AUTOMATION: National Cashes In

  • Share
  • Read Later

When it comes to automation, U.S. department stores still slosh around in the Ice Age. This week the biggest of them all, Manhattan's Macy's, announced a deal with National Cash Register Co. for the first major automated system. Due to start whirring in 1961, the $1,000,000 system will speed Macy's customer-account billing 25-fold. By punching a few buttons on a keyboard, operators can register each of Macy's 40,000 daily charge sales on tape, which is later fed to a computer. It sorts the bills, tots them up, prepares the bills for the customer, registers the return payments. Macy's may even extend N.C.R.'s system to inventory control, get daily reports on everything in stock, be able to increase its return on investment by 10% to 15%. Says N.C.R. Chairman Stanley Charles ("Chick") Allyn, 67: "The stage is set for a revolutionary change in the handling of paperwork."

Millions for Research. The breakthrough at Macy's is the result of a major advance at venerable N.C.R., the world's No. 1 seller of cash registers and No. 2 maker of office equipment (after International Business Machines). N.C.R. is hustling to expand beyond mechanical to electronic machines. In this fiercely competitive field, N.C.R. started long after IBM, Remington Rand or Burroughs; its real push began only in 1952, when N.C.R. bought the small Computer Research Corp. of Hawthorne, Calif. (TIME, Oct. 6, 1952). Since then it has moved fast, boosted its research and development bill from $2,600,000 (1.1% of sales) to $14 million (3.6% of sales). This year's heavy research outlay is the chief reason why earnings will dip from last year's $18 million to about $15 million, on expected sales of some $400 million.

N.C.R.'s restless research has brought some exciting new inventions, such as a carbonless carbon paper (chemically coated sheets that reproduce type on impact). While working on this, N.C.R. discovered a method of enclosing liquid in microscopic gelatin capsules, thus making a liquid look and act like a solid. So treated, castor oil becomes tasteless—because it is covered with gelatin. More than 1,000 companies are investigating the process to see if it can be used for their own products, and the Pentagon has contracted with National to "encapsulate" liquid rocket fuel so that it will pack the power of liquid propellant, yet have the handy convenience of a solid.

Brains for Banks. While N.C.R. hopes to cash in with these and other new specialty products, Allyn feels that the big market is for small computers and automated office equipment for small as well as big companies. He is willing to let IBM and Remington Rand dominate the market for huge scientific computers while he guides N.C.R.'s research into the broader market for smaller business computers. "We're aiming for fields where we can sell more than one computer," says Allyn. "We would rather make the Chevrolet than the Rolls-Royce."

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2