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Posted by STEVE M on

Hah,  I bet that title got your interest piqued and I'll bet it's not what you thought either.   The Touch of a Woman's Hand was the title of a BBC Eurpoean Service radio broadcast from 30th July 1953 by C. L. Bolz the then Science Correspondant of the BBC made describing a visit to Mullard Whyteleafe.

I have transcribed excerpts from the script drawn from Mullard archives with which to regale you with.  I do hope you will read this using your best Mr Cholmondley-Warner accent and inwardly cringe at the bloopers and non PC faux-pas as our modern day conventions would call them - for your delectation: -

After telling his listeners what was inside a valve, Mr Bolz explained that the component parts are assembled by hand - "This is very delicate work, even in the valves of ordinary size and when they are deaf-aid valves, so small that three of them will fit into a thimble, you can imagine the degree of delicacy required, for the metal filament used in such a valve is about one tenth the diameter of a human hair - as one observer put it, watching the girls at work, he saw a girl picking up nothing and putting it into a space that did not exist - and I must say that this amusing description was no exaggeration for I saw girls doing it!"

The problem hand jobs can cause - "Naturally, the more an industry depends upon the skills of thousands of hand workers, the greater is the possibility of quality variation and this used to be the case in the valve industry; the percentage of rejections was enormous but has now been reduced by attention to process detail and better design of electrodes for ease of assembly.   But it is still too high to be tolerated by any firm that cannot afford wastage and certainly no firm in Britain at the present time can afford it."

New manufacturing techniques - "This has led one well know firm (Mullard) to introduce new methods into the manufacture of sub miniature valves that have aroused great interest in visitors from many countries.  I saw the methods in use.  The wastage is reduced to far less than 2%, even 1% with a few star performers.   

New equipment too - "The first part of the technique so applied was to design gadgets that reduce the error in assembly, jigs as the engineer calls them, so made that at final assembly, the electrodes can be put together one way only and in no other way.  And here I must emphasize that the aim is to produce valves in large quantities."

Young girls are best at it "The next part of the technique is the preliminary training of the girls, a totally new departure. The girls are not accepted for training over the age of 25.  Before acceptance they have a stringent eye test to make sure not only that the sight is perfect but also that there is no likelihood of fatigue or eye strain."

Novel, new training methods - "The novel training methods make use of devices that train hand-and-eye co-ordination.  One of them is simply a bent wire standing up from a wooden base.  The task is to thread over this wire a metal disc and thread it over QUICKLY and ACCURATELY so that it does not touch the wire during the threading.  When it does touch, a bell rings and training is not satisfactory until a girl can thread a certain number of discs every minute with the minimum of bell rings.  Another gadget trains the touch without sight to help.  The task is to thread over three upright rods, a disc with three holes in it, the job being done behind a screen so that the girl must feel the correct action.  Yet another, more compicated device is to train independant finger control.  Every mistake lights up a red light."

Give a girl a tool and she'll finish the job - "The welding of the tiny electrode to the connecting wires is done by electricity and the welding is taken to the job, not as in the past where the job was taken to a rather clumsy welding machine.  It's done by haviing a plugged electricity supply at every worker's station and a pair of insulated tweezers for the actual welding.  All components are covered with plastic sheeting when not actually being handled.  A powerful magnifying lens is at each station so that each tiny assembly may be minutely inspected by the girl herself.  She has a position of her own complete with jig, lens, welding forceps, trays of components and assembly stand."

Cleanliness is a virtue - "Cleanliness is of supreme importance as a speck of dust on a grid would make the valve useless so the girls wear nylon overalls and hair shields as nylon does not produce fluff - and the factory, cleaner and lighter than many a laboratory I have seen - is cleaned by a vacuum cleaner every day."

In summary - "Naturally, I have left out much of the technique such as the ingenious devices used in the evacuation of the glass bulb and the like.  But, I have told you enough to show you that here at the new Mullard factory in the Surrey countryside near London, a system has evolved that may revolutionise manufacture of thermionic valves needed nowadays all over the world, under the sea, on it, on land and in the air.  As for the girls - I judge as a mere man that they are a happy crowd and I know there is no shortage of applicants for jobs."

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