Helical Potentiometer (Helipot)
In the 1940s, as National Technical Laboratories (later Beckman Instruments) was becoming a leader in the electronics industry and new applications for electronic equipment began to emerge, so did a need for the underlying components to be more precise, reliable, and easy to manufacture. One such component was the variable resistors used in the circuits within the pH meter. Resistors at the time were individually hand-wound, which made them very labor-intensive and expensive, and they did not have the manufacturing tolerance necessary for the precise and repeatable pH measurements between instruments necessary for mass production.
Dr. Beckman and his engineering team worked on a solution for a robust and reliable electrical component, which they termed the "HeliPot", short for helical potentiometer, which describes the shape of the coil within the resistor. Now by turning a dial, the instrument operator could easily and reproducibly alter the resistance of the circuit and tune the electrical properties of the circuit.
National Technical Laboratories began using the new helipot parts in the manufacturing lines for their pH meters and spectrophotometers and supplying them as replacement parts for older models.
In 1942, Dr. Beckman received a phone call from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology RADAR research team - they had tested one of Beckman's helipots in their new radar systems being developed for the military during World War II. The performance was superior to any other variable resistor on the market, and Dr. Beckman agreed to begin manufacture of the devices to support the military applications.
Due to the secret nature of the work performed for MIT's radar program, Dr. Beckman created a stand-alone division of his company, called "Helipot", to handle the orders and unique specifications required for the military applications. After just the first year of the Helipot Division production line, the sale of helipots accounted for 40% of the overall profit of National Technical Laboratories.
Helipots also found their way into numerous commercial applications, such as aircraft control systems, analog computer systems, pushbutton telephone systems, and medical monitoring devices. By the 1960s, the Helipot Division had grown to produce millions of different helipot components per year. With the increasing market for electronic instrumentation, the production of these precision electrical components continued to be an essential part of the success of Beckman Instruments.