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Cortron and Licon

Contents

Overview

This page is at present an overview of ITW Licon and early ITW Cortron keyboards. Details on the product families is fairly scarce still.

The general pattern seems to be as follows:

Keyboard part PCB part Possible series Switch type
55-xxxxxx 80-55xxxx Series 550? Ferrite core, early
45-xxxxxx 80-45xxxx CP-4550? Capacitive leaf
35-xxxxxx 80-35xxxx Ferrite core, intermediate
25-xxxxxx 80-25xxxx Series FC2500? Ferrite core, low-profile

Note that the third and fourth digits of the PCB part number correspond to the first two digits of the keyboard part number.

Switch types

Ferrite core

These are solid state switches which are sensed by controlling whether or not current will pass inductively from one wire to another through a ferrite core. They have been referred to as “magnetic valve” switches, but in advertisements from Licon and ITW, they are described as “ferrite core”. Here, the magnet in the plunger suppresses the inductance, and when the plunger is depressed, the inductance is enabled and the key will be detected. These solid state switches are almost the same age as Micro Switch SW, which is a Hall effect solid state keyboard series.

In most cases, the older switches are all Micro Switch mount. The DIN-compliant types use a German-style snap on mount, the compatibility of which with German switches is not confirmed. However, HP 264XX Data Terminal keyboards use early ferrite core switches with a cruciform mount, whose keycaps fit onto Alps Series KCC switches:

The technical literature for the simplified keyboard from this series—from August 1976—gives only HP part numbers for the “LICON” switches used.

Capacitive leaf

This is a capacitive keyboard that uses a leaf spring under each key instead of a foam pad with foil attached. The design is very similar to Digitran metal leaf capacitive switches. The example below has a series of patents on the label but the switch patents thereon are for ferrite core switches.

Series

Series 550

This is a series of tall switches that were advertised in Modern Data, December 1970. The rated lifetime was 25 million cycles. These are older than any of the known patents for ferrite core switches from this group of companies. The design is similar to the “first generation” of so-called “ITW magnetic valve” switches, but considerably taller. Although the switch is illustrated in the magazine, the plunger is not. (It is not clear whether Licon or Micro Switch designed the keycap mount that they shared.)

Series 55

Cortron suggested series 55 or 65 for the ferrite core switches, and possibly E3 or E4 for the mechanical versions. While they do have literature, they have not been willing to share anything more. Licon and ITW switch series names are often two-digit numbers that form the prefix of part numbers, e.g. part 11-304 is in Series 11, part 49-59113 is in Series 49-59W, and part 034-550-006 is in Series 034. Since older keyboards have model numbers beginning “55-”, this suggests that the switches were indeed Series 55.

These keyboards feature two similar designs of what were previously termed “first generation”. These keyboards list US patent 3035253 filed by George C Devol on magnetic storage.

Series 54

Series 54 “solid-state” keyswitches got a brief mention in Computerworld, 31st of May 1976. They may not be computer keyboard switches: the details given are very brief. These may not be ferrite core either, but it seems likely that they would be.

CP-4550

In Interface Age, August 1981 on pages 132 and 134, there is a brief mention of the Cortron CP-4550 keyboard, which uses the “CP-4550 keyswitch”. This switch is said to give an “exceptional, true linear feel” and is “environmentally superior to foam pad design approaches”. The rated lifetime is in excess of 100 million cycles.

The Recent Microsystems Announcements from Computer magazine, June 1981 cites this model as being a “Solid-state, capacitance unit”, with a unit price of $45 in volume quantity ($127 in June 2019).

The comparison with foam and foil indicates that it uses a different mechanism, with the Digitran-like capacitive system in model 45-500008 being the likely candidate considering that both use “45” as part of their respective identities.

US patent 4352144 filed in January 1981 depicts a metal leaf capacitive arrangement where the plunger contains a flexible prong that provides overtravel. However, model 45-500008 listed below (a Xerox 820-II keyboard) uses a Digitran-like design where a portion of the capacitive leaf serves to provide the overtravel instead.

Series FC2500

In Computerworld, 28th March 1983, Illinois Tool Works advertised Series FC2500 keyboards. These are described as “low-profile” and offered linear and tactile options. In Computerworld, 2nd July 1984 it is also noted that these keyboards were reported to meet a 30 mm height requirement. There is a good chance that Series FC2500 is the low-profile type that was later manufactured by Devlin in the UK, as the description and date of introduction suggest DIN-compliance.. In neither case were any illustrations provided.

Keyboards

The following is a list of known Licon and Cortron keyboard models with both the switch type and part numbers known, arranged in date order:

Part number PCB number Manufacturer Switches Date Notes Reference
55-100007 80-550461 Licon Ferrite core, early Ⅰ or Ⅱ 7131 eBay
55-500003 80-550782 Licon Ferrite core, early Ⅱ 7585 Univac Uniscope 100 keyboard Deskthority
55-500135 80-551478 Cortron (Licon PCB) Ferrite core, early Ⅲ 8012 Double-shot Japanese keycaps Flickr
55-500539 80-551879 Cortron Ferrite core, early Ⅲ 8016 Xerox X998 Flickr
55-500219 80-551655 Cortron Ferrite core, early Ⅲ 8030 Unknown origin imgur.com
55-500219 80-551655 Cortron Ferrite core, early Ⅲ 8107 Unknown origin eBay
35-500095 80-350128 Cortron Ferrite core, intermediate 8133 Unidentified Univac keyboard Flickr
45-500008 ? Cortron Digitran-like metal leaf 8314 Xerox 820-II keyboard q7.neurotica.com
? 80-350128 Cortron Ferrite core, intermediate ~1983 Prime/Pr1me ESA 5146 keyboard Deskthority
25-500035 80-250092 Cortron Ferrite core, low-profile 8438 Xerox 820-II keyboard Flickr
25-500200 80-250177 Cortron Ferrite core, low-profile 8630 Burroughs B25 K1 AB