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Early computing at Morgan Crucible Co

HEC4 Console The first article below was written in 1954 by Mr E. W. Workman B.Sc.(Eng), A.G.C.I., F.A.C.C.A., F.C.W.A., formerly Controller of the Morgan Crucible Co. Ltd. It describes how the company, a pioneer in the use of commercial electronic computing in the UK, set about justifying the purchase of its first machine. Click on right hand image for full picture.

The computer selected was the HEC4 Electronic Computer designed by the British Tabulating Machine Co (later becoming ICT and then ICL - who re-named it the ICT 1201), which was used with modified Hollerith punched card equipment for I/O peripherals. Systems were designed to use conventional 80 column punched card equipment for much processing (sorters, collators, tabulators and reproducers). Details of this machine are described in a second article below. Both articles were published in the "Electronic Engineers Reference Book" for 1958. The cost of the machine was about £30,000.

I have included brief specifications of the HEC4 at the end of this page.

1201-2 The major applications at the Battersea factory were Payroll, General Ledger, Sales and Debtors Analysis and Production Output. These were based on databases consisting of up to 30,000 cards. A number of factory applications used turn-around cards and large trolleys of these were wheeled to production control offices each week. There was also a Lamson pneumatic tube system that could be used to transfer bundles of up to 100 cards, but its use was discouraged by the Operations Manager, who never knew who had sent them!

I worked on this machine for a while before it was superceded in 1965 by an ICT 1902 and can provide further details on its technical details, applications and programming if anyone is interested.

Simon Buxton -
Go to Morgan Crucible Web site.

Office Electronic Computer Development

    1. This describes how thought and planning for the office use of an 
electronic computer have been developed during the past year in a 
particular company, which consists of a head office attached to a 
factory with 3,000 employees, several subsidiary factories at home and 
abroad, and a number of branches in various parts of the Empire. Also 
how this company has gone about the project, why the various decisions 
were made, and how the theory on this subject is being turned into practice.

    2. Preliminary investigation. One person was appointed to gather all 
information possible about electronic computers and to make proposals as to 
their use, if their adoption should prove to be warranted. This preliminary 
survey took about three months and necessitated a vast amount of reading of 
everything connected with this subject, of attending lectures at Cambridge
and London, and of obtaining, via New York connections, all possible
information as to progress in the U.S. At the end of three months, although 
this information was still being collected, it was possible to formulate the 
requirements and to develop a plan of action.

    The first thing that was found necessary was to form a team to co-
ordinate the three aspects of technical electronics: clerical methods and 
the needs of management and accounting control. Specialists in each of these 
three branches formed the team to develop the recommendations and possible 
applications of the computer.

    3. Output requirements. The conclusion was soon reached that there 
were two necessary conditions that had to be met. 
    (1) There must be a dual output, i.e. information for two sorts 
of record at approximately the same time, e.g. payroll and employees' 
tax carried forward information.

    (2) Alphabetical printing to give names and addresses and 
intelligible headings for returns.

    The main difficulty was in finding available auxiliary apparatus 
for the input and output of whatever computer was settled on. It is 
the selection of this apparatus and its uses, together with the 
consequent modification of the clerical method, that takes up most 
of the development time.

    4. Punched cards. There is already a complete punched-card installation,
and it was decided that it would be far easier to develop progressively 
from the existing system rather than to plunge into a completely new field. 
The present punched-card equipment, modified where necessary, gave the 
solutions to most of the auxiliary machine problems not without difficulty
--and enabled the best use to be made of the different techniques that 
had been developed over the past few years. This decision enabled a number 
of things to be done, viz.:

    (l) By use of a punched-card line printer the alphabetic condition 
would be satisfied, and the dual output condition would be solved by 
the use of a summary punch in addition to the line printer. The use of 
alphabetically punched cards, in conjunction with the alphabetic printer,
meant that the problems connected with processing alphabet work in the 
computer could be avoided as the computer could be by-passed and the 
alphabetic information go direct from the card to the printer.

    (2) It was possible to recommend that a computer should be purchased 
on the simple grounds that the depreciation and operating cost would be 
less than the rental charges of the punched-card tabulators at present
in use. This method avoided the making of wild estimates as to future 
saving in clerical routines and as to what value should be placed on the
additional information which would be made available by the use of a 
computer. All such advantages would form additional justification and 
make the project even more profitable.

    (3) It meant that the clerical systems could be developed unobtrusively
over the following two years without violent upsets and general pandemonium
and that this development could take place at convenient dates in different

    (4) It meant that a start could be made in the changing of the clerical
methods eighteen months in advance of the computer delivery, making do for
the time being with ordinary punched-card equipment. The effect of the
computer being delivered would then mean only that results were very much
more speedy and complete, and that many more control by-products would 
ecome available.

    This method meant that as development would take place in an orderly
fashion whilst awaiting the computer, it could very quickly be put into
fairly full operation when the computer arrived, without a sudden and
universal upheaval in clerical routines.

    (5) Incidentally, it is hoped that the last paragraph will give the clue
to the answer to the frequent question as to what happens if there is a
catastrophic breakdown--a possible occurrence even if a very unlikely one.
A tabulator with the same printing arrangements as the computer will have
will be retained, and it should then be possible to get over any breakdown
by the use of a small amount of normal punched-card equipment though at a
very much reduced speed and with a postponement in the production of any not
immediately essential statistics. There is another safety factor in the
possibility of running the computer at night should there have been a lengthy
breakdown during the day.

    (6) The use of punched cards saves the necessity for providing a very
large internal store. By the use of ordinary sorters a lot of electronic
sorting is avoidable, thus saving considerable computer time. In addition
cards can frequently be sorted whilst they are accumulating, and whilst there
is no pressure on presentation of results. This preliminary sorting thus
enables even faster production of the final returns.

    (7) The use of punched cards will enable the initial recording to be cut
down to a minimum by the use of pulled cards from pre-punched files. Pulling
files will in effect constitute a very large external storage. By mark-
sensing additional information on pre-punched and interpreted cards, it is
hoped to cut out all unnecessary clerical operations.

    (8) The use of punched cards will enable use to be made of an ordinary
punched-card tabulator for short runs and for straightforward listing or for
the production of, e.g. pay-bags from the summary cards. thus saving the
computer time for more complicated work.

    5. Development programme. The above considerations gave firm ground on
which to base & development programme whilst awaiting the computer, and
enabled the following steps to be taken-:

    (1) For the space of about a year, a few of the present punched-card
machines are being duplicated to provide extra capacity during development,
The duplicate machines are those which will[ eventually substitute the
existing ones when the computer is delivered. In particular, a new tabulator
will have exactly the same feeding and printing arrangements as the computer.
In addition, a small electronic calculator is being installed to speed up the
multiplication, the load of which would otherwise delay development.

    (2) The payroll and labour analysis forms and routines are being altered
department by department, to conform with the new requirements.

    (3) The order/invoice/statementing procedure and stationery are likewise
being slowly altered to conform to the new requirements.

    (4) The finished stock records are similarly being modified department
by department.

    (5) Whilst the above clerical routine is being reorganised the detailed
computer programmes are being completely worked out and will be tested on
a computer which exists elsewhere.

    (6) The above developments are enabling the operating staff to be trained
so that they understand exactly how the whole system is being built up.

    6. First jobs. (1) The aim with the order/invoice procedure is that the
quotation of a customer's account number, a delivery address number (if
different), products required, pattern number and quantities will enable all
further clerical work to be done automatically. This will include
statistics of orders; printing of dispatch notes; invoices and address
labels; the debiting of customer,: ledgers; statementing; sales analysis;
stock recording and stock ordering. At a later stage, methods should develop
so that this list may also include machine loading and raw material control.

    (2) No special comments are required in regard to the wage routine,
though it may be mentioned that the estimated time for producing
a very complete pay-slip is 3 sec per employee. In this time the calculations
will have been made for time-work, piece-work and bonus-work, and there will
have been taken into account the different considerations of holiday pay,
minimum pay, special deductions, repayment of advances, national insurance,
savings, P.A.Y.E. and any other standard deductions.

    (3) The whole job, to include all aspects, is complex, and it is believed
will have raised most of the electronic and system problems which are liable
to be encountered in other sections of the work.

    (4) After the above procedures have been established, the intention is
to proceed with the mechanisation of most other routine work on the same
lines, as it is believed there will be ample computer capacity. In addition,
it is intended to investigate the extent to which the computer can assist in
the solution of mathematical and research problems.

(a) Paper before Industrial Management Research Association, 1954.
(b) Article in Accountant, October 23, 1954.
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Description of HEC Electronic Computer

    1. This is an electronic digital computer introduced by The British
Tabulating Machine Company Ltd. Hec is a general purpose data processing
machine, designed primarily for commercial computation by electronic
methods in combination with standard electro-mechanical Hollerith punched-
card equipment. The HEC Electronic Computer uses eighty-column Hollerith
punched cards for the reception of data and instructions.

    It will record, analyze, remember, calculate, compare and tabulate the
multitude of individual transactions which constitute, in the widest
Hec diagram
Fig. l. Schematic diagram of input, output and electronic unit connections of HEC.
sense, the book-keeping of any organisation. It is a machine tool of
versatility, suited to the diverse accounting and statistical requirements
of government, commerce and industry, and to the varied needs of the
accountant, the actuary and the statistician. The general arrangement is
shown in Fig. l.

    2. Input. This is from a standard eighty-column card via the card feed
unit. These cards may be punched in any notation, e.g. decimal, sterling,
gallons and firkins. Simultaneously with the transfer of numerical data to
the electronic unit the output units may receive alphabetic or numeric
information directly from the input cards.

    Card reading for numeric data is at the rate of 125 cards/min if there
are no direct transfers from the input to the output. If there are such
transfers, the rate is 80 cards/min for 'alpha-numeric' reading, or 100
cards/min if the print unit output is numerical only.

    Of the eighty card columns available, the order of fifty (varying a
little with the notations punched) are available for entry into the
electronic unit; all columns are available for listing or for transfer of
numerical indicative material to the punch output; twenty-two columns on
'alpha-numeric' machines are available in the same way for 'alpha'.

    3. Output. This may be printed or punched. When printed, the output is
directed to the print unit of the input tabulator, and when punched to the
punch mechanism of the output gang punch. Either or both forms of output may
be specified. When printing and punching from the electronic unit are both
included in the same programme, separate instructions are available for each.

    The operating speeds of a numerical print unit and output gang punch are
100 lines or cards/min, respectively. In practice it is necessary to convert
the notation in which the results are obtainable in the electronic unit to
standard notations. Allowing for the conversion time, the effective printing
speed obtained for a single line of sixty-four characters is 1.1 sec.

    The electronic unit is designed to compute during printing. Where a
number of results are being printed in succession, much of the conversion
time is absorbed during the course of printing, and speeds of considerably
higher than 1 sec per line are obtained. The effective speed of the punched
output is also reduced because of the need to convert from one notation to

    4. Drum storage. This gives the electronic computer its ability to carry
out long sequences of arithmetic operations without human intervention. On
the drum are stored both instructions and numbers, in the form of magnetic
spots. An instruction is a three-part number defining:

(1)   The component of Hec which is to operate, and if it is the arithmetic
     unit whose operation is to be programmed.

(2)  The number on the drum, if any, to be processed.

(3)  The position on the drum where the programme controller will find its
     next instruction.

    Instructions are originally punched on cards, six instructions to a card.
A set of instructions is called the programme for the job.

    The capacity of the magnetic drum is 1,024 words, i.e. numbers or
instructions. The periphery of the drum is divided into sixty-four sections
or tracks, and on each track there is room to store sixteen words. The length
of a word is 40 binary digits. The drum speed is 50 rev/sec, and remembering
that there are sixteen words on a track, the basic word transfer time is
1/800 sec, 1.25 msec.

    5. Programme controller. This consists of a valve register of word
length, which reads instructions from the drum, and causes the other
components of the electronic unit, the input and outputs to carry out the

    In operation Hec is a two-beat machine; either an instruction is read
from the drum to the programme controller, or the instruction already set up
in the programme controller is executed. These two beats take place
successively. Each instruction includes not only a specification of the
arithmetic or other operation to be performed, but also the drum position in
which the next instruction will be found. The basic transfer time for an
instruction to be read from the drum is 1.25 msec.

    6. Arithmetic unit. This consists of four valve registers each of one-
word length; they are called the A (accumulator), M, Q and B registers.

    A is used to hold one factor in adding or subtracting operations; the
other factor is read from either the drum, Q or B. Additions and subtractions
take place during a basic word-time of 1.25 msec. Because the position of the
next instruction is included in the current instruction, it is possible to
carry out the two beats necessary for an addition or subtraction in 2.5 msec,
or at the rate of 400 of these operations per sec, and immediately start on
the next two beats.

    M is used to hold a multiplier, and either Q or B to hold a multiplicand;
multiplication is performed at high speed. Average time for multiplication
by a factor of the equivalent of about 8 decimal digits is approximately 20
msec. One multiplication instruction may produce the product, recorded in A
and M, of two standard length words, i.e. the equivalent of two factors of
approximately 13 decimal digits.

    M, B and Q are used when the built-in division circuits are brought into
play. The number in M is divided by the number in B and the quotient recorded
in Q. Two full-length words can be divided to give a 40 binary digit quotient
in 50 msec. Provision is made for higher speeds when less digital capacity
is required.

    B and Q are quick access stores permitting words to be read to A or the
programme controller in 1.25 msec without any waiting time.

    7. Card preparation. Cards, which can be punched by any normal method of
card preparation, are used both to feed into the machine the instructions
which enable it to carry out a programme, and also the data on which the
programme is to operate. In certain mathematical work the data on which the
programme is to operate can be included in the programme itself. Twelve
instructions are punched on each card.

    Data cards vary according to the application (i.e. material analysis,
cost control, payroll, credit control). Different sections on such cards are
punched in different notations as required, weights, values, hours, rates.
Programmes already worked out are available for many standard operations such
as square rooting, P.A.Y.E., and the calculation of sines and cosines.

    The accuracy of the punching can be checked in a standard verifier. The
punched card, as the medium by which Hec is actuated, carries the advantages
of a permanent and easily read record, the accuracy of which can be proved
before it is used and at any time thereafter.
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Specifications of ICT HEC4

HEC4 Brief Specifications
P.R.F.38.4 kc/s
Number baseBinary
Word Time1.25 milliseconds
Word length39 and sign
Instruction type1 operand; 1 next instruction
Magnetic Drum3,000 rpm; 64 tracks; 1024 words;
track switching 5 milliseconds;
 18.75 milliseconds max. access
Quick Access stores2 words
Add or Subtract2.5 milliseconds
Multiply800 milliseconds max.; 240 milliseconds ave (slow)
 50 milliseconds max.; 22.5 milliseconds ave (fast)
Divide48.75 milliseconds
Punched cards100 cards per minute (in); 100 cards per minute (out)
Printer100 lines per minute; 100 characters per line

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Count since 7/3/07.
Page maintained by Simon Buxton. Created: 23/03/98 Updated: 14/1/2011