In 1972, the company Signetics announced the NE555 timer IC (integrated circuit). 50 years later, it is still used and is consistently sold in its billions every year. The creator of the 555 timer IC was Swiss émigré, Hans Camenzind (see photo below), was hired by Signetics in 1968 and 2 years later started to design the IC.
50 years of the 555 timer IC
He initially met resistance, as it was deemed to be unnecessary by other engineers in the company, but after the marketing manager, Art Fury, approved its development, the 8-pin chip was completed.
The chip was originally bred out of competition. Signetics used him as an external contractor and provided him with the equipment he needed along with a salary, with a year long deadline to complete the production of a timer IC. It was originally not patented as Signetics were a small company and couldn’t afford lawsuits with their larger competitors who had large patent portfolios.
Even after the chip was in production, Camenzind himself did not think that the 555 timer IC was a good idea. In his oral history with the Semiconductor Museum, he says “The thing is that this is not a good design (the 555). I had a few years of experience, I’d say about five years, but I had no teacher, and I had to learn it by myself. You know it was really the beginning of [IC] design, so looking at it now, I would say ‘I wouldn’t do it like that again.’”
Despite what Camenzind thought of the design, the chip was still manufactured by 12 different companies in its first year and the chips are still available and used to create oscillation in a circuit
The IC itself is used in a variety of timer, delay, pulse generation and oscillator applications and there are also variations that provide 2 (the 556) and 4 (the 558) circuits in one package. It is seen as an integral part of electronics projects of all sizes, whether that’s amateur hobbyists or fully fledged engineering products.
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