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From 286 to Coreā„¢ i3/i5/i7 - 20 years in the business

In the year 1988 a development project at Datalab in Uppsala, Sweden succeeded beyond expectations and several other customers wanted similar technology. A 286 processor, three keyboards, touch screen and Mobitex for mobile data communication was frontline technology in those days.

Kjell Brunberg worked in the project. He has always had a passion for technology and business and now had an idea.
- I said to myself: Why must every single customer pay several millions for similar technology to be developed? Why not reuse the core of the system, lower the threshold for new customers using the same platform and make money on volume production instead?
He turned the idea into a business concept. A book on how to start companies gave three pieces of advice in order to succeed.
- Find the most demanding customer, have them request something that has never been done before and make sure to charge a hefty fee, he remembers. I succeeded in the two first aspects.
This was the starting point of the embedded PC company Hectronic AB. The year was 1990 and the first customer was a major defense organization. What had never been done before and now was requested was a 19 inch rack PC running a Unix OS in an extremely demanding environment. I'll come back to the last advice about charging for the work.

Challenged by a demanding customer

The buyer was qualified as a "demanding customer" among other things for their strict requirements on long product lifetime, durability and process formalization.


- I replied to the requirements in the same way I usually do, that it's not a problem, says Kjell Brunberg with a confident smile. I can do that.


The deal was closed and a second engineer was employed, Peter Lundkvist, Kjell's former colleague at Datalab. Peter Lundkvist's software skill was needed in the project.


At this stage the concept of reusability began to take shape. The system was divided into separate building blocks and made up from: The computer board, based on a 286 processor and the so-called Octal Communication Card, OCC, which is an intelligent serial port protocol conversion hub for asynchronous/synchronous data communication. The good old ISA bus was used for the integration of the two.

Hardware developed from building blocks


One of the first products made up from building blocks in was the OCC, including the 8088 processor NEC V40 and software for asynchronous/synchronous serial communication.


Computer Board

The computer board paired up with the OCC on an ISA bus in the system. Initial core functionality and interoperability was kept intact as architectures changed over the years. The first processor used was a 286 architecture. The computer board in the picture uses a 486 processor.


Peter Lundqvist developed the necessary drivers for the Unix OS and the application software in the OCC to meet the requirements but Kjell Brunberg's business concept of reusability demanded more. The system was developed also for future implementations of additional protocols, to be scalable in performance and portable to other OS environments.


- I wanted the implementation of the protocols to be intelligent, says Peter Lundkvist.


The prestigious defense customer was pleased with the result and ordered product variations with support for additional protocols. The host system was ported from Unix to Windows on their request.


Porting to C++

The computer evolution took off and the computer board moved from 286 to 386, 486 and Pentium 1. Interoperability with the OCC was ensured from one generation to the other.


Some years later the software of the OCC was ported to C++. It was surprisingly uncomplicated since the intelligent aspects of the implementation rimed well with the aspects in C++, which are considered object orientated.


Development were made significantly easier by the intelligently structured and clearly defined software and hardware building blocks. Customers were saving money.

- The development of new products based on existing building blocks turned out to be relatively cheap. We could sell them at a price attractive both to us and to the customers, says Kjell Brunberg.


The defense product caught the eyes of representatives from a global company in power and automation technology, at an exhibition.

- They wanted to implement a couple of protocols in a similar way in their data communication, Peter Lundkvist remembers.


Adding customers

Kjell Brunbergs concept of reusability was the leading principle in development of the first products in the History of Hectronic. The power and automation company started using an OCC communication system developed by Hectronic. The original OCC board was used in one the customer's 19 inch rack computers.


- At this stage the strategy to design for reuse of parts of the hardware and software clearly paid off, both for the customers and Hectronic It was easy to "cut out" verified building blocks to use in the a application and to update the existing design, says Kjell Brunberg


Kjell Brunberg had yet another idea during a customer visit. He wanted to abandon the ISA bus and suggested a network distributed concept instead. The customer accepted for numerous reasons: Size was reduced, redundant and distributed installations were enabled, cost for floor space was reduced and reliability and uptime were increased.


Different models were equipped with support for network communication and separate chassis. One model turned into a product called Gateway PC and was connected to one or multiple distributed OCC systems. The customer made use of the idea and used multiple redundant Gateway PCs with multiple OCCs, which were monitored and controlled by a central system control computer.


A small company, such as Hectronic back then, that has a large defense organization as the one and only customer didn't make the position powerful in negotiations. Kjell Brunberg was able to charge enough to continue to build the company but it didn't make him rich.

Home made EPROM eraser

Peter Lundqvist, the second employee at Hectronic received a, perhaps not so healthy, tan from erasing EPROM out in the open in the laboratory. A wooden box from a first aid kit and some ingenuity created this semi-automatic EPROM eraser protecting his skin from UV radiation.


At this time in his life Kjell Brunberg met his future wife and they bought a home in Uppsala. Daytime (and nighttime) were spent working as a consultant to make ends meet in Hectronic, designing hardware and software the first customer and renovating the house.


- I made the bigger profit from renovating the house, he says with an amused tone of voice.


He doesn't like to be idle, Kjell Brunberg.


- I will retire when I'm 85 years old, he predicts. To be inactive is not an option.


The business concept - Building blocks

It's more or less the same ideas carried out in these initial development projects at Hectronic, which has served as the business concept during the nearly 20 years the company has existed. 2 people were employed then. Today it's 27.


Building blocks are updated as new technologies arrive. Backwards compatibility is a key issue when new steps are taken. A series of computer components are formed implementing technical advances. They are offered to new customers and existing ones to update products already on the market.


286, 386 and 486 were the current processor families then. Pentium 1, Pentium 3 and Pentium M followed and today Intel® Core™ i3/i5/i7 is entering the scene.


- We still receive computer boards based on 486 processors for support. These board were released in 1994 and are still used in forestry and mining equipment, says Kjell Brunberg.


Why Hectronic?

The company name is derived from Heike, the name of Kjell Brunberg's wife, and the business field, electronics. Associations in connection with the name further supported the choice of Hectronic as the company name.


- There are company names like Microtronic, Megatronic and then there is Hectotronic, or at least Hectronic, says Kjell Brunberg.


The brightly red and roundly shaped H in the logotype has it's origin in Kjell Brunberg's ideas in the company culture he wanted to promote and a Japanese book on symbols, shapes and meanings.


- Circular and round shapes are symbols of confidence and trust. I wanted the logotype to associate to trust and growth.


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