Lancaster, Pennsylvania – November 29, 2018
Photonis Defense worked over the last year with industry vacuum electron device manufacturers and the Association of Old Crows (AOC) to form the Vacuum Electron Device Industry Planning Partnership (IPP).
Malcolm Carruthers, Vice President of Power Tubes and Microwaves, hatched the idea of a consortium five years ago while working in another company. The idea didn’t gain any traction until the Photonis CEO called for the first meeting of industry representatives at the 2017 AOC Symposium to gather input and support. During that meeting Carruthers explained that solid state electronics were replacing vacuum tubes in some applications and that universities quit teaching young engineers about vacuum tubes. Furthermore, solid state companies employed huge marketing budgets to tout the hype that the new technology would take over the industry.
The only way to combat this by getting the truth out was to form a collaborative with all of the vacuum tubes companies, Carruthers said. But end users were not ready to hear that solid-state alternatives would not perform as promised. The government had directed companies to move toward “digital” technology and not enough data existed to prove it would fall short of expectations. Time showed the solid-state systems do not produce the power or efficiencies achieved with vacuum tubes. So a year ago, Carruthers promoted collaborating with the three other U.S. companies and two or three remaining European firms who make vacuum tubes. All agreed working together to educate end users about the advantages of tubes would help sustain the industry. Carruthers was perfect to lead the effort; the London-area native who now lives near Boise, Idaho had either worked for or with every company in the partnership.
“The reality has come home the last two to three years,” Carruthers said. “Our industry had consolidated and the time for a partnership had come.”
The partnership being formed is the Vacuum Electron Device Industry Planning Partnership IPP. For more information, visit https://www.crows.org/page/VEDIPP.
Thirty years ago, there were twice as many vacuum tube companies, Carruthers noted. Now, each surviving company has its own niche markets. Photonis leads all in the group in making small and miniature traveling wave tubes.
“The industry has done a fairly poor job of publicizing our successes,” he said. That will change with the collaboration. The improved reliability of vacuum tubes through the years is key. The last study of reliability is probably 30 years old and needs to be updated. Satellites, for instance, need systems to work reliably for 10 to 15 years without maintenance and vacuum tubes are proving the best choice.
The point is to educate the user world, young engineers and politicians that solid state technology is not taking over all of the tube applications, said Paul Jones, Director of Quality and Innovation.
“Tubes are still a large part of our electronic warfare systems, ground based, airborne, shipborne and many are still used in satellite communications, Jones said. “Tubes are still a very big part of the transmitting world.”
Many younger people coming into the industry haven’t been taught about vacuum tubes and that could eventually trigger the dying out of the technical field. That would prove a problem for military and other applications, Jones said. Solid state has a marketplace, but so do vacuum tubes.”
Written by: Ryan Robinson