Mon Apr 22, 2019, 10:39 PM

Project Tinkertoy - TOP SECRET!

Project Tinkertoy—the forgotten, machine-built micromodule from the early 1950s that preceded the development of the IC

In the early 1950s, the US military was already concerned about high-volume production of defense electronics. Widespread adoption of electronic controls for a variety of weapon systems spurred the desire to develop high-speed, low-cost, high-volume electronic system production at a time when push-line, hand assembly of point-to-point wiring in systems was predominant. Printed-circuit boards had not yet gone into production and there were not enough trained human electronic assemblers to meet anticipated needs in the case of another war—and Korea was heating up at the time.

The US military turned this problem over to the US National Bureau of Standards (NBS), which produced Project Tinkertoy—a pilot, modular, automated, electronic assembly system that could produce a range of small electronic micromodule assemblies based on resistors, capacitors, coils, and tubes. These assemblies were based on a stack of silver-patterned ceramic wafers, thick-film resistors, capacitors, and tube sockets. The resulting wafer stacks were interconnected by as many as twelve wires. All of these components were fabricated, assembled, and tested by automated machinery, also developed by NBS. Humans were needed only to move material from one machine to the next and to stick punch cards into the machines to identify the particular parts to be manufactured or tested.

Last time I looked, there was scant information about Project Tinkertoy on the Web. However, the US Navy created a 30-minute film in 1953 to document Project Tinkertoy, at a time when the pilot project was well along but not quite finished. That film is now digitized and appears on YouTube. It provides us with a fascinating historical look at the earliest development of automated circuit assembly along with some footage of what must be the first printed circuitry, used to join together multiple Tinkertoy micromodules.

Project Tinkertoy would quickly be overshadowed by the developments of printed circuitry, transistor circuits, and ultimately the development of the IC six years later in 1959. However, if you watch the Navy film closely you’ll see the roots of automated electronic system production and production equipment that’s not so different from later IC production equipment. In fact, the similarities lead me to conclude that there’s a direct evolutionary path from the NBS-developed Tinkertoy pilot-line equipment and later automation used to fabricate ICs. With just a little imagination, you can easily see the origins of surface-mount technology (see my EDN Surface Mount Series from 1987) and 3D assembly here as well.

The Motorola 5P-32R utilized Tinkertoy technology.

P.S. - guess who once ran presses spitting out SMT modules and inspected them under a microscope?

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Reply Project Tinkertoy - TOP SECRET! (Original post)
wonderwarthog Apr 2019 OP
Troll2 Apr 2019 #1
wonderwarthog Apr 2019 #2

Response to wonderwarthog (Original post)

Tue Apr 23, 2019, 07:29 AM

1. IBM Solid Logic Technology - used in the first System 360s, 1964-1968

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Response to Troll2 (Reply #1)

Tue Apr 23, 2019, 03:28 PM

2. Very cool stuff!

I bet some of these went to the moon in '69 and after.


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