Hans Camenzind, designer of the 555, has died at the age of 78.
Born Swiss, he moved to the USA at the age of 24 to take an MSEE and MBA. He worked in R&D at PR Mallory and, after six years, decided he wanted to join a company which made ICs rather than researched the technology.
He went to see all the top linear companies, TI, Westinghouse, Sylvania, Signetics, Motorola, Fairchild and Sprague and chose Signetics.
It was at Signetics where he invented the 555 timer IC. which was first sold in 1972 and is one of the all-time IC best-sellers. It is still in widespread use today. In 2003 Camenzind estimated that a billion 555s were still being manufactured every year.
It took Camenzind a year to design it, working on a contract after Signetics had fallen on hard times and had laid off half its engineers.
Signetics never patented the 555, believing that once companies started patenting ICs and technologies they would all be at eachothers’ throats in the law courts.
Before he designed the 555, Camenzind had resurrected the idea of the phase locked loop which he had come across while reading a back copy of the proceedings of the Instritute of Radio Engineers. He persuaded Signetics to work on the idea and came up with the 565 and the 566.
Those ICs were the basis for the subsequent 555 – a designation suggested by Signetics’ marketing manager Art Fury who had a gut feeling that the chip would fly.
Many years later he said: “I wouldn’t do it like that again.” But no one has improved on it.
Camenzind started his own company, Interdesign, in 1971 which he sold to Ferranti in 1977.