Systemation - BCL Molecular 18

BCL Molecular 18
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The name Systemation has long been associated with the machines BCL sold, starting in 1962 with SADIE and continuning in one form or another until the mid 1980s where they designed and built the Molecular Mk V and Distributor machines, as well as their own Amigo computer which was M18 compatible.

Systemation Ltd was formed in 1961 by a small group of engineers led by Bill Ganon and Gordon Clark. They had worked together in the aircraft industry on the south coast and established an electonics consultancy.  Their first product was BETSIE, shortly followed by DOTTIE, SADIE and SUSIE.  Systemation Joined with Business Mechanisation Ltd in 1969 and together formed Business Computers Ltd.

Systemation Services formed in March 1975
Keith Howlett formed Systemation Services with Bill Gethin, Alan Tonry and Alan Edwards.  John Metcalf, the former technical director of BCL, bought the name Systemation from either the receiver of BCL or Bill Gannon, the founder of Systemation.  John Metcalf kindly allowed Howlett to use the name for Systemation Services. "As CWT's offshoot CFM (known by users as Can't Frigging Mend it) was not very good at fixing the M18, setting up to service the M18 user base was an opportunity not to be missed.  Later when the northern directors would not go along with branching out onto other products or developing the M18 I split with them and formed Systemation Developments."

Systemation Developments formed in August 1979

The Mark V Machine & the New Processor
"ABS were not doing too well making the Mk IV M18, and I had looked at re-engineering the processor and went to Mike Munnelly (BCL MD) with a proposition: I would re-engineer the M18 onto 3 boards with a printed backplane thus halving the cost of the system.  

The deal was I would fund development and if I was successful I would have the exclusive production rights for the first 25 machines and own the copyright unless and until he bought it out by paying the development costs.  I did all the design and drawing work single handed, Geoff Boote gave a hand at the end with some debugging of noise problems.  I designed the Quad I/O and transferred the Hawk controller to a single PCB from the former 2 board controller.  The large format core memory was already well tested as I had been using it as service spares to replace the unreliable Fabritek for some time and selling upgrades.  I got the idea after I got a contract to repair stuff for EMI medical and was supplied with a Data General machine.  I quickly realised that the DG hardware was pretty much identical to the M18, even many of the instructions could be directly translated.  I "borrowed" a memory card and rigged it up on my 6ME bench rig and with a few tweaks had it working.  BCL designed the MK 5 cabinet which was a dogs breakfast.  

Once that lot was successfully in production I turned my attention to updating the disk drives as the Hawk was on notice that the production was ending.  I reckoned that a totally new disk controller was beyond my capabilities ( or I was too busy with the growing business) and approached John Adams who designed the new Lark controller to my spec.  I also designed and developed the bank switching.

In due course I went back to Munnelly with my design for the distributor cabinet which was accepted."   

Keith Howlett.

Systemation Group Ltd formed in 1986

(C) 2022 Kevin Murrell & The National Museum of Computing
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