enough ; until a couple of years ago Microsoft made available no-cost a program, FLIGHT, that it is now possible to buy from specialized companies at very reasonable price.
For the commercial aircraft conceptually very little has changed but the costs are lower because of the computer power which is higher. Essentially the simulator is used for the procedures and for the final tests, moreover in general the simulator is built by the manufacturer of the aircraft.
In general, the CAE staff was friendly, and for the week I was in Montreal I had the possibility to see the town. There were less Italians than in Toronto, where it happened to me to drink coffee in a place where the employees had migrated from Italy taking with them obviously the wife, the priest who had learned French in Seminar and the coffee machine.
As I said before CAE was the leader on the market, and I had no difficulty in winning the tender for the simulator of the first TORNADO with its visualization system, a few months later in Rome. Until then SIMC had almost only sold spares, and the event was important. The President, Dr. Chiodelli, took the habit of inviting me to lunch every Wednesday when we both were in Rome, for an exchange of views. We normally went to “La Barchetta”, a good restaurant owned by a group of old waiters; and we used to discuss the most important topics whenever needed, for instance when a crazy young man tried to assassinate Pope Jean Paul in 1982 I called him to know more than what the standard Agencies said.
I was almost completely free to take decisions, to write technical proposals.to look for new products. We had good margins, the tax were less heavy as today and our overhead was small. I did my best to reduce sales of purchased goods ;the exchange risk was high, we did not have the Euro yet and the exchange rate with the dollar could have oscillations up to 30%.
At a certain moment we decided to extend our field of acticivity to Telecommunications and satellite telecommunications: at the beginning big antennas were used, up to 30 meter, with the antenna following system from Electrospace; writing specifications and preparing proposal was not easy at the beginning and naturally, I had to get some help. I also had to go and see some of the most important installations which were very expensive but became obsolete in a short time.
Mississauga and INDAL
The meeting in Mississauga in October 1979 was the first of many meetings as the cooperation was to last over thirty years. Mississauga is a nice green town and we were received in a friendly way although we did not understand much of what INDAL built.
Renewable Energies, CANDU, The Canadian Atomic
INDAL Technologies, nowadays as company of the Curtiss Wright Group, of which SIMEwe had obtained the Agency for Italy, had started building Aluminum structures of various kind, originally destined to highways, but when I visited them in September 1979 they were very active in the naval field too, with the telescopic hangars being built and with the landing and traversing systems being designed and developed.. Another product were the vertical axes wind turbines, that needed less space than the normal three- or – five blade horizontal types. They had a good performance but were noisy and delicate, the production was abandoned a few years later. We followed their development because in Italy there was a big interest for renewable enrgy as the energy consumption was growing up together with the young Italian Industry.
In 1980 we had a good introduction at ENEL, the Italian state-owned enterprice ; I had sold them two control systems and had the same worries that they had. The hydroelectric power units built until then covered 80% of the needs but the possibility of expansion were minimal, almost every small river had been entangled and the only possibility seemed to go on oil or coal. In Canada, with a financing of the State of Ontario, it had been possible to develop CANDU, a kind of atomic power unit, expensive bur technically valid. A few CANDU power units had been sold outside of Italy, and at the end of 1979 there were still hopes and we succeeded to sell one simulator unit, that was later converted in another type. But in 1980 the Italians decided that they did not want nuclear energy by referendum, and again they did refuse nuclear after Chernobyl. All our hopes vanished and from that time Italy does not produce any nuclear energy which is imported from near plants located in France, Slovenia and in other Countries.
The telescopic hangars were born with the purpose to allow to a ship of limited dimensions to recover a helicopter by making it land in one point of the deck. After landing and connecting the helicopter to the deck two or more metallic structure would advance and cover the helicopter protecting it from bad weather.
Landing and Traversing Systems
Many human lives have been saved by a helicopter at sea. The range of possible employments is wide and normally peaceful; apart from the most obvious, search and rescue at sea, the helicopter may be employed for supplying locations not easily accessible. To transfer the helicopter from the landing point on deck to the hangar, traversing systems are used nowadays. To avoid dangers for the Personnel, it is normally required that the cables pass below deck.
A few Companies have specialized in manufacturing traversing systems, which have become increasingly important with the increase of weight of the helicopter and while the crews have increasingly been reduced, both in number and in physical strength with an increased percentage of women.For a complete description of recently introduced Helicopter Landing Systems we recommend Naval Forces, III, 2013 page 27-31.
INDAL Technologies was destined to become a market leader: an initial success was RAST, that was adopted by various Navies, in particular by the US Navy, followed by ASIST and TC-ASIST. Of particular importance were the studies of Atef Tadros, unfortunately died too early, and of Robert Langlois.
Presently ASIST has been chosen by the US Navy for the Zumwalt class, future experimental ships defined high tech destroyers (see IEEE August 2013 page 30, Clad in controversy). It will be very interesting to see how they operate, and how they operate for the Italian Navy new FREMM frigate class.
Flight simulation from 1970 onwards
We replaced CAE that had decided to sell directly, with Rediffusion Simulation of Crawley (UK) which was our partner for many years, both in the technical and the commercial field.
Progress has been constant in aviation, not only in the simulator field; the various technologies have gone ahead together, both in the military and the commercial field and technology exchanges have been reciprocal.
With a better and higher use of composites and the new metamaterials, among which very important seems to be graphene, we are again going towards important technical and technology changes. Italy has held one of the first positions in the field of composites, even with the use of finite elements.
It is difficult now to say what will happen in the future but just to give an idea, the Boeing 747 that Beatrice and I saw landing at Fiumicino airport one evening of 1969 was almost identical to the present version 747-400 but really they are two different machines. Needless to say that the changes that have taken place in the last 40 years had the simulator in the front line.
The first Boeing 747 flew thanks to an agreement of Boeing, the manufacturer, with PAN-AM, at that time a big company. For the project a new jet engine, the JTD9, was developed by Pratt and Whitney, the manufacturer of airplane motors. It had a a much better performance than the engines of DC-8 and Boeing 707; the new engine, in service in 1969 had 25 % lower consumption of fuel and is more powerful.
For a long time the B-747 has been the biggest airplane of the world; it is rather flexible, I have seen it landing at Le Bourget with a Shuttle on his back. However, the Airbus 380 has a higher passenger capability which can be useful for big pilgrimages like the yearly Meccah, provided there is the proper organization and inteface with motorways, rail ways etc.
The Rediffusion flight simulators were a success and owing to the many versions of Airbus and of Boeing the software specialists of the Company reached the number of 300. The Commercial Director, Mike Long, a man of great initiative, was decorated with the Order Of British Empire, one of the oldest orders of Britain. He and his Family were received by HM the Queen.
Mike lived and still lives in a typical English house with a big garden in Horsham; I have been invited there many times, during the years of work together.
The Crawley factory was not far from his house; it had a steel structure painted in red, the carpet on the floor was yellow. In winter the heating was more than enough but in summer the ventilation was not enough and air conditioning had not been foreseen because of the high cost and because the really hot days were seldom, and the ladies would walk with naked feet and the gentleman take off their neckties and jackets.
The Rediffusion employee I dealt with for the day-to-day business was John Lillicrap, the assistant of Mike. John had lost his wife many years before and had some problem with his family but he always was in a good mood. From him I learned the most important concepts ; when entering in a bar for lunch or some other reason he said the magic words ”half a bitter”. But I also learned from him a lot on the industry, the sense of humour of the British, the fast efficiency and the ruthless efficiency which are typical of the British justice. John told me once that one day he was not paying attention to a small car following him. He was over the speed limit and on the following day he was in front of a judge that not only fined him but took some time to teach him some basic concepts on the British Law as if he had been a child at school.
Every year the Aviation industry of all the world met alternatively in Farnborough (GB) or in Le Bourget(F) and in the chalets at the border of the aviation field the most important Customers were met, there was lunch and business were concluded. The industry was rich and the costs were not important. From the technical and spectacle point of view it was very interesting, presentations of new airplanes and space vehicles were made here. Probably the most interesting was the Shuttle anchored to the fuselage of a Boeing 747.
Now and then there was an accident, I remember an emergency landing; everything went well, nobody was hurt, but one of the two screws went to pieces and one blade cut deeply in the fuselage of a innocent Fokker 27, producing a long, impressive cut. Unfortunately we not always were so lucky. In one case an entire crew of four was sacrificed to avoid falling into a village.
When the Berlin wall fell in 1989, differently from other manufacturers Rediffusion did not feel much of the military investment fall because its market was mainly the commercial market. In 1988 Rediffusion had reached a very high level of income was bought by Hughes, with a typical american ceremony.
Then the airplane manufacturers started to offer the simulators too;Hughes sold to the French Thomson and at the end Mike retired. A pity, the European industry lost one of its best managers.
.Among our represented Companies there were other important ones. I want to cite here a Division of RACAL which dealt with shortwave receivers, important in a time the satellite communications were still not developed enough. I did not succeed in making them understand a very simple message: you have to comply with the local specifications, continental Europeans use 380/3/50 Voltage instead of 240/3/115. The Company did not survive, one morning I arrived for a meeting in a place in UK and I found a closed factory. Italy was starting to have good quality steel and this brought me to Scotland. In an area known for good scotch and for the pink colour of its hills. The factory was an XiX th century building, with a central, big electric motor and many pulleys connecting it to the operating machines. The personnel, mainly older people, made precision work. The owner, a kind old gentleman, brought me to the station in a incredibly quiet RollsRoyce 1934 and explained me that the factory, still profitable, was over 100 years old and required a minimum of maintenance. He hoped not to be killed by the taxes.
MILES and the US industry
After a few years my visits to the States became more frequent.
LORAL Inc., manufacturer of MILES, had an important research center in Palo Alto, California. There I saw for the first time a strange device, used for positioning the signal on the display, the mouse.
Another noticeable research center was the RCA one, located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. RCA was an empire, they manufactured everything from small radios to refrigerators ; their component parts were very advanced, they were the first to have the gallium arsenide technology. But they were in principle not available to transfer of technology, specially to Europe because their products could be copied and because the profit margins were too low, < 1%, compared with the sales to the US Defence.
There was a conceptual error at the basis: to copy a product is not easy. Exceptions are possible, but the product is made in good part of know-how which is difficult to transfer, unless you also hire the people that designed / manufacture it.
In the end, RCA was bought from a few different compamies that made it to pieces. We kept PRICE, a parametric software for evaluation of cost of big systems; we succeeded in selling three or four systems in Italy. The system came on line, you could only hire it ; it was easy to build up competitors and we participated to the development of MATCH, which was based on almost the same equations, but the US reality was different from the European one. I had to participate to a 15-day training course in a small boring place in New Jersey, not far from New York, a great attraction, but I could get to New York only once.
At the training there was nothing else to do but study. In general I consider long training courses useless, even if they are in attractive places.From the point of view of sales neither PRICE nor MATCH were a success, the number of packages sold was too small. With Electrospace we entered into the market of satellite communications and immediately afterwards we started selling medium sized and big antennas made by COMSAT that was bought by TriPoint Global and later by General Dynamics.
Until the Nineties things had gone In an acceptable way. SIMC made good profits ; the problems came with the “two way street” by which compensation was foreseen between the purchase of Military products made by the European Countries in the USA and purchase of products made in Europe by the USA.. I knew how difficult it was having tried in Canada with one success only; for a company that supplied services as we did it was impossible. Anyhow, the Italian Companies that tried had a series of failures. A good part of our limited resources was invested on this activity with negative results. I was dealing with the transfer of simulation from the military to the industrial field.
In 1992 we received from the Ministry of Defence the order for the inspection of the Italian installations of MILES, the electrooptic system of LORAL for training that had a big success in the USA, at about twenty barracks in different places in Italy. It came out that the most serious problem was the requested localization in Italy of production, that due to the relatively small quantities brought the cost of production to unacceptable levels with respect to the cost in the USA.
MILES was an extremely realistic system. It really allowed to simulate the battlefield, and it was conceived mainly to teach the soldiers to survive in an unfavourable environment. From the human point of view the barrack inspection, from Pinerolo to Casarsa della Delizia and Messina they I did personally, was a unique experience. I had no idea of the good learning capability and of the diversity of the Italians of different regions. My knowledge of MILES after a few years was good, the original handbooks were in plain English but a translation in Italian had been provided by two young Officials.
Apart from the official inspection I normally was invited to lunch by the Commanding Officer, a Colonel or Lt.Col in charge. The conversation was in general on the local problems, the expenditure limits and the old regulations born in 1880 or earlier, when for exercise an entire regiments marched 30 Km a day and purchased goods were beans, corn and oats. Some change was slowly taking place, a decent Officers Mess existed almost in every barracks except in the South where with time it was being built; but for instance if a connecting cable was lost the responsible Officer had to reimburse its cost which could be a considerable part of the Officer’s pay. Therefore I had a certain number of accessories ready with me and I did my best to be of help on various occasions.
For example, standard 9VDC batteries where needed, one for each rifle or weapon. The main Army stores was the supplier, a slow organization, and often the Colonel bought the battery out of his pocket. Fortunately I discovered that if you brought used batteries, to the US stores in Vicenza, no matter how many, you would receive an equal number of new batteries.
The concept on which MILES was based was simple. The noise produced by a shot was traduced into a laser ray ;soldier, tanks etc had sensors on board which produced an acoustic and smoke signal when hit.
In the end the results were good. I had learned to climb on the Leopard and on the old M60 and the Petty Officers knew in a few weeks all the was needed to know on the circuits. There was, at the beginning, some negative reaction because I was a civilian and Director of a commercial company: something similar happened when the PC was introduced at the MOD. The Officers were at the beginning unfavourable, but they soon understood the advantages of a flexible programmable machine.
We were as I said before, at the end of the “Cold War”.We discussed it at length with Mr. Chiodelli which new programs could we follow and we tried with many other product lines. We tried with the promising line of the parallel computers, first with BBN, Bolt Beraneck and Newman well known for its Butterfly computers, and for the development of the predecessor of Internet, Arpanet. The most important contact of this period of time was Sarah Long; together we visited a number of Universities and big Companies in Germany and Northern Italy. In a few cases I went alone and I even had the honour of a presentation to the Swiss ETH in a room where Albert Einstein had been teaching.
BBN was an interesting Company but their Management was afraid of the three years development time needed for the new computer, TC-2000 and closed the Division. Something similar happened with MasPar: we sold one computer to the University of Genova that paid and one to the University of Naples that did not pay not because they were not willing to pay but because of bureaucracy. New tools based on numerical simulation were appearing that were easier to adapt, they were the future but it was not clear at all in the beginning.
The Company which made us get into into this interesting field was ESI, Engineering Systems International.
Founded by a small group of French specialists headed by Alain .De Rouvray it had spread in Europe and at least in part in the US and in Asia, the European Manager was Pieter van der Weijde who lived with his big family in a converted mill in the Netherlands. He was a pleasant guy, clever, fiercely indipendent and did not get well together with Mr.Chiodelli who was not too favourable, to all this new kind of activities, specially software.
Mr.Chiodelli remained in the memory of myself and of many other people as the representative of a past generation of gentlemen. SIME sas, the Family enterprise.
It was full summer when my wife Beatrice and I, together with one of the daughters went to a Notary for the foundation of SIME, Sistemi di Ingegneria Meccanici ed Elettronici sas di Paolo De Gaetano &C.
This has been the most satisfactory and pleasant time of my career. The beginning was heavy, but I had many friends that helped, in Italy and abroad. Beatrice kept the office in Rome while I visited the Customers, she was a great help, the best I had in all my career. Income started to be good, the Company was small, and practically without overhead. To have the office in house meant a few limitations and we had foreseen at the beginning to have a working place outside; on the other hand there was no problem of transferring from the one to the other place, while in the last period of time getting house in the afternoon because of the traffic meant arriving at 7 p.m., no matter at what time I had left the office, at 5 or 6 p.m.
Beatrice liked the work too. From her previous experience, with the small Origin and with the IBM she had had a good knowledge of the software principles. We had spent a holiday learning MS-DOS .the IBM operating system and we had no problem from that point of view. Beatrice also had had some training at IBM, where the Company insisted to sell the IBM 36 while the market requested the PC. In 1995 we added to ESI and to INDAL a satellite communication company, COMSAT RSI, and we sold the first terminal, a 5m antenna, followed by two 16m and 17m antennas through Marconi. The Marketing Director was John Wallace, a nice person, of Italian origin, and the there were rumours of his original name being Giovanni Valacchi, one of the many Italian families wiih a mafia connection. The relationship with Marconi was excellent, I made friends with a few Engineers of Rome and Catania, with Giuseppe (Peppe) Tronelli and another two or three of the Catania staff. Most of our proposal that had success were prepared in that time.
With John Wallace we tried to sell in Germany and in Swtzerlwnd too, with no success.
The next owner of Vertex was Tripoint Global, that not being happy with the balance sheet made it become rapidly positve firing a few hundreds of employees.;moreover they purchased a certain number of companies in order to be able to offer complete satellite systems. John Wallace did not like the new organization and left, a pity because he was a first class Engineer and Manager and we all liked him. The new Area Manager whom we had to report was Barry Watson, stationed in London and former Manager of the Kilgore Factory (not far from Dallas in Texas).
Every year Tripoint Global organized a big meeting of Agents and Representatives where all the new products where presented, an initiative that also permitted to all the Agents to meet. The first meeting took place in Las Vegas; TPG presented the new products and the new Companies and I staid there for a few days; I’m not a gambler, and I looked with surprise the old gentlemen and ladies that were not afraid of spending money and running risks.
A long road was dedicated to reproductions of the most important European and American buildings, Hotels, and even the Venetian Laguna.
Subsequantly I was invited to visit the factories. Kilgore was the most important, and I started from there:note that I had written not far from Dallas, actually it took three hours to get to Kilgore from Dallas.
Kilgore was not a big town, it had many more oer less beautyful homes, one Plaza with two supermarkets and strange for me many churches;they told me that they were 56. There was the sheriff who had the traditional big caliber gun and big jeep. There were a few wildcats for the extraction of oil, many non operating.
In Kilgore the big antennas were manufactured; the dimensions of the floor were big enough for a few tens of packaged antennas, The production was by lots.
In Richardson, not far from Kilgore, the antenna controls were made. I found many people I had already met, coming from Electrospace. I slept in a Hlton Hotel that had the advantage of a big library in front where I could spend the long afternoons and evenings. But two years later it had changed property and Management and it had not renewed the licence to sell alcolholics; the mangement had a small orchestra and a few good singers that sang “The lion sleeps to- night” and similar masterpieces.
The small antennas were made by Prodelin in Newton North Carolina, in a big long building where the Managenent was stationed too. There I met Gary Kanipe, the Manging Director of the TPG Group, and Marvin Shoemaker the General manager, a man with whom I developed an excellent professional relationship.
I liked North Carolina, there was an old mill of two hundred years ago.
The antennas of Prodelin were manufactured in series with a big press, by lots of hundred each. The production factory had a Manager that was a woman and an engineer, she had three children. Her car, needed in a country like that, had three seats behind for the children.
In Duluth, Georgia, near Atlanta, I was surprised by the number of big empty offices, many people had been fired recently while it was foreseen to have a big number of employees using parts and subsystems manufactured by other divisions.
Atlanta had in my opinion one noticeable building: a big airconditioned gallery where you could buy everything, ;no trace of the civil war and of Scarlett O’Hare. Maybe there was a museum I had not looked for, it was terribly hot and I had not time to look. Most of the Agents found the meetings too expensive, and after afurther one in Washington it was decided to have a yearly meeting in Amsterdam for IBC, where I have been every year until 2004.
In our activity for the Three Point Global we took various contracts; the most important came in 2000, it was for many million dollars. The contract was for a triband satellite ricetransmitter, a new product. Marconi added a UHF transceiver and other parts that were packed together in a shelter.
We had sold on the basis of a leaflet with good characteristcs invented by a technician from Duluth who thought to use together two dualband terminals. Unfortunately redesigning the antenna was a need and the charcteristics had to be verified, there were many meetings in Rome with Watson and with the Kilgore Engineers. I personally found difficult to believe that no prototype had been manufactured.
Much work was needed from the part of everybody concerned to obtain a reliable product. From that terminal a series of good working devices was derived from Selex, formerly Marconi-Selenia and further developed. A few antenna orders arrived from time to time.
Some antenna and amplifier orders arrived for Fincantieri. I had to frequently visit Fincantieri for the telescopica hangars. For the finite elements activity SIME first big customer was Giorgetto Giugiaro, in Moncalieri near Torino, followed by BLUE engineering, Pininfarina and many car designers of the Torino area and a number of research centers. We succeeded in selling PAM-CRASH to the Politecnico di Milano, and in one of the few occasions I we had the permission to sell abroad I sold to the ETH in Zurich ETH wanted to simulate the blood motion in the heart.
Many promises came from the University of Rome that in the end was supported by CSM in Pomezia, CAP GEMINI bought a PAM-CRASH system that required a parallel computer to work; it was Paolo Perona that rapidly learned everything that was needed and made it work.
For many years I have been in correspondance with Danilo Lazzeri, of BLUE Engineering, who heard music while working.. From a certain moment on I started being known and i was asked for help. For the software; often we were requasted for advice for the hardware. We never allied permanently with a hardware manufacture, we liked to be independent.
We represented ESI until July 2005, while all the activity is now in the hands of SIME 2007 srl. headed by my my friend Francesco D’Angelo.
All good things come to an end. The electronics that I knew is changing, the problems of globalization and of energy are making me curious and afraid at the same time.
They say that our works follow us. Let’s hope they are right.
- The last BLU transmitter was taken down, I believe, in 1993.
- The diesel motor was a Mercedes OM 636 VI, 40 CV / 34 KW. Gasoline was almost twice as expensive as diesel in Italy. Boats has gasoline at “Political price”and the Studebaker engine found therefore a use.
- A woman Engineer was rare. In my first year we had one, that became the wife of the owner of a small hotel on the Lake of Misurina near Cortina d’Ampezzo
- At the end of the thirties it had been discovered that the nuts had good nutritional properties and could be the base of products substituting chocolate.
- Mostly Olivetti.
- The plane was a DC-3 and cold carry 32 passengers at 380 Kmh. The engines were Pratt and Whitney, 2 rows of 19 cylinders each, therefore there always was one cylinder losing oil.
- At high temperature sulphur becomes SO2 which damages metal.
- Actually Frau Hildegard was a family friend, whose husband had lost his activity in the 1931 crisis.
- Hubert Regnault de la Mothe, formerly a former French naval Officer,born in Paris, refined and with a beautiful wife.
- Annita Riccioni, a cousin of my grandmother,received the Star for Merit on Work personally from Mussolini.
- As soon as possible we subtituted them with fluorescent lamps. The reason of the old incandescent lamps was that using lamps with the same frequency of some turning equipment there is the possibility of seeing the running body as stationery. As it is well known the solution is to have multiple lamps on different phases.
- Pons was probably too young for the responsibility he had; in 1961 he bought an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint, one of the fastest cars in Ialy at that time and spent the weekend driving some 1000 Km, gasoline was relatively unexpensive at that time.
- Olivier Garreta had a degree in Physics. A kind, clever guy, he was always ready to help and I asked him every time I did not understand something. There was a reciprocal esteem, unfortunately he died young ,a few years later.
- Carlo Pietra, a first class Engineer, had spent most of his life manufacturing thermionic tubes and had even written a book which was almost an encyclopedia but I do not think it was ever published. The new technology of semiconductors had already taken the place of the tubes, while a new generation of integrated circuit was born.He was a good organist and from the demolition of an old church he had bought a church organ ,converted it to be an electric organ, and played for hours- Apparently some of his neighbours did not appreciate organ music.
- Ferrero was one of the best Engineers of his time , Unfortunately he died when he still was young.
- Usually I divided the responsiblity with Giancarlo Grasso, younger and much better prepared than I.Giancarlo had a series of important positions in the Italian industry.
- Considering the the cook had to prepare 350 meals, it was good. I often tasted it and said to the cook “it needs more salt” or “double cheese, please”. I discovered that I had to be careful because the cook would take my words literally; the gir actually took for good whatever I said.
- Like many other people Sassoli thought that women had to stay at home, make children and possibly not speak too much.
- Ceccano is a small town near Frosinone.
- Not needed since I had been formally confirmed.
- As I have said Mr. De Sario still calls me after 50 years
- In Venice it happens on certain particular conditions that the level of water is unuasually high,up to 1.5 m.
- The French Governement had sent a numerically strong MIssion , including one Minister and specialists of all kind, apart from the Ambassador.
- Actually a similar sentence had been uttered by a disappointed Manager
- There were two kinds of bier:lager,stronger and more similar to German bier, and bitter, lighter
- 1 The beginning: 1958 -1960
- 2 Mission to Sweden
- 3 AUTOVOX, 1960
- 4 CIRCE (Componenti italiani per radio civile e industriale) Pontinia, 1961 - 63
- 5 Pontinia
- 6 The relationship with the Management in Milano and in Paris
- 7 Life in Pontinia and Sabaudia in the ’60s
- 8 New structures: the canteen and the mechanical workshop
- 9 The Labour Unions
- 10 The “Missile Ladies”, Sigme, Società Italiana Generale Missilistica
- 11 WIESNER and the AIFEL
- 12 From The Mainframe To The Minicomputer And To The PC
- 13 Selenia And The GP-16
- 14 USSR and the Iron Curtain
- 15 The Floppy disk, the killing application
- 16 Final considerations
- 17 Public Relations
- 18 The Arabian experience
- 19 Life In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
- 20 SIMC: October 1979 – August 1995
- 21 CAE and INDAL
- 22 Flight Simulators - CAE
- 23 Mississauga and INDAL
- 24 Renewable Energies, CANDU, The Canadian Atomic
- 25 Telescopic Hangars
- 26 Landing and Traversing Systems
- 27 Flight simulation from 1970 onwards
- 28 MILES and the US industry
- 29 Notes