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The Hewlett-Packard Years: Optoelectronics Division-Dave Evans
by Dave Evans


Optoelectronics Applications Engineer-Dave Evans

There are already two informative HP Memoirs on this website, written by Bob Steward and John Uebbing. Both memoirs have great technology and personal stories about how HPA started from a materials science group in HP Labs in the mid-1960s. This venture came from a vision which saw great promise in exploiting the remarkable ability to get visible light out of Gallium-Arsenide-based semiconductors, at very low (portable) voltages. Bill Hewlett and others in HP Labs backed up this venture with generous funding, especially in 1970 when 15-digit miniature displays were needed for Bill's pet project, the HP-35 electronic slide rule.

By the time Dave Evans was hired at HPA LED group in 1973, I had already spent almost three years (1969 - 1972) in the earliest years trying to manage the introduction of LED displays, culminating in the wildly popular HP-35 electronic slide rule. I moved on in late 1972. But that period starting in about 1969 was technologically exciting, as LED digits and alpha-numeric displays were finding applications all the way from auto tail and brake lights to traffic stop lights. But we really didn't know what was coming.

The clear advantages of semiconductor light, used to generate small digits for revolutionary pocket calculators or in portable HP instrumentation and quickly in desktop engineering calculators were obvious. It was also obvious to HPA's marketing teams like Milt Liebhaber and Rick Kniss, that the super reliability of LED bulbs were going to be natural for applications like the tail and stop lights of autos. The reason being that having lifetime performance installed in cars meant that an expensive $100 shop mechanic task to change a 50-cent incandescent bulb weren't going to aggravate a customer. Or, if installed in street stop light applications, cities would not need expensive periodic deployment of one of their cherry-picker trucks to go around replacing those bulbs. Of course, in the early 1970s, only the color red was available, since we weren't yet able to generate those wonderful yellow and green and blue colors. But the promise was there.

That's about the time that Dave arrived on the LED scene. Hewlett-Packard marketing was structured for sales of instruments to engineers, and not much customization was needed. HP's instruments went directly to the design bench or production test rack or out into field maintenance facilities. At the HPA Division, they had been established to design and manufacture components, such as microwave diodes and infra-red emitters. So, it took some convincing to get an instrument field salesman to spend time with a customer design engineer who might need a lot of hand-holding to figure whether a tiny HP diode component would perform properly in the new circuit design.

Hewlett-Packard enhanced our test instruments with a huge archive of application notes. These were tutorial publications, handed out freely, and promoted by advertising and PR media, and the massive annual HP catalog. Most significant new instruments would have an associated application note and perhaps a related product note, which expanded on the product's instruction manual. The same information techniques were used for the tiny rf diode and later the LED diodes, covering all of the necessary performance and environmental data, suggested circuit configurations and such. But often that was not enough. When state of the art components are available, it was sometimes necessary to refer the customer engineer directly to the factory for one-on-one consulting. Enter the Components Application Engineer.

Dave's recall is amazing, and this story presents so many fascinating episodes in customer's plants, assisting the local field engineer in boosting the customer design engineer to make him look good using HPA LEDs in his new creation. Other times, a trip was necessary to investigate product failures, often caused by their production processes which compromised the performance of the digits and alpha-numeric components. HPA components were the essence of the visual interactive displays of the customer's product, aesthetically and functionally. Application engineers were also relied on to travel across the US to augment the field sales engineer in their daily sales job, especially when a "big deal" contract was on the line.

Dave's creativity was working continuously in the factory, he cheered technical projects to expand the performance parameters of components, to match customer needs in difficult environments, from nuclear submarines to desert heat. He created publications for application information to design engineers, which mirrored the kind of comprehensive technical data featured by the semiconductor industry giants. And he "enjoyed" the expense account life of a seminar presenter, running through airports, driving hours to be at the next town for a morning lecture. One story involved a dangerous overnight drive through a serious snow storm.

The theme I particularly liked about Dave's story was his career-long commitment to the Trade Association, Aerospace Lighting Institute (ALI). Industrial volunteering was a corporate value of Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett. Packard was Chair of the Palo Alto School District and Stanford Board of Trustees, for example, not to mention his tour as US Deputy Secretary of Defense. Although it was a personal decision, large numbers of HP execs did outside volunteering in their favorite causes. The downside was that there was always a small doubt that outside work would work against faster promotions in the company, where managers who committed full-time to HP would have an advantage.

I applaud volunteers like Evans. I, myself, committed 28 years to an International Trade Association for Metrology, which had considerable influence on the measurement industry calibration standards. I felt that association work was important to HP's future in all customer's measurement quality, and my management agreed. In Dave's work in ALI, he helped write industry standards that reflected HPA's display technology knowledge, combined with real customer needs, and thereby improved the final applications of this brand new lighting revolution. As you will see, Dave enjoyed those professional interactions as well as contributing to that industry progress. There are many more customer trade groups he served, from NCUTCD to NCHRP, in one case helping to write industry specifications for the well-known blinking amber crosswalk lights we have all observed. His work on committees which wrote standards on military night vision goggles greatly helped our national defense technology. These were not trivial accomplishments, and getting HP to have a hand in writing performance specifications gave us a step ahead of other competition. Good work, Dave.

But this is a personal life story, with a LOT of HP mixed in. It is a stimulating read. One abiding impression. I imagined myself as Dave Evans, going about his retired life now, seeing LED building EXIT signs, highway information signs, airport runway lights, and the massive use of LED home illumination, and I would smile and realize that it was my committee tutoring and standards-writing that helped accomplish all those benefits for society.

John Minck

Click HERE for the HP Memoir of Steward and HERE for the HP Memoir of Uebbing.


This HP Memoir is dedicated to all those in the Hewlett-Packard Optoelectronics Division who helped me be a success as an Applications Engineer; including but not limited to: Stan Gage; Bob Steward; Hans Sorensen; Mark Hodapp; Bob Zettler; Milt Liebhaber; Norm Tarowsky; Janice Leatherwood; to George Godfrey and the Aerospace Lighting Institute for allowing me to have an influence in the aerospace lighting industry; and to my wife Judy Evans who loved and supported me during those 25½ years.

The Hewlett-Packard Years: Optoelectronics Division-Dave Evans
by Dave Evans

Table of Contents:

  • I am hired by Hewlett-Packard
  • The Applications Group
  • HPA's fiscal year 1973
  • Bob Steward leaves the Applications Group
  • I changed LED derating to 70°C
  • LED technology
  • The HP Components Group
  • SAN displays
  • LED demo units
  • Optocouplers
  • Soldering LEDs:
  • Growth of OED Applications Group
  • LCDs
  • ALI
  • LEDs in aerospace
  • LEDs in sunlight
  • Performance reviews
  • Automotive LEDs:
  • The Optoelectronics Manual
  • ALI Basic School
  • OED seminar trips
  • Seminar trip experiences
  • The McIntosh visit
  • ALI and NVG
  • Hi-Rel
  • I return to Applications
  • Changes in command
  • OED moves to San Jose
  • The Ford incident
  • Interviewing job applicants
  • SAE A-20A Committee
  • Milt Liebhaber
  • Tie pulling incident
  • LED traffic signals
  • Conversion to 15°AlInGap red LEDs in traffic signals
  • ITE
  • George Godfrey's visit to OED
  • Visit to NCHRP
  • NCUTCD and the MUTCD
  • FHWA
  • Yellow LED traffic signals, amber LED
  • message signs and sunglasses
  • ATSSA, Minneapolis
  • Jim Capiccioli as Applications Manager
  • Change of Command at OED
  • LED Barricade flasher lights
  • LED EXIT signs
  • IES
  • Three new young hires into OED Marketing
  • SMT and auto-insertion
  • LightGuard Systems
  • MUTCD, NCUTCD and LEDs at crosswalks
  • Green and blue LEDs
  • Green LED traffic signals
  • Mytel in Ottawa, Canada
  • The Chrysler visit
  • McCain Traffic
  • PEEK Traffic
  • The David Franklin incident
  • HP Christmas traditions
  • Trade Magazine articles
  • Tribute from NCHRP
  • My retirement from OED
  • ISO 9000
  • People of OED Applications
  • Agilent
  • ALI February, 1999
  • My Twenty Three Years with the Aerospace
  • Lighting Institute
  • HP OED Alumni lunches
  • Honor Roll
  • Looking Back

acro_offClick here to download Dave's memories in PDF format - The 113 page document is a 16 Mb PDF file.

HP Memories

This memory of Dave's career at hp results from the work of the website of Marc Mislanghe, who with John Minck edited and published this Memoir. After Marc's untimely death, Ken Kuhn has now assumed the custodianship with John, and together they will continue to expand the Memoirs section.

One of the main objectives in starting this website five years ago was (and still is today) to get in touch with people who have worked at hp from the birth of the company up to today. We are interested in hearing your memories no matter what division or country you worked in, or whether you were in engineering, marketing, finance, administration, or worked in a factory. This is because all of you have contributed to the story of this unique and successful enterprise.

Your memories are treasure for this website. While product and technology are our main concern, other writings related to the company life are highly welcome, as far as they stay inside the hp Way guidelines.

Anybody Else? Please get in touch by emailing the webmaster on the Contact US link at

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