1. IMACS (Industrial Measurement and Control System)

    By Gene Sengstock

    IMACS (Industrial Measurement and Control System) was envisioned as a way to apply Canberra’s technology to a new and much larger than nuclear instrumentation market.

    The plan was to offer a rugged central control unit with modules and interface connections to allow customers to monitor and control automated manufacturing and process control machinery.

    The concept was a valid one to the extent that the Connecticut Department of Economic Development provided several hundred thousand dollars to help Canberra develop the product line.

    Using the Series 90 MCA – which used an industry standard internal bus structure – as a base, Canberra developed the main controller and software, and used OEMs for the interface electronics.

    The IMACS controller included some fairly sophisticated features for its time, including a Color Touchscreen Display and a multi-user, multitasking operating system (OASIS).

    Mike Catalano was the lead engineer for the hardware development, and Steve Piner was the software lead. I was the “prime mover” and oversaw the marketing and sales. (I also put together the paperwork which brought in the DECD funding.) We hired Bud Sielaff, who had a background in controls, in 1983.

    As you know, the venture eventually failed and the division was shut down. Some thoughts on why it wasn’t successful:

    The concept was great, but the market was too big. This means players like General Electric and Allen-Bradley were getting into the game. With their proven industrial backgrounds and very deep pockets, Canberra was hard pressed to compete.

    PC technology was improving (and prices declining) at an unbelievable rate. Product life cycles were measured in months, rather than the years Canberra was used to seeing. This resulted in: 

    Canberra’s technological edge rapidly eroding.

    Computer prices (and the attendant product gross margins) falling very quickly, making the needed product support too costly.

    Jerry Grader, who was from the industrial control market place, was brought in to try to overcome the first problem, but I think – with the crystal clarity of hindsight – the second factor could never have been overcome. (Think of the number of PC related businesses that also failed in that era.)